Wednesday, September 30, 2009

US Mini-Tour: 4 Gigs in 5 days

NY Taxis from the High Line
Flying back to NYC from Moscow was not so bad, I guess because I usually fly back to LA from Europe, so I am used to longer flights.  After landing at JFK, whisking through passport control and customs, and jumping into a waiting cab, I found myself on the doorstep of my dear friends Sono and Chuck's loft in the East Village. Vlad and Huun Huur Tu were staying at a friend's place in Harlem, and so I had a much needed day of adjusting from the jet lag and taking care of some US business.  Chuck is in Europe filming his music documentary of The Duke and The King, so things were quiet at the loft, and Sono and I had a great meal at a vegtarian restaurant - perhaps the most healthy meal I've had in a month. I caught up with my friend Aria for coffee, did a meet and greet with a writer, and then went to see the HiLine (very cool) and a somewhat surreal late night Mexican dinner with Sono in the village.

Carmen & Sayan record a radio interview in Carmen's cramped hotel room

Carmen arrived the next day, and Sayan, Vlad and I met him at his cramped hotel room (booked at the last minute) to record an interview for the "Echoes" NPR show. Then cab rides and shuffling around of people and equipment, ad we were all at the sound check for our gig at Poisson Rouge.  We loved this club - the sound and front of house were real pros, they fed us great food, and most important, the show and the audience were great.  No quartet this time, but violinist/violist Olympia Moy sat in with us and did a great job.

Onstage at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC

Violinist Olympia Moy and Jo (who helped with sound) at Poisson Rouge

Vladimir and his friend Sasha (the 4th Sasha we have met on this tour, and the prettiest)

Kaigolo, Carmen, Danielle (an NYC fan) and Sayan

Up at 6 am the next day to catch an early flight out of LaGuardia, a plane switch in Chicago, and then we found ourselves in Indianapolis, met by a van from Earlham College who took us to a Holiday Inn on the border of Indiana and Ohio.  We were all wiped out, and decided to have dinner at the Ground Round in the hotel.  The staff and hotel guests did not know what to make of us, and our waitress had never heard of Siberia, let alone Tuva.  We got a surprise package from Chad of some alligator skin (his family are alligator hunters) for the guys to use in instrument making, and Sayan and Kaigolo had some fun with freaking out the help by using them as bibs for dinner.

Mark at the airport in Chicago

Sayan tries on his new alligator bib

Kaigolo has one too

Another early morning, and we headed to Earlham College to rehearse with the college string quartet, who would play with us for the 2 Indiana gigs.  They were very excited, nervous, and after a shaky start, really rose to the occasion. After rehearsal and a quick lunch, we loaded up the vans and took a 3 hour drive to Bloomington where we would perform at the Lotus Festival.  We were late for sound check, so did the best we could, and a few hours later were on the main stage as the headliners for the night.  It was a good concert, and the kids from Earlham were beside themselves with excitement in being part of it.  I really enjoyed working with them and coaching them in their first real pro situation.

Mark at sound check at Lotus Festival

The band in concert at the Lotus Festival

The Earlham string quartet performing at Lotus

Loren's parents drove up from Kansas City to see us at Lotus

Radik & Alexi at one of our many airport layovers

Kaigolo and Alexi at the Earlham soundcheck

The next day, 3 hour ride back to Richmond, a quick sound check, quick dinner, and then we performed at Earlham College to a wildly enthusiastic audience of students and faculty. It was my favorite night of the "mini tour", and despite being exhausted from all the traveling, the band sounded great.  Sayan had been in a dark and pensive mood all day, but seemed to lighten up considerably after the show.  At 10 pm, we drove 2 hours to the airport in Indianapolis, and checked into the Radisson with a 4:30 am wakeup call in order to make our flight to Minneapolis.  For reasons not entirely clear to us (procrastination, cost) we had to take 3 flights to get to Minneapolis, making a 6 hour journey to what should have been a 2 hour flight if we went direct. The mood among the group was dark - everyone was exhausted, and Carmen was unhappy about the sound and content of the 2 shows in Indiana, and wanted to try a new set list and make other adjustments.  Sayan was back to his dark mood, and separated from the group at the airport layovers, trying to get some sleep.  Alexi and I played my travel guitar, Vladimir worked on his laptop and the rest just quietly kept to themselves most of the day.

The band and the student string players at Earlham

Alexi plays my travel guitar at yet another airport

We arrived in Minneapolis and were greeted by the very friendly and extremely helpful Dan Beers, who drove us to the hotel where we ran into the singer from Watcha Clan, for whom we would be opening at the Cedars Center.  We had a rehearsal with a new string quartet set for 3 pm, and that gave us only an hour to rest before heading over. Sayan announced that he and Huun Huur Tu did not want to go to the quartet rehearsal, much to my consternation, as it would be impossible to rehearse the acoustic songs without them.  After much discussion in Russian, Vladimir convinced the band to go, and I promised to make it as quick as possible so they could rest before the gig. The quartet, led by Jacqueline Utal, was amazing, and the acoustic rehearsal went really well and really quickly.  Dan picked us up and we got the gear over to the the venue, and then back to the hotel for a one hour rest, during which Carmen re-tooled the set list.

The sound check at Cedars was a tough one. The sound engineer, who had worked with HHT before, was favoring the acoustic sounds of HHT and the quartet over the electronica, not really understanding the concept we were going for. Carmen jumped in to get the sound in the house the way we usually worked, but met with great resistance from both the sound guy and Sayan and eventually got frustrated and gave up.  There was only a few minutes until the performance, so we had to leave the stage and let them open the house. 15 minutes later we took the stage, and it was a credit to everyone's professionalism that we performed a great show despite the fact that the sound on stage was terrible - Carmen's electronics were barely audible. We received a standing ovation and an encore, but after the show, the mood in the green room was very dark. Vladimir and Huun Huur Tu left soon after to go to a party at a friends house. Carmen broke down his gear and disappeared.  I chatted with the quartet for a while, then went back into the club to watch Watcha Clan, who gave a great performance.  I just danced away the sadness, noticing that Watcha Clan had brought their own sound person (smart). Eventually Carmen came back and also got into the Watcha Clan show, and when the club was finally empty the two of us, once again helped by Dan Beers, loaded up the van and headed back to the hotel.

