Breaking musical ground
Composer and conductor Alexandr Iradyan premiered “GROUNDED,” an experimental musical performance supported by our Spark Grant
October 26, 2021 | by Creative Armenia
Picture this: You’re sitting on the grass, surrounded by plants, with a violin right at your ear, while you immerse yourself in the music. It’s not a family picnic we’re describing; it’s “GROUNDED,” an interactive performance by composer and conductor Alexandr Iradyan. Developed with his new Sonoris Orchestra and supported by Creative Armenia’s Spark Grant, the unique and immersive performance premiered in Berlin, Germany, on October 23. We reached out to the musician, who happens also to be a 2020 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow, to speak about his inspirations, aspirations, and the leap he’s about to make from the classical to the experimental.
CA: Tell us — what is “GROUNDED”?
AI: “GROUNDED” is a symbiosis of senses where the audience actively participates in the performance. In this project, I encourage listeners to immerse themselves in music. In the performance, the musicians are not performing music standing on the stage, but all around you. You have the absolute freedom to choose where you want to sit. You can even stand or lie down. The music is composed considering the dimensions of the concert hall and the set-up of musicians, thus creating a unique acoustic experience for each listener.
I suppose the name “GROUNDED” already hints that this performance has something to do with nature. Besides an unusual set-up of musicians, it gives the public a chance to be in direct contact with nature by covering the entire surface of the hall with real grass and plants so people can feel the freshness in the air, the sensation of grass under their fingertips and dive deep into the fabric of sound.
CA: What inspired you to create the performance?
AI: In today’s world, we are constantly busy and distracted by social media, emails, calls. The desire to make people reconnect with nature, to leave all the worries behind for a brief moment, and to feel grounded served as an inspiration for this project. “GROUNDED” gives an opportunity to be in the moment – not in the past or future, not drifting in your thoughts – but to stay in the NOW and enjoy the life of the sounds all around you.
CA: You have been composing from a very young age and are familiar with all the ins and outs of the process. How was composing for “GROUNDED” different from what you have done before?
AI: It wasn’t very different, although I must confess it has been a while since I composed any music of similar complexity. And the complexity is not in its performance, but in providing the right inspiration and tasks to musicians. In this piece, they are not only performers with notes in front of them, but also a part of the composing process.
The score consists of many indications like “hit the gong and let the sound vanish” or “play the harmonics in the way that musical line emerges, use intuition.” And here comes the question: HOW? As a conductor, I have to not only show the flow of music or direct musicians throughout the score but also get them into the state of meditation, where the conductor is not important anymore. It is a balance between being an anchor for the whole ensemble and not being there at all.
CA: Classical performances usually rely on engaging one sense – hearing. How did accounting for other senses change your approach to composing the piece?
AI: I always wanted to include other senses in musical performances. For me, music is like therapy for your soul. Why not make it a fully therapeutic experience by including other senses?
Throughout my career, I have been using projections, stereo sound effects, visual effects, special lighting, and more. All that was not the main point of the performance but a supporting element to allow the public to delve deeper into the idea of the music. We, humans, are sensitive beings and if you involve other senses in the performance, the outcome will be even richer. The same is true for “GROUNDED.” For the first time, I incorporated the sense of touch and smell together with stereo acoustic experience in the performance. The combination of these senses helped the audience feel fully present.
CA: The Sonoris Orchestra is your new initiative. Tell us more about the Orchestra and the path it paves. What other projects do you have on the horizon for the Orchestra?
AI: The Sonoris Orchestra is a completely new project. We strive to use innovative approaches, develop new experiences for the public, and bring music to unusual places. We want to continue using the format of an ensemble being spread all across the concert hall, creating unique programs, new music, and collaborations.
We have planned another project for 2022 called “Heritage.” It includes three generations of Armenian composers who were each other’s teachers and students. The set-up of the orchestra will be the same with an addition of visual effects.
CA: How did Spark Grant assist you in bringing the project to life?
AI: Project that involves different units (visuals, projections, materials, logistics, etc) can be very expensive. I am very thankful to Creative Armenia for assisting me financially in bringing this project to life.
CA: “GROUNDED” premiered in Germany. What is the key takeaway of “GROUNDED” that your audience took home?
AI: I wanted each listener to get charged with the kindness, harmony, and love that I felt while composing this piece. In the end, my aim was to create moments of spirituality and joy for the audience. I wanted them to live a life of sound together with me, feeling the sense of NOW. The symbiosis of senses creates the revelation experience: soil and grass as our beginning and end, but also as the anchor that can hold us in the present moment and keep us “grounded.”