Room with sound installation called Do Not Fear, Then! by Andrius ArutiunianRoom with sound installation called Do Not Fear, Then! by Andrius ArutiunianExhibition view of Gharib Pavilion at Venice Biennale 2022Original Venetian fresco at the Gharib Pavilion in Venice BiennaleExhibition view and text of the Gharib Pavilion written by Andrius Arutiunian

Four speakers, media player, 60′, 2022

Do Not Fear, Then! is a work for four voices, based on Armenian incantations and spells. The piece sources ancient spells from the felt-beaters of the city of Moks, recorded through the secret language of Ruštuni. 

Felt has always been seen as one of the most durable, cheapest, and warmest materials available, “a plebeian product and a symbol of barbarism, poverty, and contempt”. The felt-beaters were therefore considered as one of the lowest subclasses of professions, occupying a social niche close to that of thieves or tricksters.

As travelling sellers though, they developed a secret language of their own – a Ruštuni argot – to protect and conceal the secrets of their trade. This argot and its glossary was recorded in the 19th century, ciphered together with the spells and incantations that originate from the underworld imaginaries of the felt-beaters. These spells are a codified attempt to conjure the supernatural, avert bad luck, and deflect misfortune through apotropaic magic. In their raw states incantations bridge a gap between speculative futures and flexible realities. A common ending of Ruštuni spell is the enigmatic phrase do not fear, then!, which is used as the title of the piece.

Four singers were invited to improvise the vocals using the Ruštuni incantations in their original secret form. Following the recording sessions, Arutiunian turned this material into a slowly unfolding large-scale sound work. All the sounds were generated using only the original voice recordings. Arutiunian placed the four voices in constant motion, slowly oscillating between dissonance and attunement, while transforming them into a variety of textures and instruments. Using diaphony and interference patterns, the work unfolds as a hypnotic study of voice, tension and apotropaic magic.

The work was co-commissioned by CTM Berlin Radio Lab, Deutschlandfunk Kultur, and Centrala Space Birmingham, with financial support of Fonds Podiumkunsten. It was recorded in collaboration with Melos New Vocal Music Collective. Do Not Fear, Then! was first shown at silent green Kulturquartier Berlin, with its subsequent inclusion in Arutiunian’s solo show Gharīb at the Armenian Pavilion of the 59th Venice Biennale.