Watcha Clan performs at Cedars in Minneapolis

The next morning, I did my final packing, checked out of the hotel, and texted Vladimir to tell him Carmen and I were leaving for the airport. It turned out they were all sleeping in before their van ride to Michigan for an acoustic gig. Sayan and Kaigolo came down, as they had not got the word about the late check out. They went outside, smoked a cigarette, and then said a quick goodbye and went back up to their rooms. Vlad came down for a couple of minutes, another quick goodbye, and I jumped on the van and headed to the airport with Watcha Clan and Carmen. Six hours and two flights later, I was waiting for a shuttle at LAX ,thinking about the next step in this amazing journey.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Weekend in St. Petersburg

Why go back to Moscow when you can spend the weekend in St, Petersburg? That was the idea planted in my head by Vladimir last week. The original plan of staying at the home of a Russian rock star friend of Sasha's never actually materialized, but the ever-helpful angel Tatania contacted her cousin Natalia who is a tour guide in St. Petersburg and hooked me up big time.

I left the Ural hotel in Perm at 4 am with the "Eternal" crew in our trusty "Famous Musicians" van, and we arrived at the airport in Perm in time for our 6:15 am flight to Moscow.  It was a very old plane, and the overhead compartments could not hold anything much larger than a messenger bag, so all of us had to be very creative in finding spaces to store our musical gear for the flight. The seats conveniently folded both forward and backwards, pretty much guaranteeing that in a crash landing, you will fly forward and hit the pilot.  Unless you have one of the rare seat belts that actually stay buckled -belts that look alarmingly similar to the ones in the Dodge Dart I drove in high school. Now this is the Aeroflot Airlines I have heard so much about!

Carmen, Celeste,Chad & Joe say goodbye in Moscow

After landing in Moscow, I said goodbye to Carmen, Loren, Celeste, Chad & Joe, who took a transfer to the international airport where they had an 8 hour layover before their flights back to LA.  Huun Huur Tu took a van back to their Olympic Village digs in Moscow, and Vlad and I hung out at the Moscow terminal to wait for our flights - his to see his mother in norther Russia, and mine to St. Pete's.

My flight took off at 9:45, and the great discount I got on this shuttle was offset by the $50 in extra baggage fees I was charged, because I am lugging my keyboards and gear with me so I will have them for the trip back to NYC.  There was an offer to keep them in Moscow, but the logistics were never very clear, so I opted to drag them along on my weekend.  The shuttle plane, operated by Russiya Airlines, was even older than the previous plane.  This one featured welded-shut ashtrays in the seats, metal tray tables, and overhead compartments that must be meant to hold purses, as even a briefcase would not fit.  My travel guitar got to fly in Business class, in a space where there was a missing seat. Nice!

My hotel on the Fontanka river

The flight is only an hour, and I arrived in St. Petersburg airport around 11:00 am.  About 20 minutes later, the transfer taxi arrived, driven by a very nice man named Roman, who knew one word in English - "traffic". This was his greeting to me, an apology for being a bit late.  This was also the word he used as he pointed out various points of interest along the way - Moskovsky Propekt "traffic", Neve River "traffic", Anichkov Bridge "traffic"! Even so, I could see that St. Petersburg promised to be a city to remember.

The Anichkov Bridge - famous for the "horse tamer" statues

My mini-hotel was just off the Fontanka River embankment, close to the bridge that bears the same name as the hotel "Anichkov Bridge".  I arrived a little before 1 pm, and t was a beautiful day, so I took a walk around the city, mostly on and around the main street, Nevsky Prospekt, a name I remember well from Doestoevsky.  What a beautiful city!  And unlike Moscow, the people here smile, and seem more friendly.  Like Paris, the young lovers kiss on the main streets, and exuberant women run up sidewalks to greet each other with hugs and kisses that in other cities would e reserved for long lost reunions.  The rivers run through the city, and there are tourist boats everywhere, sliding under the many ornate bridges full of beautiful young Russians who are, yes, smoking cigarettes and holding open bottles of beer.

A poet watches over the church square

St. Petersburg is for lovers

The Palace Square (now the Hermitage Museum)

Your carriage awaits, Cinderella

In Russia there is a law that all young women must wear heels (or so it seems)

My hotel is just across the river from the former residence of the famous choreographer-impresario Diaghilev, who may have concocted the ballet "Rite of Spring" with Stravinsky watching the same view as I have today. I checked in via email with Natalia, who confirmed she would meet me at noon the next day for a tour of the city. Since I was running on very little sleep, I decided to have an early dinner and found an amazing Italian restaurant just off Fontanka called Probka (the Russian word for "cork").  A wine bar/bistro, it had a great view of the St. Simeon Church. I had a carrot cream soup followed by the special risotto with chaterelle mushrooms and a glass of malbec.  For dessert, I ordered chocolate gelato, but on the urging of the waitress, changed it to the home-made pear gelato that was one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth. Incredible!  This dinner made up for all the tongue and mayo meals of Perm, and I went to sleep a very happy man.

Probka - another solo dinner in a romantic city 

The next day I met Natalia at noon, for a tour of the city.  An English teacher most of the year, she works as a professional guide when school is out, and she knew her stuff.  The photos below show some of the wonderful places we visited in the city.  Unfortunately, it began to rain about half an hour into our walking tour.  I thought it might be a good idea to cut it short, but Natalia insisted that we power on and do the complete 4 hour tour she had planned. It is just as beautiful in the rain, she insisted, and I had to agree, but by hour 4 I was sloshing around in wet sneakers and very damp clothes, so she took pity on me and cancelled the planned boat trip at 5. Since it was a Saturday, the most popular day for weddings, there were many brides and their entourages following the tradition of visiting all the romantic and holy places on their wedding day for good luck - even in the pouring rain! So who was I to complain?

At Pushkin's statue in Art Square - as for the pigeons, everyone's a critic I guess

My tour guide Natalia, cousin of Tatiana, our friend in Perm

Inside St. Ivan's church

Catherine the Great gave this statue as a gift to her husband...

so newlyweds visit it for good luck right after their wedding

These two hang at the statue and play "Here Comes The Bride" for tips

Another bride near St. Paul's fortress, where they imprisoned Doestoevsky
Not sure why that is good luck

Peter the Great was humble and never had a big head, we are told

This beautiful church is named something that translates into
"site of the bloody massacre that is now sacred"
Don't know what their parish soccer team is called.

 I got back to the hotel and put on some dry clothes and to ward off a cold, I thought I should find some soup and hearty cuisine. I headed down the Fontanka away from the touristy cafes of Nevsky Prospekt, and found a small restaurant that had a Russian menu in the window with one phrase in English - "Georgian Cuisine." I entered and through a pantomime asked about soup, and my efforts were rewarded with a big bowl of an amazing soup with herbs and spices, rice, vegetables and a small piece of beef brisket. Yum!  It came with an unusual sourdough-type bread and the only red wine they had at the moment - some Malbec.  Amazing.  After dinner the rain had stopped, and I took a walk through the neighborhood with the idea of finding some live music.  But the long day took its toll, and instead I made a circle back to the hotel and a good nights sleep.

