I’ve recently had the chance to discover some lovely Armenian-influenced, spiritual music created by Khatchadour Khatchadourian. The following interview provides a highly interesting peek into the musician’s background and creative journey that culminated in 2 albums, “Arshaluys” and “Ascent”.
-Give a bit of your background story. What first made you want to sing? How does it make you feel?
KK: I began singing while in Syria, through a children’s chorus. That was my vocal upbringing for six years. Then my family immigrated to the U.S. I stopped singing for a decade, and it’s only recently—within the past two years—that I returned to my voice, or rather began searching for a new voice. For me singing, particularly with such emotionality, is ecstatic, healing, and profoundly relieving.
-Who and/or what are some of your inspirations?
KK: I grew up on Armenian and Arabic traditional and cultural music. I love trance music as it can elevate me to intense emotional states. I am also fond of Eastern European music, and love Bluegrass and Indian music.
-In ‘Arshaluys’, the use of the duduk (Armenian double reed) is prominent. Give some background on it and why did you specifically choose this instrument?
KK: I began my musical return in the U.S. through the duduk, and worked with my teacher Shea A.J. Comfort for over four years. The duduk is an ancient double reed woodwind. At first, I picked up the duduk out of curiosity, but once I saw the level of work it took to train and the sheer beauty and presence of its sound, I began working more seriously with it. Since then, I have formed an affinity and acquired profound respect for Wind as a living, transformational element. ‘Arshaluys’, or Dawn in Armenian, was my first project; experimental in approach. I met my late partner Robert Kudrna (Bob) and shared some duduk samples with him. We both knew that singing crystal bowls and the duduk related well musically. So, we collaborated for over nine months and produced ‘Arshaluys’ in March of 2011.
-In the first album, the tracks are dreamy and vary in duration. How do you get your ideas for the way a piece will sound? Do you go into it knowing how long it will be or let it unfold on its own?
KK: The tracks unfold naturally. Initially, Robert and I were just experimenting and hearing how the tracks sounded. After a few takes we knew we wanted to begin and end on certain notes, but did not plan how the pieces would progress. This spontaneity gave us quite a bit of varied material.
-Tell us a bit about the eye-catching cover art of the first album done by Armenian artist Seeroon Yeretzian. What made you choose this artist? Did you have an image in mind or did you let the artist channel her own vision?
KK: I was curious about Seeroon Yeretzian‘s artwork and wanted to take lessons. She is located in Southern California, and I had to leave back to Berkeley, so we couldn’t arrange a time then. When the album was nearing completion, I approached her asking about her artwork. She donated the cover art from a piece she had previously done. She is a very generous and wonderful artist. Among many of her unique styles, she adapted and perfected a rare Armenian art-form called “Trchnakir” (bird calligraphy) where Armenian alphabet is illustrated with images of birds and other beings.
-Give some comparisons/contrasts between the 2 albums?
KK: Both ‘Arshaluys’ and ‘Ascent’ were experimental, and both were home recordings, which inevitably suffer from being far from a professional audio mix. I have learned the technical, sound engineering aspects of recording while recording. ‘Arshaluys’ was my opening up to the vastness of inner music, be it healing, experimental or otherwise. It was an open-ended pathless album. ‘Ascent’ on other hand had a bit of directionality to it. I knew I wanted to do a solo album, and experiment with cinematic sound and see how far I could push meditative music.
-Although both albums have meditative and comforting undertones, there’s a palpable intensity to the second album. Is this in any way tied to its title ‘Ascent’?
KK: At the time of making of ‘Ascent’, Robert had passed away, I was going through unemployment, topped with a severe neck and hands injury. In a word it was a very intense period. I felt that out of this intensity I would either hurt myself or move the energy in a positive manner. The title of the album ‘Ascent’ reflects my inner journey and response to the arising challenges. You know, we can’t control life, but can choose to work through it or reflect about it in a certain way. ‘Ascent’ was my prayer to myself and others to work through negativity with humility and hope.
Some of the tracks came to me unexpectedly too. Track 3, for instance, “Madness of Father Gomidas“, came to me in two days, in its entirety—and I’d never worked with electronic music before. The track is unique in that it consists of 29 separate sounds…! In hindsight, the track and the album as a whole reflected my breakdown, and rebuilding of sorts.
-What do you hope to achieve through your music? What do you hope listeners may take away from it?
KK: I hope the music helps the listener as they are going through their life motions: ups and downs and in-betweens. Besides that, I can’t emphasize any element over others, and wish to let the listener see which tracks work for their corresponding emotional states. I do music to move energy, and in order to chart my own mental and para-psychological states. Currently I am studying sacred art and sound and want to experiment with cymatics (sound made visible). I hope to bring attention to the importance of finding our voices, our inner resonances, and ask if music can be healing? And if so, how far can we go with it? Can we create ethical, and healing soundscapes; do ecological restoration through sound? These theoretical questions of sound I hope to delve into as my life career.
To listen to the lovely sounds and learn more, be sure to visit the bandcamp pages for each album (or click the album covers above):
Arshaluys – http://crystalbowls-duduks.bandcamp.com/album/arshaluys
Ascent – http://crystalbowls-duduks.bandcamp.com/album/ascent