ListN Up: Vahram Sarkissian (December 3, 2021)

ListN Up is a weekly series of artist-curated playlists that offer an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. 

Vahram Sarkissian (Sargsyan) is an Armenian Canadian composer, singer, and improviser based in Montreal, Canada. His works have been widely performed across Europe, Asia, and North America. His style represents a multicultural musical ‘palette’ influenced by numerous traditions and practices spanning from V-century Armenian medieval chants to previously unreported endogenous vocal extended techniques. As an experimental vocalist, he developed a distinct vocal identity with a rich assortment of techniques and several signature sound production methods.

Hi there! My name is Vahram Sarkissian. I am an Armenian composer, singer, and improviser currently living in Montreal. The playlist that I prepared for you turned out to be pretty eclectic, pretty diverse, probably because of the wide amplitude of styles that have influenced me throughout the years. There are several Armenian pieces that I wanted to share with you, having in mind that many of you might not be very familiar with those talented musicians. I want to thank I CARE IF YOU LISTEN for this opportunity to share my inspiration. So… enjoy the music!

Fides Tua by Tigran Hamasyan

Hamasyan is one of my biggest discoveries of the past decade. His exquisite sense of beauty combined with an almost super-human feel of rhythm fascinates me each time I listen to him playing. I chose one of his “softer” pieces, which shows the delicate side of his musical self.

“Gutanerg” (Armenian work song) by Komitas

Komitas is probably one of the most underestimated composers of the early 20th century. Among other things, he alone managed to revitalize, and in a way, recreate the almost vanished ancient Armenian folk music tradition. The recording you’ll hear is more than 100 years old, and the song is much much older, however, it still sounds modern to me.

“Thinkin’ About Your Body” by Bobby McFerrin

One-of-a-kind Bobby McFerrin is my biggest influence when it comes to a cappella solo music. Apart from his famous “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” there are so many deep, complex, and precious musical “gemstones” that are much lesser-known.

Ave Maria by Toshio Hosokawa, performed by Schola Heidelberg (Walter Nußbaum, conductor)

When I first listened to Hosokawa’s music, I was mesmerized by the dense colorful “kaleidoscope” he manages to create. Ave Maria is probably his best-known composition, and for a good reason.

Recalling / Free Improvisation by David Balasanyan

Balasanyan is one of the few “pure” improvisers I know who creates music on-the-go that oftentimes seems to be thoroughly composed, and he never repeats himself. I feel an exceptional sense of freedom in his music.

Formwela 4 by Esperanza Spalding (feat. Corey King)

This multitalented artist has been an inspiration to me for years now. The track I selected is a recent composition from her new album Songwright’s Apothecary Lab, which I discovered while creating this playlist. This song shows that Spalding constantly evolves, searches, moves forward, and is not being afraid of being fragile and “transparent.”

“Bounce With Me x Kau Ingat Kau Gempak” by Heartzel

The next performance I want to share with you blew my mind. I have always been interested in extended vocal techniques, and this new generation of 16-18 years old beatboxers creates magic.

Aria for voice and audience by Vahram Sarkissian

It might be interesting to find out what music all the above influences can shape and materialize. I am sharing one of my recent pieces. It’s called ARIA: half a piece, half a workshop, and it’s written to be performed by me and you — the listener.

Shushiki by Komitas, performed by Khatia Buniatishvili

The last little piece in the playlist is again something precious by Komitas. One of the peculiarities of Komitas is the ability to create complete, immaculate, exquisite musical structures with minimal resources. You may also check out his choral pieces, some of which I find to be masterpieces.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

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