Entrance hall of the Hermitage Museum

The next day I met Natalia in St. Peter's Square at 11 am for a tour of the Hermitage Museum.  If you do not book in advance, you usually have to wait in a 3 hour line, but she had pulled some strings, and I handed 400 rubes to a colleague of hers who looked like a character from "Crime and Punishment", and he produced a ticket from his briefcase, and we were able to skip the line, go through the "tours only" line, and be part of the first group of the day in the museum.  What an incredible collection of art, one that spans centuries.  It is said that if you spent 1 minute in front of each work of art in the Hermitage, it wold take you 8 years to look at every painting and sculpture.  So Natalia gave me a tour of the greatest hits of the Hermitage in about 3 hours - a perfect tour.

Hey, I found a great loft space in St. Pete's

Natalia was a great guide - we got there before the crowds

Detail from the throne room

This malachite vase came from the Ural Mountains near Perm

Cost Plus World Market doesn't stock this dining room set

  It was a gorgeous day, so we headed to the river and arranged for the boat tour.  Since the bat had headsets with tours in every language, it would be one I would do on my own.  I bid Natalie farewell, and to kill the hour before the boat arrived, I sat at a cafe by the river, had a pint of Russian beer and enjoyed sleepy St. Petersburg on a Sunday.  The boat tour delivered, and is a great way to view the city and really get a perspective on how it must have looked to approaching ships visiting the Palace of Catherine the Great.

Great day for a boat tour

Hey. it's the star of "The Office" with his Russian girlfriend!

The LA river is nothing like the Fontanka, but both run through the city

After the boat, I decided to head back to the Georgian restaurant and see what else was on the menu.  One motivation for going back was it is very reasonable, and I was running low on rubles and did not really want to change more dollars since I was leaving Russia the next day.  This time I had some trout shiskabob, with a great dill and sour cream sauce, and a smaller bowl of that wonderful soup. The entire meal cost about the same as a large latte at Starbucks. I headed out into the night, once again looking for some live music.  I had read about a jazz club about a 20 minute walk from the hotel, so I headed that way, but about 15 minutes into the walk, my spidey sense kicked in, and I realized that this jazz club, like many in the US, was in a pretty sketchy neighborhood.  When I saw several doorways with armed security officers guarding hotel entrances, I decided that it was better to head back toward Nevsky Prospekt, and abandoned the idea of a jazz evening. So I had another nice evening walk through the city, and went back to the hotel and packed for the long journey back to New York. At 8 am, my trusty driver Roman showed up, and as we put my cases in his car, he greated me with his catch phrase -"Traffic!".  Four hours later I was in the Moscow airport, transferring to my plane to NYC.  I spent my last rubles at the Duty Free shop on my only purchased souvenir of Russia - a bottle of Beluga Vodka. The real souvenirs are the memories I am happy to have shared with you in this blog. Dos Vedanya!

Huun Huur Tu performs in St. Petersburg on Oct. 3rd
(but not with Carmen and me)
Maybe next year...Dos Vedanya!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

From a Dark Past to a Bright Future - Part 2: Economic Summit

The riverside setting of the summit in Perm

I have a Russian VIP press pass - don't ask me why

Earlier in the same day we visited Perm 36, Sasha took us to a major Economic Summit being held a resort near the Kama River.  It was attended by the Governor of the region of Perm, as well as the Minister of Culture, and many luminaries and officials from all over Russia and from other countries as well. The day we attended focused on the Cultural Initiative, so it was attended not only by officials, but also Russian movie stars,TV stars, talk show hosts, directors of museums, film directors and several billionaires.  To us, they all looked like regular people, and Sasha had to keep telling us "that person is a big movie star", or "that guy with the jeans is like the Bill Gates of Russia".  We were given VIP passes, and Carmen was interviewed by several newspapers and radio shows.  Our video crew interviewed the Governor, the Minister of Culture, and also Mr. Ghelman, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in Perm, who is considered the "father" of the new cultural revolution here.

At the summit all the tents are white (and so are all the people).

Edward, a well known theater director in Perm is a legend in his own mind

Sasha was in his element here - master schmoozer

Carmen and I impersonate Russian rock stars in the press room

The Governor is a very charismatic person, and a man of the people.  He is not a member of the ruling party, and he dresses in jeans, always flies economy class, and reminds me a bit of Bill Clinton in his gregariousness.  His initiative is a bold one - he has decided to put 6% of the state's budget into culture and the arts, with the goal of making Perm the cultural center of Russia.  His theory is that if you invest in the arts, and make a city a great place to live because of its culture, that private investment in businesses, stores, restaurants, will follow, and the city will grow and flourish because people will want to move there and the quality of life will make people want to stay there.  The economy will grow and there will be more employment from the new businesses and institutions. So far, from what we see in Perm, it seems to be working.  The city is definitely under renewal - there is construction everywhere -and the number of amazing cultural activities for free or cheap rivals most US cities. The initiative is of course controversial, and conservatives complain that the money should be spent directly on infrastructure and services, or given directly to businesses rather than cultural institutions (sound familiar?).

The Governor of Perm region - he came to our concert!

The Minister of Culture checks out our CD "Eternal"

Sasha has a different tailor than the other summit attendees

Carmen compliments a passing diplomat

The world media were represented here

In the US, by comparison, most arts budgets for states is less than 1%. At the turn f the last century, cities like New York and Boston made similar investments into cultural institutions, and those are now still with us - the symphonies, museums, theaters. The difference was in the US it was mostly private money, while in Perm, it is money spent by the government.  I think the initiative will work, and it is a bold experiment worth following. Oh yeah, and our concert is part of it.  We recently discovered that the government is subsidizing the ticket prices, so people can buy tickets for about $6 each to our show.  In addition, high school and college students from all over the country have been bussed and flown into Perm to be able to experience the varied shows of the festival and then return to their home towns to spread the news about what's new in the arts. I am at a loss to think of an equivalent program in the US of this magnitude.  At a time when many European countries and the US are deleting arts from their budgets, it is amazing to see the opposite happening in what was once a grey, forbidding industrial city called Molotov.

The video team interview Ghelman, the "godfather" of the Perm Cultural revolution

Gelman wears cool glasses he may have borrowed from Elton John

Carmen & I found the free press brunch - and it was excellent!
I knew those press passes would come in handy.

