WITH MARIE AWADIS

London, 2021

During this interview, I change seats, place myself in front of another artist and ask him the questions I wish people asked me. Today, I speak to Armenian composer Marie Awadis. The musician has just released a fascinating album entitled Una Corda Diaries, and recorded on the now well-known Klavins instrument. 

 

Marie, tell us a little more about you. What have been the highlights of your career so far?

 

I am an Armenian born in Lebanon. My childhood has been full of music, although it was not always easy because of the civil war. I came to Germany in 2000 to continue my studies. Until 2015 I was more of a pianist, performing classical and Armenian music. My first attempt to write my own music was in 2012, with a couple of pieces, and a few years later I decided to take composing seriously. 

I do not think that I have that many highlights, I am rather thankful for the opportunities and experience I got through the years. A couple of important points from the past five years include my collaborations with Sonder House and K7, and more recently the Q3Ambientfest (even though we had to play from home because of the current situation).

 

Tell us about Una Coda Diaries, your latest solo project. How did it all start?

 

The idea goes back to the beginning of 2019. I always wanted to meet David Klavins and his Una Cordas, so in January 2019, I went to Vác for a weekend and tried the, at that time, very new concert Una Corda M189. I fell in love with the sound, especially the rich and vibrant bass tones; It was hypnotising. I decided to visit again in October, and stay a little longer and experiment more; I planned to stay for a week. From the first day it was all exciting, meeting the Klavins team, talking and playing all day.

At night I wanted to make short recordings, with my phone, to post on social media. This was when I had the idea to record an improvisation, a kind of Una Corda Diaries. But I wanted to make it professional. Luckily, I had Guillaume on my side. He helped me to set everything at night. The funny thing is that we had to wait until 21:00-22:00 each night because there was a fitness studio on the first floor and they were very loud. We recorded each day between 22:00 and 00:00 and then I would post on social media. This was the beginning with no intentions to make an album at all…

As I came back to Germany and was listening back to the improvisations, I thought it might be a very nice souvenir to put them into an album. So I asked David for the possibility to record them. I worked a little on the pieces to make them sound more complete, and went back in February 2020. I was very lucky, because all this happened just before the lockdowns.

The rest was all done remotely; I did the mixing at Voss Sound Studio with Moritz Bintig and mastering at Studioexport with Lennard Jeschke. 

We also want to release Una Corda Diaries on vinyl with Oscarson label, unfortunately we will have to wait a little more, so the vinyls will be out in April.

 

How is the Klavins Concert Una Corda M189 piano different from others? How does it react to the pianist? Tell us how you approached composing and performing on this instrument.

 

All the Klavins Una Cordas have the same mechanical setups, but the concert Una Corda M189 is almost 2 meters high; you have to climb a couple of steps and sit on a pedestal in order to play. The instrument is made of one string per key, all parallel and straight to each other; which means that the basses are on the left side and the trebles on the right giving a fascinating stereo feeling. The frame is made of stainless steel and has no wood at all, all the internal parts of the instrument are visible. 

To me the resulting sound is a mixture of cembalo and piano and there is the possibility to change it from clear to soft, using a felt of variable thickness.

Klavins created this instrument particularly for Bach’s music. I personally believe that this Instrument has a huge capacity, and suits perfectly modern music. I always had fun and was full of inspiration with it. When improvising, not everything was good but there was always something good enough to keep for later.

This is not the way I usually work on a composition; I like to take time, to edit, rewrite etc., but this context attracted me to a different way of composing.

 

The pieces were all composed and recorded in a week in Budapest. How did you approach their composition? Did you have existing material and sketches ready prior to starting, was it a process of improvisation, or else?

 

I did not have anything when I came to Vác in October 2019. I started with the daily improvisation idea, and, at the beginning, recorded everything as a documentary for myself — to work on the music again later. Afterwards, in December, I tried to refresh the pieces and make some corrections; I did not want to change the spontaneous character, so I left most of the pieces the way they were initially created; this is why they are short and compact.

At the beginning, I wanted to work on them to make them longer and go deeper, but then I remembered Chopin’s preludes: short, compact, but still intense and very inspiring. So I decided to give them the character of the preludes, each telling a short story and leaving the listener to have the space for his own imagination as well.

My inspiration was the sound of the Una Corda, the vintage furniture, the surroundings, particularly at night when everything was calm and quiet.

 

Aside from the instrument, there is a real difference between your debut album, Searching, and Una Corda Diaries. Can you tell us how you conceived the latter, and what the former has taught you?

 

Well, we all try our best to go forward, and to me once an album is done I move on. My last album Searching was my first attempt at making a professional recording and the pieces were more or less an attempt to find my way and my place in the music genre. I come from a classical background and this was my first real album to show myself as a composer. Una Corda Diaries is more spontaneous.

Also during these past three years, I wrote new music, and learned more about composing, discovered new artists, got some inspirations etc. So I guess I grew a little more as a composer too.

Now that this album is out, I am already searching for new ways, new challenges. I will not be happy if my next album turns out the same as the previous one. I am always inspired by people, nature, human emotions and daily life experience…

 

What are some of the artists that currently inspire you the most?

 

Oh, many, many. I listen to a lot of different genres and artists. From David Lang, Steve Reich, Gaya Canchelli, Arvo Pärt to Juliana Barwick, Ana Roxanne, Damian Marhulets, Sten Hermundstand, Alfonso Peduto, Marina Baranova, Anne Müller, CEEYS, Tigran Hamasyan and Bach, Brahms, Ravel, Sigur Rós, Chet Baker, Bill Evans, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Archive or Massive Attack. My problem is that I cannot stick to one genre or two; I like to mix and hear different directions.

 

So after Una Corda Diaries, what’s next?

 

Something different for sure — although I still have a complete written solo piano album that needs to be recorded.

Lately, I have been into expanding from solo to chamber. I would like to write for strings, or vocals and to combine different sounds; I really like the idea of many layers mixing into each other and weaving a colourful soundscape. I have already some things planned to come out this year which I am looking forward to!

 

Thanks very much Marie. Last one for the road — one book, one album, one film —, tell us about your latest cultural pearls?

 

I just started to read Noise: The Political Economy of Music by Jaques Attali. An album: The Call Within by Tigran Hamasyan. A classic: Breaking the Waves by Lars Von Trier

 

Bouncing on Marie’s words, Tigran Hamasyan; what a slap in the face! I strongly recommend this album too. Read my review of Una Corda Diaries