Antranig Kzirian, known by his stage name as theoudplayer, released new material in November. The recording project, named “nOUD,, is a concept grounded in the diverse, enriching and overall diaspora experience of an American Armenian oud player who has lived all over the United States, toured globally, and performed countless forms of music. Inspired by numerous devoted interpreters of this ancient and fascinating instrument, Kzirian will present both original and modern renditions of traditional music on the oud.
Kzirian recorded “nOud” at Foreword Productions Studios in Los Angeles, compiling a substantial and comprehensive collection of compositions in this highly anticipated release. The album was released on November 12 in digital format and also as a hard copy CD featuring detailed liner notes incorporating archival artist research provided by Ara Dinkjian, alongside Kzirian’s own contextual descriptive narratives of each track. Both digital and hardcopy releases shall be accompanied by unique, track specific artwork created by graphic designer Simon Majarian depicting a visual interpretation of Kzirian’s oud playing.
Asbarez caught up with theoudplayer and, via email, discussed his new project and his love the oud. Listen to a sample playlist.
ASBAREZ: What inspired your new album?
ANTRANIG KZIRIAN: The oud has played such a central role in Armenian music, and was such an enchanting and captivating presence in my youth, that it became my goal to not only play and study the instrument, but I endeavored to raise awareness of it as well. As a result, the oud is a big part of my artistic identity. I have played it for years, wielded it widely in various projects and learned from so many different musicians and styles over time. On a practical note, being involved with other projects; whether it was burning through tracking a String Harmonies record in a day or two before an overseas tour for VI·ZA or my more youthful Aravod recordings dating back to the early 2000s, I had never sat down and truly arranged, composed and dialed in a dedicated full length oud album. I was actually quite excited and really took the time to find a sound and feel for what I envisioned to be a contemporary oud performance record. Hence the name “nOUD”, which reflects my goal of reimagining and rebranding the oud for so many listeners that likely have never heard the recordings of so many of the great oud masters that inspired me. It was important to me to present this instrument for the modern day listener, in a hybridized traditional yet innovative form that paid respect to the past while paving the way into the future.
Asbarez: Who are your chief influences?
A.K.: There are so many. I was blessed to study with oud masters Ara Dinkjian and the late John Bilezikjian, in addition to Dr. Ara Der Mardirossian – and if one considers listening intently and studying audio recordings for much of my life, my influences extend far beyond to so many others. John Berberian’s playing has had a tremendous impact on me, as well as the recordings of fellow Philadelphian George Mgrdichian. I have closely studied master Richard Hagopian and continue to listen and learn from so many of the great players from the generations that came before me and also from contemporaries. Udi Hrant’s recordings shaped much of my basic understanding of the instrument and various techniques. Each interpreter of the oud innovated in their own way, and I too have experimented and pushed the boundaries of the instrument and my own musicianship and artistry. With all that said, the main objective for me has been to breathe new life into the instrument, to refresh the tradition, to take it and make it my own in a meaningful and artistic manner. I believe that this instrument is an extension of your soul, which is very important to understand if one strives to play the oud. It’s a deeply personal interaction and bond with the music and instrument.
Asbarez: What song was most fun to record for you?
A.K.: Has to be Take 5. This is a classic and timeless jazz favorite. I initially heard it from one of Mgrdichian’s records as a youngster – imagine hearing Take 5 on the oud for the first time, before the actual original track. For years I pondered how I would record this song in my own unique way. I set out to make a version all my own, with different arrangements and colors. It was something I greatly anticipated while recording the album and found enormously rewarding while tracking and mixing. Playing jazz in odd time on the oud. Definitely one of the most inspiring and exciting parts of the project. I also enjoyed recording some of my original pieces to round out the record – in fact there will be a lot more of that coming in the future now that “nOUD” has been released. I have over 100 original compositions that will be making their way onto upcoming albums!
Asbarez: Where does the oud fit in the spectrum of Armenian music?
A.K.: The oud occupies a bit of an intriguing space in the Armenian cultural consciousness. It is a bit of a tortured and conflictual instrument because of certain unfortunate historical realities and taboos. As a result, some have judged the instrument based on incomplete understanding, and sadly swiftly stigmatized the oud in the post-Genocide Armenian identity construct as being only associated with the culture of genocide perpetrators. Recovering from that misappropriation and dispossesion of our people’s achievements has been a collective effort amongst many oud players throughout the world. Armenian musicians and oud players were some of the foremost achievers and innovators in music throughout so many regions for such long periods of time – so the dramatic cultural taboos voiced around me by a (vocal) minority never felt quite right while growing up. As a result it’s been of great interest to me to contribute to the restoration of the oud in Armenian music. Aside from my music projects and records, I have researched and written about the role of the oud in Armenian American identity as a graduate student at Columbia University, under the guidance of noted ethnomusicologist Melissa Bilal.
Asbarez: Where can we find your music?
A.K.: “nOUD” is available via my website, which offers a special hardcopy album and insert incorporating the custom oud-based artwork of Simon Majarian, who created various designs for each track on the record as he listened to studio mixes throughout the recording process. It was a pleasure to work with such a talented artist who understood the instrument and was able to capture the essence of the instrument with such striking visuals. The insert also features creative written narratives describing each track and medley, explaining my personal history and experiences relating to the various recordings. “nOUD” is also available on iTunes, CDBaby, Spotify and most other digital platforms.
Asbarez: What’s next for theoudplayer?
A.K.: Keep an eye out for performances in 2018 featuring new music from “nOUD”!