From a Dark Past to a Bright Future - Part One: Perm 36

Last week, we visited Perm 36, a notorious labor camp, closed only in 1987. Now a museum dedicated to the cause of human rights, it is a chilling reminder of this country's past, and the many sacrifices that were made by human rights activists.  It is also a reminder of the incredible cruelty of the Stalin regime, and the repression of the people in Soviet times.  Over 20 million people died in these camps.  The government insists it was from "natural causes", which seem in include starvation, hypothermia, and literally being starved to death.  The camps were originally built as prisons where inmates would spend their days clearing forests to supply wood for the newly industrialized republic.  Since Stalin did not have the money to support labor force he needed to fulfill his dreams of creating a modern industrialized state, a system of slave labor was developed, where millions of Russians were sent to labor camps like this one all over Russia.  You could wind up in one of these camps for any petty offense - being late for work, laughing at a joke about the government, wrapping fish in a newspaper that happened to have the name or picture of Stalin in it. People lived in constant fear of the KGB, who were in charge of enforcing these laws, and who could send anyone to the camps on whim, without a trial.  The guards were notoriously sadistic, and prisoners were given the bare minimum amount of food to survive.  Temperatures here reach 50 degrees below zero (Celsius) and there are no heaters or stoves.

The watchtower between the barracks and the work yard

The director of the museum and two lovely young women who volunteered to interpret for us
No one else spoke English so we were lucky they  happened by.

No mans land between the barracks and the yard

This small building housed 250 people

Inside the barracks - unheated and bare beds

In the second phase of the camps, it was a turn-around - after Stalin's regime was out of power, the many KGB officers whom the people saw as their tormentors were sent here as punishment for their actions under Stalin and other regimes. At that time, trees were planted, indoor toilets installed, and other accoutrements to make life less harsh for those sensitive KGB thugs.

When the KGB were imprisoned here, they planted trees to make it "nicer"

Remnants of flush toilets installed for the KGB, but then removed when dissidents came.

Artifacts of prison life in the window

A woman worker

Drawing of fellow inmates by a prisoner

What workers wore in the freezing cold - not very thick or warm

Then, in the third phase, the camps returned to their sinister purpose.  Under the Soviet regimes, writers, poets, journalists and political leaders who were critical of the government were sent here as punishment, usually for 3-5 years.  In the past, the inmates were sent to labor outside the camps in the woods and road, but for the dissidents, they were never allowed to leave the camp, and given menial, mind-numbing tasks to do all day long. The same cruel conditions returned as well, and have been documented in many accounts by inmates who survived.  One of these former inmates, Sergei Kovalev, is on the board of the Museum, and is very active in the movement to tell the stories of the people who lived and died in these camps.

The "severe punishment" part of the camp

A prisoner in solitary would never leave this room, and have to work making plates for electric irons
Notice "toilet" in corner.

The looks on out faces says it all

A guard still watches today, but for different reasons

There is now art on the walls of the camp and theater groups perform here

At least 20 million people died at Perm 36

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Concert in Perm

It was finally the day of the concert. After setting up all our gear and a sound check / run-through with Huun Huur Tu, Carmen, Loren and I realized there was not much left to do to prep for the show, so we went back to the hotel, worked on booking travel for the US tour dates, and then chilled out with a cappuccino at our fave local spot, Kafe You. We had a late lunch at 3 pm, and at 5 pm the string players showed up and we sound checked 3 songs with them.

The shuttle van - the sign reads "Famous American Musicians" - kidnappers take note

Final rehearsal for me

Carmen at sound-check

Final runthrough with strings

Suddenly there was a rush of media, and after sound check, Carmen and I were interviewed by 3 newspapers before we rushed back to the hotel to change clothes.  Arriving back at the theater about 20 minutes later, we were amazed to realize that the throngs of people  that we had mistaken for rush hour commuters were actually all headed for our show. in scenes that reminded me of a "Hard Days Night", we were mobbed by people wanting us to sign posters and CDs, had to run around to the back entrance, and then were pulled backstage to do a final TV interview.  The TV crew also interviewed the string players, and they were thrilled and a little bewildered by al the attention.

The band just before the show

Last minute formal attire - hope that collar was better during the show:)

String Quartet being interviewed before the show

Carmen joins the papparzzi
The hall was completely full, and there were many people standing in aisles and in the back of the theater - a fire marshall in LA would have had a fit.  The estimate was 1200 people in a theater that seats 1000. Backstage, Huun Huur Tu had donned their traditional garb, the string players in their opera house dresses, and Carmen and seemed casually dressed in comparison.  I put on my heavy woolen suitcoat to look not too casual, abandoning my original idea of just a bright shirt., hoping I would not pass out under the stage lights.

The audience from backstage - 1200 people in a 1000 seat theater

String players with Kaigoglo and Radik - ready to go on

At Carmen's request, Sasha came onstage and gave an introduction.  In the morning, Sayan had warned that Sasha never talks for just a short time, and this evening was no exception.  According to the translator, his speech started with "When I was a little boy in Moscow, and told the story of his life leading up to this date."  After 10 minutes, with Huun Huur Tu and the rest of us trying hard to suppress giggles (even though the speech was in Russian and we did not understand a word), Sasha finished, and Huun Hr Tu took the stage for their two solo opening numbers. They were amazing, and then the rest of us joined them onstage, and the show began.  The performances were flawless - the weeks of rehearsal had paid off, and everything went as it should.  The improvisations were the best we ever did, and the crowd was often transfixed.  I had no stage nervousness at all - the mood was that of a love-in.  We finished our set, and the crowd was clapping and cheering, and HHT, the strings and I came back for an encore piece.  Then everyone returned to the stage, and we received a standing ovation that lasted a very long time.

Huun Huur Tu performs their solo songs

Lots of hugs and smiles backstage and then Carmen, Loren and I had to break down our gear, so we missed the scene in the lobby.  Quite a few people came onstage while we were breaking things down (luckily no security to stop them) and asked us to sign CDs and posters.  Quite a few of the younger people spoke some English, and a number of musicians came to ask us about our setups.  It was a particular thrill for me when Martynov, the composer of the orchestral HHT piece came up to me and shook my hand and said "thank you".

Backstage after the show

Just as we had arrived at the theater, we found out that the after show party at which Carmen was supposed to DJ had been cancelled, due to some issues with the management of the Russian rapper superstar who was also on the bill. So the video crew, Carmen, Loren, the 2 translators and I made our own party back at the local sushi / hookah place, later joined by Sayan, Kaigolo and Vladimir. We were also joined by a local filmmaker and musician. As Carmen said, you always meet interesting people the night before you leave town.

Chad, Celeste and Joe - the video team

Valeria translates a text message for Loren

A local musician and filmmaker from Perm

Kaigolo, Vladimir and Sayan debating in Russian

Carmen & Tatiana

The "Eternal" team (except for me) afterparty

A night I will always remember.  (Since the video crew were all manning cameras, there are no still photos of the actual concert, but back in LA, they will be able to create some from the RED camera footage.  Till then, the soundcheck is what we have to show).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Concert is Tonight!

