Boomkat Product Review:
A combined reissue of Armenian master duduk player Dijvan Gasparyan's debut solo album ‘I Will Not Be Sad In This World' and ‘Moon Shines At Night’ from 1993, recorded with guitarist Michael Brook.
Whether you've heard the name Dijvan Gasparyan or not, there's a good chance you've heard his playing. The Armenian duduk player died last year at 92, and was not only legendary in his home country, but across the world. He's collaborated most visibly with Peter Gabriel and David Sylvian, but most non Armenians have probably heard his music thanks to his soundtrack work: Gasparyan contributed to a huge amount of Hollywood scores, from Ridley Scott's "Gladiator" and Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" to Alex Proyas' "The Crow". "I Will Not Be Sad in this World" is the musician's debut full-length, and arrived only a few years after he had won his fourth UNESCO worldwide competition. It was originally released on the Soviet label Melodiya, and reached the rest of the world after Brian Eno caught a performance in Moscow in 1988, releasing it on his Opal/Land Records imprint the following year. Gasparyan dedicated the re-release to the victims and survivors of a catastrophic earthquake that hit Armenia in December 1988, bringing attention not only on the music of the region but its plight.
Fittingly, given his later work in cinema, Gasparyan was initially drawn to the duduk thanks to his interest in movies. While his dad had played duduk and taught a young Gasparyan how to play, he was most inspired by the music that accompanied films he saw at a local theater. He would visit regularly and befriended older musicians who taught him circular breathing techniques - a crucial process for advanced playing - and eventually invited him into their group. After performing with the Tatoul Altounian National Song and Dance Ensemble and studying at the Yerevan Conservatoire, he joined the Yerevan Philharmonic Orchestra, eventually becoming a professor at the school. This first selection of his recorded music then was a chance to break out of his home country and reach untrained ears, and it quickly established him as the world's go-to duduk player.
Listening now it's easy to hear how affecting these sounds must have been. Gasparyan's reeded melancholia still sounds breathtakingly beautiful, but it's somewhat familiar now thanks to its ubiquitous usage in Hollywood. The Armenian maestro's pop collaborations were important, but his contributions to established Hollywood canon fodder like "Gladiator" - where the ancient sound of the duduk represents a history central and Northern Europeans can't lay claim to - have made it synonymous with a certain mystical pre-modern past. Training the ear to hear past this usage though allows us to hear the nuance of Gasparyan's performance; he's able to imbue his careful, soulful compositions and performance with the sadness of an embattled region that all too often (even now) is ignored by the rest of the world. At times it sounds like a voice crying out across history, weeping, lamenting and praising the resilience of culture to survive through the eras.
Djivan Gasparyan's second album was produced by Brian Eno collaborator Michael Brook, who struck up a lengthy creative partnership with the duduk legend that resulted in a run of incredible material. Brook's recording is the icing on the cake here; Gasparyan's material was already heartbreaking and his playing is unmatched, and what makes "Moon Shines at Night" so crucial is that the physicality of Gasparyan's performance is finally completely chewable. Early evidence comes with 'Sayat Nova', a track named after one of Armenia's best loved poets - the subject of Sergei Parajanov's cult movie "The Color of Pomegranates". The character of the duduk is completely evident here; a double-reeded instrument, it's capable of sustaining a continuous drone (providing the player can master the circular breathing technique) while simultaneously being used to play evocative "vocal" lead sounds. And Brook's recording - almost without reverb and certainly with no additional mixing trickery - lets us bask in the instrument's mournful romance.
On '7th December 1988', a track memorializing the day Armenia was rocked by a disastrous earthquake, Gasparyan alternates between duduk and his own vocals, highlighting the interchangeability of each sound. The duduk's character is already so remarkably human, and playing with illusion in this way, Gasparyan only makes the connection even more obvious, and the sadness even more tangible. It's a technique he revisits on the album's slow closing track 'Mother of Mine', a piece that will leave you in no doubt of Gasparyan's rare talent. So, so good.