Inspired by Nature - Seven Sounds of Azerbaijan
Article and photos by: Thomas Melzer
Rain Sultanov did exactly that and came back with lively sketches of nature. He took these sketches with him to the Rainbow Studio in Oslo, having chosen the best place to have the sounds of nature brought back into existence and turned into music. Here, with the help of sound director Jan Erik Kongshaug, ECM and ACT label stars record their albums. Legendary ECM album covers already reveal to buyers that they are in for an 'all-natural' product.
Let us, however, not rush and tell everything as it took place. Rain Sultanov had long dreamt of making his music reflect the diversity of Azerbaijani landscapes. In autumn 2013, his dream came true thanks to the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ). For two weeks straight, accompanied by various musicians and singers, Rain Sultanov travelled to the Caucasus highlands, marshy grounds, steppes, deep woods, coastal areas, semi-deserts and a mountain desert, having made trips of 2,000 kilometres overall. The musicians listened closely for the sounds of each of the seven landscapes, hoping to discover its special charm, talked to the locals and began improvising on their instruments. Due to their unconstrained quest for music representing the specific aura of each destination, their album came to be known as Inspired by Nature – Seven Sounds of Azerbaijan.
The nature did not always favour the visitors. It was so cold in the highlands that Rain Sultanov's fingers barely obeyed him while playing the saxophone. In the marshes, the musicians played in a boat which had initially been on land. Carried away by the liberty of creative self-expression, they did not notice the water slowly flooding the boat, until discovering they had wet feet as they disembarked. In the woods, the performance was impeded by dog barking, in addition to the noise coming from chainsaws. And in the mountain desert, the musicians experienced a strong wind which led the sand to blow onto their faces and instruments. In spite of all this, they opposed the wind with the music of even stronger power. In the never-ending steppe, they were supposed to place a grand piano. Two cars with musicians and a lorry carrying the piano set out from Baku in sunny weather. When they reached their destination after a 100-kilometre journey to the Shirvan National Park, though, it started to rain. The piano was left in the lorry, and the search for traces of music had to be postponed for a few days.
The performers ran into unusual music encounters during their travels. In the ancient mountainous town of Lahij, they played spontaneously, while two local braziers hit their hammers on the anvil in time. The musicians even handed out percussion instruments to the children who had come back from school and improvised together.
On the last day of recording at the Rainbow Studio, Rain Sultanov summed up the work as follows: "Of course, had we not witnessed the beautiful landscapes of Azerbaijan, these seven compositions would have sounded differently. Here in the studio, it sufficed for us to close our eyes in order to feel as if we were back to the nature."
For example, while listening to the composition "White Birds", written in the Qizilagac State Reserve, not far from Lenkoran it is impossible to feel the difference between Rain Sultanov's saxophone and the real twittering of the birds. The inspiration for the composition "On the trail of Shirvan’s Gazelles" came while they were in the Shirvan National Park. Here Rain Sultanov and pianist Shahin Novrasli could witness the rare species of gazelles inhabiting the park from an observation tower. Later, through their instruments, they imitated the thud of their hooves. Rain Sultanov and oud-player Yasef Eyvazov were particularly impressed by the mud volcanoes of Gobustan. One can easily hear the constant gurgling and squelch made by the volcanoes as Eyvazov imitates the sounds of a dry land on his oud. Among the travellers to various parts of Azerbaijan were Georgian percussionist Irakli Koiava, cellist Alexei Miltikh and mugham singer Nuriya Huseynova. In addition, Rain Sultanov invited famous musicians Linnea Olsson (cello) and Peter Nilsson (drums) from Sweden, as well as Japanese bass player Yasuhito Mori, to join him in Oslo for the album recording.
Scenes of Azerbaijani landscapes during the music performance and the recording at the Rainbow Studio in Oslo were filmed by German documentary film director Antje Dombrowski. In the spring of this year, along with the album, there will be released a DVD of the film Inspired by Nature – Seven Sounds of Azerbaijan. Those involved in the project on the rational use of energy resources of the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) would like to use this unusual project to draw public attention to the beauty of Azerbaijani nature. They are hoping to motivate not only foreign tourists but also Azerbaijanis to want to explore unknown parts of those landscapes and protect the environment.
PROJECTS / INSPIRED BY NATURE
We are lucky to have many wonderful artists, excellent musicians and composers from around the world. Many from the Nordic countries. I am very happy that we are planning a release of an artist from your country that I like very much, his music has much heart and soul: Rain Sultanov is a great saxophone player and composer, with his music he has a lot to say.