One of the many huge posters in Perm for our concert

After months of preparation in the US, and 2 weeks of rehearsals here in Russia, it is finally time for the performance!
Our sound check and final run-through went very well last night, and everyone is ready and excited for the world premiere of "Eternal" live.  We are told that the 1000 seat theater is sold out, and there have been camera crews from TV stations and journalists interviewing us for the past few days.  We will do a final sound check this afternoon, have a late lunch, and then wait for the magic hour of 7 pm when the sound of Huun Huur Tu's Tuvan throat-singing will blend with electronics and start the show. I'm very excited, and so ready for this!
Final sound check

A Taste of Perm Culture - the Museum and the Symphony

Train station built in the 1700s
The real start of the "cultural revolution" of Perm was the opening of the Museum of Modern Art. Housed in what was once a harbor station on the Kama river, the Museum and its visionary founder have come to symbolize the new Perm, in much the way the museum at Bilbao in Spain re-defined that region.  They are currently having an exhibition of video art, with cutting edge artists from all over the world.  We are invited to come check out the exhibit, and the museum staff agrees to keep the galleries open late so that we have enough time to view the entire exhibit.  The band and our posse take the long walk to the waterfront together, passing through an old park with a statue of Lenin, and the original Opera House.  The weather has been unseasonably warm since we arrived here, and it's a great night for a walk. 
 The "Eternal" posse walking through Perm

Perm Museum of Modern Art

All roads lead to art museums

The most distant one is MOCA in LA

What's the Russian word for "tourist"?

Video Galleries inside the museum

 Sayan becoming one with the art

Tanja performs with the video art

Radik, Carmen and Alexi outside the museum

After viewing he exhibits, we take a walk by the river, where there are outdoor bars and improvised discos full of young people enjoying the unexpected summer weather.  One thing that has amazed us since we arrived is that every night we see lots of people walking down the street with open bottles of beer in their hands.  In Perm it is legal to drink beer this way, but not vodka or harder alcohol.  Everywhere we go we see men and women of all ages carrying open beers.  It is not an unusual sight to see 4 beautiful young women walking arm in arm "Sex In The City" style, each with a liter of beer in their hands.
Outdoor bar by the river

Enjoying walking with a beer - it's what you do in Perm

The Kama river in Perm

Joe & Celeste by the Kama river
The following evening, the ladies in the string quartet suggest we go to see an exceptional concert at the Opera House. Our ever-present guardian angel Tatiana uses her contacts at the Opera house to get us amazing seats for only 100 rubles each (about $3.50). It is a famous conductor from Moscow, along with the Moscow Symphony performing a violin concerto by Tchaikovsky and then Shostakoc's 5th Symphony.  The soloist for the concerto is a 27 year old wonder, who is originally from Perm, and his performance is incredible.  But the real revelation is the Shoshtakoic.  One of my favorite symphonic pieces, (and one of the great sources of much film music, including Herrmann and Williams), I have heard it performed in LA, Boston and San Francisco.  But I have never heard it performed like this.  Hearing a Russian orchestra with a great Russian conductor perform on of their countrymen's masterpieces made me haer the work in a completely new way.  The brilliant orchestration and haunting melodies were never so stunning as this evening in Perm.
The Opera House in Perm
A statue of Lenin in the park

Tanja & Sayan 

Inside the Opera House

The stage was specially converted for the symphony event

Monday, September 14, 2009

Rehearsals in Perm - Part 2

The band eats the mandatory lunch before rehearsal starts

Now that all the tech issues are solved, and after a couple of days of working on arrangements with the members of Huun Huur Tu, we are ready to start working with the string quartet.  The players are four women who play in the orchestra of the Perm Opera, all veteran classical players.  With the help of my assistant / translator Tania, I learn that they have never performed in this type of pop setting before, and they both excited and intimidated by the prospect.  The day started with a run-through of all the songs with Huun Huur Tu before the strings arrive, and it goes very well - everyone is on and the sound is really gelling. The quartet speaks no English at all, and I must rely on Tania, the assistant and translator to get across some of the fairly abstract musical ideas.  I learn she has a degree in music, and this is an essential element in making things go smoothly.  Even so, there are times when the players ask the same question several ways, not quite believing the answers - this is a very different musical world from the Opera House.
The string players arrive
We give the band a break, and I run through three of the songs with just the string quartet and Carmen's programmed parts. My original plan had been to conduct only countoffs and entrances, as I do when working in the studio and with my Notes From the Edge ensemble.  However, because in the electronica parts the beats sometimes drop out, the string players were getting lost, and requested that I conduct throughout the the pieces.  Loren helps me quickly set up an in-ear click, and on two songs, I abandon my keyboard parts in favor of conducting.  On two others, I work out a way to play the essential parts and switch to conducting and back to playing.  We run through four songs with everyone, and it goes very well. I breathe s sigh of relief - this is going to work after all.
Rehearsing with the strings

The full ensemble plays together for the first time
At the start of the second day of the strings, we work on two songs that do not involve the electronics - "Erbe Akasy" and "Magalyk".  The first is an upbeat number, and with the strings added, it sounds like a combination of Bartok and Tuvan hillbilly music. Carmen almost immediately vetoes the piece, as he feels it does not really fit with the rest of the program,  but Huun Huur Tu really want to perform it, so a compromise is made that it will be one of the Huun Huur Tu songs they do solo, probably without strings.  The second, "Magylyk", is a song that features Kaigolo singing solo with the strings.  He sings it very rubato, with pauses, and sometimes drops beats to create measures of 3.  The problem is that he never sings it the same way twice.  At first, it is difficult for the strings to follow me following Kaigolo, so I re-bar the music to make the downbeats line up with the start of Kaigolo's phrases, creating a piece that looks complex on paper, but is actually easier to conduct and play.  Once we have conquered that obstacle, we move onto two pieces that call for some improvisation from the quartet.  I give them pentatonic scales to work with, and they are quite timid at first, but after encouragement, they get into the spirit of the song and become more inventive and fluid.  In the second imrprov song, I ask them to imitate sounds of birds in their playing, and once again, they ask Tania for re-translation in disbelief. After much prodding and smiling, I get them to give it a try, and they roll their eyes and comply.  Soon they realize what fun it can be to let go and be playful, and they really get into the joy of the song, a good thing, as it is the show's finale.
Kaigolo sings "Mazhalyk"

The strings and Kaigolo perform "Mazhalyk"

Carmen & Sayan rework "Lost Past"
The third day with the strings was magical. We ran through all the songs in order, everyone hit their marks and their cues, and the blend was close to perfection. "Orphan's Lament" was especially moving - one of the crew called it "a masterpiece". The highlight though, was "Magylyk", the song that is just the strings and Kailgolo.  This time, the strings were able to follow the rubato perfectly, and my conducting was in sync.  Kaigolo's vocal performance was ethereal and haunting, and the performance left us all breathless.  I turned over to the assistant (on this day Valeria), and her eyes were full of tears.  Truly an amazing moment, one I hope we can recreate on stage.
A new rehearsal hall (with the German organ)

