Boomkat Product Review:
Mind-bending and ornately intriguing, Armenian-Lithuanian artist Andrius Arutiunian's debut full-length release is rooted in the ideas of Armenian-Greek mystic and composer G.I. Gurdjieff, who brought esoteric Eastern philosophies to the Western world. Using a piano tuned xenharmonically to Gurdjieff's instructions and played with four hands, it's confounding music that's struck through with rare magic.
Arutiunian's installation pieces had already captured our attention some time ago. His 'Incantations' work for CTM in 2022 took us to another plain of reality completely, using sung and spoken forms of spells and charms from a 7th century BCE Sumerian book of sorcery, letting the voices resonate through a large metal plate in the centre of the room. 'Seven Common Ways of Disappearing' was commissioned by Rewire, Venice Biennale 2022 and Armenia Pavillion, and now lands on Hallow Ground. The installation itself put a record player between two custom-made speakers, playing an LP with the performance recorded both forwards and backwards, set to rewind automatically when it reached the end.
The piece is based on an open score Arutiunian developed using the enneagram, a nine-pointed symbol that was introduced by Gurdjieff as a way to order the world. Since then it's been associated mostly with personality tests, but Gurdjieff thought of it differently, using the form to generate sacred dances he called Gurdjieff movements, to represent cosmic truths that observers could watch and learn from. Arutiunian expertly translates these movements into gestures and tones generated by two players sitting at a grand piano, tuned to Gurdjieff's exacting specifications. Whether you're familiar with Gurdjieff's work or not, there's a magic to Arutiunian's sounds, both from the tingling tuning and the fluttering, almost granular outcroppings of notes.
The release is split into two parts, a rendering of the score forwards and a performance in reverse. The 'Forwards' side is the most striking, sounding to us not unlike Morteza Mahjubi's 1950s works for Piano-ye Sonnati, a piano tuned to an Iranian scale. Delicate and sonically difficult to place, it's a piece that doesn't use its tonality flippantly - Arutiunian is both incredibly dextrous with his tuning and able to use it to reveal an ancient world, not a contemporary trend. 'Backwards' meanwhile strikes a darker tone, introducing creaking electronic drones and electrical interference into the seemingly random flurries of hit strings.
We're completely floored by this - it manages to reference deep listening traditions and the best of 20th Century electro-acoustic music, but brings it into a different zone completely, making us cast our minds back into a time when musical expectations weren't so set in stone.