Huun Huur Tu sounds amazing in this space
On the fourth and final day with strings, we have to move to another hall across the street, one that houses a gigantic organ.  It is a very live room, full of reverb, and we run through the set and Huun Huur Tu's instruments, percussion and especially voices sound epic in this setting.  The strings arrive, and the live room makes "Orphans" and "Saryglar" majestic. We try out the new arrangement of "Lost Past", and the players are still thrown by the fact that Carmen's programming is in 4/4/ time and the song as performed by Huun Huur Tu changes meter to bars of 2/4 and 3/4.  After a few tries, we make the painful decision to abandon the idea of strings on this piece, and my long night's work is thrown away.  Carmen decides he will simplify the programming even more, so that the electronica element will still be present, and I go back to keyboards on this song.  On a positive note, the players are getting comfortable with the two improvised pieces, and so are getting more adventurous, and even having fun with them.  We also decide to add "Erbe Akasy" back to the program as an encore piece, with the strings, and this makes them very happy, as they love playing that song. The ensemble for the "Children of the Otter" orchestral piece show up early, and there is much discussion and drama, and it is decided we will let them work with Huun Huur Tu for the rest of the time in the hall, and Carmen, Loren and I pack up our gear, and head back to the hotel to start a well-deserved 4 day break.
The strings perform the encore piece

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Night Out in Perm

After 2 intense 7 hour days of rehearsal, we all felt a need to unwind.  The tech issues kept popping up,  and there had been many emotional moments as we worked through the arrangements and the "building" of the show. There had also been some tension regarding changes to the original business agreements as well as the "mandatory dining" schedule.  So it was time for the Americans to blow off some steam. After our dinner of various potato/meat and mayonnaise variations (yuck), Vladimir and our translator Tanya took us out to a local restaurant with a nice outdoor patio built in what was once the courtyard of a wealthy person's home.  We bought a bottle of what is considered the best vodka in the region - Beluga, and had a toast.  Vladimir showed us the proper way to drink Vodka - hold a piece of bread to your nose, drink the vodka in one shot, and then eat the bread.  The bread keeps the fumes from going up your nose when you drink the shot.  We all practiced several times until the bottle was gone.
Celeste, Carmen,Vladimir,Joe, Chad, Loren & Tanya at the open air restaurant

Beluga Vodka - if you can find this in the US, buy it -it's incredible

Vladimir teaches us the Russian way of toasting
The original plan was to hit a nightclub afterwards, but the cover charge coupled with the lack of per diem money (one of the changes in the agreement - the forced meals were a substitute for the per diem) presented an obstacle. Vlad went back to the hotel and the rest of us wandered down the hill to a Japanese restaurant Loren and I had discovered the night before.  For some inexplicable reason, it featured hookahs with flavored tobacco to go with your sushi.  I treated the group to some sushi and another round of vodka shots, and the smokers in the group enjoyed the hookahs as we all entertained the often mystified Tanya with stories of the rehearsals and tales of our lives back in the States. 
Kimonos, Vodka & Hookahs

Hookah Time

All the boys love Tanya

Our group from the POV of our bemused waitress

The wait staff remembered Loren and I from the night before, when we had searched for the word for "apple, and finally got our point across after a long game of charades. Loren had made an even greater impression when he asked where the bathrooms were. The correct word is "Toiylet", but instead he used the word we found in my iphone phrasebook, "unitas". So his question of "where can I find a toilet" was the sort of thing one would ask at Home Depot, not at a sushi bar, and left the waitress speechless.   It was a short stumble back to the hotel, and we were now all ready for a good crash before returning to rehearsals the next day at (thankfully) noon.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rehearsals in Perm - Part One

Mark & Carmen outside the theater in Perm

Close-up of poster - my name in Russian

After 4 hours rest (sleep would be an exaggeration) in the hotel, we pulled all our gear together and headed for the van to take us to the theater where we will be rehearsing.  The van driver seemed a bit confused, and then we realized it was because the concert hall is just across the street from the hotel. We started to set up, when the director of the festival came in and yelled at us "Eat!".  We said we were not hungry, and would eat later, but he kept insisting, "Go - eat now!".  It turned out that they had set up a welcoming feast for us, a table full of typical Russian food, and we were told by the managers that it would be very rude not to sit and consume it all.  So we had the first of many "mandatory meals", and wound up spending the first 2 hours of our rehearsal eating.  It turns out that in lieu of the per diem we were expecting, a decision had been made to give us meals. So every day, whether we are hungry or not, we eat lunch and dinner at a prescribed time in the same dining room.  The food is good, but there is always way too much, and the meals scheduled so close together that we are never really hungry enough to finish it all, leaving us feeling bad about leaving so much.  We asked if we could have just one meal, but were turned down.  We are grateful for the food, and there are lots of good things, but after a couple of days of potatoes, tons of mayonnaise over much of it (yuch  I am allergic and cannot eat any of those things) we are hoping they will get the hint and put out less food.  There is so many carbs that even a marathon runner would be taken aback.  I never thought I would complain about catered daily meals, but all of us are feeling a little bit like Hansel in the fairy story being force fed to fatten him up.
Eat! Eat now!

At our first mandatory lunch
We did get to meet our interpreter, Tatyana at the lunch, and she is a welcome addition to the "Eternal" team. Smart, funny and beautiful, she not only helps us with all our interactions with the staff and the musicians (Huun Huur Tu and the string players), but she also gives us great insight into how things work in Russia, and how to navigate our way around Perm.  She is an actress, but has a strong musical background, so it works out well.  When she is not available, we have a second interpreter, Valeria. She is quite young, and studying to be an opera singer, so sometimes she is a bit overwhelmed by the craziness of a touring band, but she is also excellent at her job, and fun to have around.
Our interpreter Tatyana, and yours truly
(Photo by Carmen Rizzo)

Loren and our second interpreter, Valeria

The theater where we are rehearsing is the actual venue of the performance, a 1000 seat theater that belongs to the Philharmonic.  When we arrive, we see posters and flyers for our concert - these people definitely know how to promote!
Setting up the gear
Carmen sets up his rig
Loren & Carmen tweak set up the visuals on a temp screen

Mark, Sayan & Kaigolo working on a song

The first two days of rehearsal were very tech-heavy.  The show relies a lot on sonic textures, so it took quite a while to get all the computer and synth audio working correctly and then getting the miking for Huun Huur Tu to a place where we could all hear each other.  The tech director at the theater is a very nice man named Alexander, who is often a bit overwhelmed by all the setups and the gear, and there were some trying moments. By the end of day two, we actually were able to go through a couple of songs with everyone.
The band performs a song

Carmen in action

Working out an arrnagement

On the first song, we realized that the key was different than the way Huun Huur Tu perform live, and Radik's flute was off by a half step.  It would be too much to re-do all the programming, so to our amazement, Radik had one of the workmen acquire some PVC tubing, and he created a new set of flutes using the tools at the venue.
Radik builds a "C" flute from pvc tubing

Kaigolo patiently waits while the tech is worked out

Ancient Instruments, Modern Sounds

In some of the downtime while Carmen and Loren were working on the tech, I got to hang with Sayan, Radik, Alexi and Kaigolo. They are truly wonderful people, and have a perspective on life so different and so inspiring.  When asked where in the world is their favorite place they have traveled, they all respond "Tuva".  When asked where they have enjoyed performing music the most, the answer is the same - "Tuva".  They are excellent musicians, and playing music with them is a joy.

Radik & Kaigolo

Alexi drums on "Ancestors Call"

Radik, Mark & Kaigolo
Once Carmen got the sound and lighting to where it was acceptable for rehearsing, we started the process of finding how to create a live version of the songs on the record.  There is much layering of sound, and working on dynamics, arrangements and learning to gel as a band. By the end of the third day, the songs are starting to sound really great, and the next step will be adding the string players to the ensemble. All of us share the feeling that we are creating something very new and very exciting.
The full "Eternal" band in action

Sunday, September 6, 2009

From Moscow to Perm - A Very Long Day

Our "hotel" in Moscow at the former Olympic Village
900 Rubles a night ($30)

Mark, Chad and Vladimir on the Metro

Vladimir shows up at 9 am, (having been locked out of the complex when he went to use the internet at the office) and we head to a dance school / theater where there will be a showcase of the Huun Huur Tu orchestral work for journalists. Braving the rush hour in the Moscow Metro, we arrive and do the hurry up and wait thing while the tech is set up and the musicians rehearse.  The jetlag gets to me, and find a place in the balcony to sleep, and wind up getting locked up there. When Chad comes up with his video camera, I am finally released. At 6, the performance happens, and is very well received.
Dancers at the recital hall.

Sayan at the piano

Prepping the recital hall - taken from the balcony where I was captive for a couple of hours
The showcase - hello journalists and intelligentsia
There is a small reception where I finally meet Sasha, the head of Greenwave Records. We leave the hall around 8 pm, and Joe from the video crew and I wind up being driven back to the complex by Sasha's mother, and we hit a massive traffic jam, the likes of which I have never seen anywhere.  She decides to take a short cut through Red Square, and is stopped by police, who are guarding the entrance because the President of India is visiting the Kremlin. She jumps out of her car and screams at the police, swearing in Russian, and Joe and I are sure we are going to be pulled out of the car and arrested any minute. She then grabs her purse from the car, pulls out an envelope and hands it to the police, more screaming and swearing, and then the police let us go.
Mark on the balcony

Sasha (Huun Huur Tu's manager) and Radik
We arrive back at the complex around 10, where Huun Huur Tu and the rest of our crew are waiting and wondering what happened to us.  Each of them seems to have a similar story about a car ride with Sasha's mother - I guess this 70 year old woman is notorious.  We have only a few minutes to pack up and head down to a van to take us to the airport.
At the Perm airport, we meet Carmen Rizzo, who has flown in from Paris and our tech assistant, Loren Khulusi, who has flown in from LA. We find out our 1 am flight is now delayed until 2 am, so we have a small reunion party in the airport.  Everyone had had some kind of adventure and brush with authorities on the way here, and stories are swapped.  The other thing we all have in common is that we are exhausted.
Mark and Carmen at the Moscow Airport

Airport Reunion party

Vladimir & Sayan

Loren & Celeste

Radik checks out the ubiquitous travel guitar

Finally on the plane to Perm

Kaigolo,Alexi, Sayan and Vladimir

Loren & Carmen 

The plane finally takes off, and we cross yet another time zone and arrive in Perm at about 6 am.  A van is waiting for us, and on the van is the poster for our "Eternal" concert, along with words in Russian that are translated for us as "Famous American Musicians and famous band from Tuva is this vehicle".  So much for a low profile. On the way to the hotel we pass a billboard for the concert, and we realize this is a pretty big deal here.  We arrive at the hotel at 7:30, and and decide to have breakfast before crashing - in four hours, we are scheduled to begin our first rehearsal.
The Ural Hotel in Perm, Russia

Breakfast of Champions in Perm

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Moscow Street Scene

This was shot by Joe LaRue just outside the theater where Huun Huur Tu and orchestra were rehearsing.

Day 2 - Familiar Faces in Strange Places

On day 2, I woke to find Vladimir had returned, and after a fruitless early morning expedition to find breakfast, we picked up a few items at a 24-hour supermarket, and dined in the lobby of the athletic complex, under the watchful eye of the babushka at the front desk.  Nice. Then we met up with my good friends Celeste, Chad and Joe, who comprise our video crew and are also staying here at the not quite refurbished Olympic Village. Their mission is to record our band and entourage's every move for the eventual reality show. "Survivor - Perm".
I joined their morning ritual of coffee at the internet cafe, where we have only about an hour to do all things internet before we head out for the day. I have learned the best way to keep up this blog is write it offline and use the precious Wi-Fi time to quickly upload the text and photos for you, dear reader, so today's posting is a bit of a picture show:
Chad, Celeste and Joe work the internet from Moscow

Vladimir and the man they call "Little Sasha' (but not to his face)
(Still have not met "Big Sasha" yet.)
Celeste ascending from the Metro
We left the hostel and headed to the Metro to take a subway to the music hall where Huun Huur Tu are rehearsing a new orchestral piece written by composer Vladimir Martynov, which will be included in the same festival as our performance. The piece is for a small chamber orchestra and the HHT ensemble.  I was expecting a contemporary classical piece, but this was more pop, almost like a string arrangement for a band.  Very engaging and often powerful. The ensemble is led by Martynof's wife Tatiana, who is a great musician and a fierce presence.

The chamber ensemble and Huun Huur Tu rehearsing

The rest of the ensemble, with Chad on camera in background

Tatiana directs the ensemble. She is fierce - no slacking off on your bowing!
Kaigol from Huun Huur Tu

Joe LaRue hard at work

Vladimir & Celeste find the only space with fresh air in the hall

 Some of the songs used in the piece are the same as songs Carmen and I worked on for "Eternal", and I was intrigued by how different the approach was.  I have written string arrangements for 2 of the songs covered in this work, and my take was very different, and of course the Carmen Rizzo-HHT-MG Strings version are extremely different.  It's very interesting to hear other interpretations of material that you have worked on yourself. All in all, a very good (and long rehearsal).  I am afriad I did miss some of it, when I dozed off due to the jetlag, but the crew assured me I did not snore:)

Descending to the Metro - it's a long way down

After making our way back through the rush hour metro (think New York and Tokyo subway riders having a pushing contest inside a phone booth, and you have the image of what that ride was like), we had a chill evening back at the "complex". Sayan joined us and eventually Alexi and Kaigol from HHT dropped by as well.  All were fascinated by my little travel guitar, and took turns playing it, each one with his own style and mastery. Sayan revealed the mystery of the tunings he uses, part of the distinctive HHT sound. 
Alexi tries out my little travel guitar

Joe, Mark & Alexi 
Everyone hanging out in my room - am I still in college?
And where did Vladimir disappear to?

Sayan & Kaigol, the founders of Huun Huur Tu

Later, Alexi tutored Joe on the Russian alphabet and he and Kaigol demonstrated the difference between Russian and Tuvan dialects, as Sayan provided a background of tasty guitar improvisations. Hey are we in college or am I having a flashback? 
Alexi tutors Joe on the Cryllic (Russian) alphabet

At around 1 am, when Celeste noticed I was fading fast, we called it a night and everyone headed back to their 3-bed dorm rooms.  At some point, Vladimir, who had been sleeping though most of this, got up and left. As of this writing his whereabouts remains a mystery.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

First Day in Russia

I arrived in Moscow airport after a 12 hour flight to get my first taste of waiting in line in Russia - the chaotic crowd at Passport Control. A crush of about 300 people trying to pass through 4 gates, reminiscent of a subway rush hour in Tokyo. 90 minutes later,got my passport stamped,  found my luggage and was met by Greenwave's coordinator Timur Mukanov, and had a great chat with him on our taxi ride to the "hotel" in Moscow.  Not really a hotel, but one of the former Olympic villages from 1984. The room was tiny with 3 beds, and I did my Goldilocks impression while trying to figure out which one was mine. I guess the athletes who normally stay here take the "Spartan" tradition very seriously.  Went into the bathroom and found the hand-held shower head had broken sometime between 1984 and today and not one bothered to replace it, so literally hosed myself off before taking a walk with Timur to the adjacent shopping mall.

                                                           Timur at the mall
 The mall was a different story - only a few years old, it is a shopaholic's  dream with 4 floors of sparkling new stores of every variety, many with slogans in English that sort of make sense like "happy dog tree". There I had my first meal in Russia from a buffet at the food court. I took a plate and filled it with fish, chicken, potato, pickles, and 3 desserts.  When I got to the register, the cashier looked at me in disdain, and Timur translated that she told me I had put enough food on my plate - "this size holds 1.5 kilos!". So, I went back and added one more of each item, and returned to her shrug of "well, if that's all you want, ok.".
                                                           First meal In Russia
Back to the "hotel", where we seem to be the only non-atheltes in the building. This place is stereotypes on steroids - anyone casting for henchmen for the next Bond flick should top by here first. At the room, I find Sayan from Huun Huur Tu has arrived, who turns out to be one of my mystery roommates.  We chat a bit - his English is very good, and he lets me know the other bed will be taken by Vladimir, or Volodya, as they call him here. I show Sayan my new little travel guitar I have purchased for this trip, and he is impressed. I hand it to him, and he improvises and impressive few minutes of chords and leads.  This guy is a great musician! 
                                                           Sayan plays my travel guitar

I go next door and say hi to Chad from the video crew and we catch up as an episode of "South Park" in Russian plays on the TV.
                                                          Chad, Timur, & Sayan in our "hotel" room

                                                                                       Timur, Sayan & Mark
A beer and an hour later, I finally crash, and Sayan graciously connects headphones to the TV so I can try to sleep.  Sometime around 1 am I hear Vlad enter, and then I am gone to the land of Morpheus, resting up for what I know will be an intense day tomorrow when I meet the rest of the band, and go to the orchestral rehearsal.  

A Brief History of the "Eternal" Project

Christmas 2008, I see  Vladimir Oboronko at a holiday dinner at his place, organized by Aeone and Paula. My friend Narina is there with me, and she and Vlad are speaking in Russian for a long time.  I don't know what she's saying, but it sounds hot in Russian. Then Vladimir tells me about some recordings he's just done up in the Bay Area with Huun Huur Tu at Fantasy studios that he's looking to mix.  I ask him to send them to me, and when I received them, am entranced by the haunting spiritual content of the songs and performances.  We meet a few days later and discuss how to take these recordings to the next level.  I suggest we speak to a number of mixers and producers, and my first choice is Carmen Rizzo. I had been a fan for a while, and thought it may be a perfect fit if he had time to work on the project. Vlad calls Carmen and he is intrigued.
January 2009, we meet with Carmen after he has heard the tracks, and have a great creative discussion. Carmen has great ideas for mixes, and agrees with me that it needs a special treatment to take it out of the purely acoustic world into something new, but just as soulful and spiritual. Both Vladimir and Carmen ask me to stay involved creatively in the project, and I officially become co-Executive Producer.
February 2009 - Carmen has made several mixes of each song, and they are quite beautiful and haunting.  He tells us he feels it needs something more to make it really special.  Meanwhile, Vlad and I have been talking about making some recordings with Huun Huur Tu and strings.  Late one night, Carmen calls me and we have a long creative discussion.  He thinks adding strings would be a good idea, so we decide to combine the two ideas, and we have an excellent session with Nikki Garcia and Alicia Bauer. Carmen mixes the tracks yet again.
March & April  2009 - After a meeting with Tom Schnabel of KCRW, we are all convinced that Carmen should have a free hand to really be as creative as possible with the tracks - the direction they are going in is so promising, that we officially change the album from being mixed and produced by Carmen to a full collaboration. Carmen adds trumpet and ethnic instruments, beats and even more layers of sound to create what now is the unmistakable sound of "Eternal".
May 2009 - As we get ready to master the CD, Vladimir calls us with exciting news. His partner Sasha at Greenwave has booked a concert for Huun Huur Tu at a festival in Perm, Russia, and the budget will allow them to fly Carmen and me there to create the live version of "Eternal" with Huun Huur Tu. I become the musical director, to create arrangements for string quartet and play backup keyboards for Carmen in the live show.
June 2009 - Carmen creates the live version of the songs from "Eternal", while I write string arrangements, as Valdimir and Sasha finalize the details of our trip to Russia. Menwhile, Bill Smith, the booking agent puts together a mini-tour of 4 US dates in September for the show.  This will be the advance before our full tour next year.
July-August - The record is released and "Eternal" takes off.  It is embraced by radio in both the World Music and Electronica categories, and is the most added CD to college radio for several weeks. The reviews start coming in and they are stellar, and what was once just an idea discussed  over coffee becomes a reality.  Now, as Carmen says, "we are building the ship that will sail next year". Carmen and I rehearse the last 2 weeks of August, and now we are all bound for Russia to start the next chapter of this great adventure.