Urban Soundtracks: Tbilisi According to Mariam Gviniashvili


Whether it’s the smell of kebabs being cooked by ventures or catching the occasional sight of the Caucasus Mountains on a clear day, Tbilisi is a full sensory experience. Through my millions of trips to Georgia’s capital city, I’ve always thought that images alone could never convey its unique and delicate beauty. To me, it was always the befuddling mix of marshutka drivers screaming “Kutaisi, Kutaisi” at Didube station and the constant streaming sounds of out of concertos coming from apartment buildings. During those moments that I miss Tbilisi most of all, I reduce myself to listening to the sounds I recorded on my phone while there, which remind me that this beautiful city is still only a flight away.

Although these sounds reflect my own unique journey through Tbilisi, I wanted to find an artist that could surmise the charm of the city. Stumbling upon the work of Mariam Gviniashvili, I was shocked to hear an artist that could combine Tbilisi’s bridging of historical tastes and aspirations for the future. Her music delicately walks a fine line between classical and the avant-garde, reflecting the particular eternal and spiritual quality that Tbilisi possesses. She is a past winner of the Euroasia scholarship while partaking in numerous international music festivals, including the Pecs where her piece “Coincidence” won first prize. Returning from Budapest after finishing her masters at the Liszt Academy of Music to start her PhD in the Georgian capital, Mariam kindly spoke to us about her work, as well as providing us with her own Urban Soundtrack for Tbilisi.


Much of your music has an almost cinematic quality to it. It has a very centered and focused sound to it. Likewise, the mix you organized has a similar quality to it. Can you speak about what you looked for while recording this mix of Tbilisi’s sound?

Every one of us has a unique connection to the city we live in and in most of the cases these connections come from an aural experience. After you contacted me, I decided to conduct a little survey among my Facebook friends about what the Tbilisi sound means for them. I spent several days recording the sound material in the streets and the result you will listen to is a mixture of the sound samples, which are usually heard at least once while visiting Tbilisi.


While many people have remarked on Tbilisi being a mixture of East and West, I’ve always thought the city’s masterful juxtaposition was between how it bridges low and high culture. Much in the same fashion, your music has a very Tbilisian quality in how it marries avant-garde and the classical. Do you think Tbilisi helps shape your own music?

Tbilisi has always been considered as a very musical city (and Georgians as musical people). The more I travel abroad, the more I realize that. This is the place where one can easily find an ordinary bar hosting amazing bands playing in various genres twice or three times a week. The level of performing skills of musicians playing classics, as well as jazz, pop and electronics is noticeably high. So yes, I think having the opportunity to live in an environment like this and being surrounded by great musicians, starting their career from the Tbilisi State Conservatoire, where I have been studying for 9 years now, has crucially influenced me as an artist.


You are now based in Budapest, where you are studying at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. As you surely can see, Tbilisi is evolving at such a tremendous pace, with hotels popping up across the city and streets like Leselidze shifting into a modern Silk Road. Do ever feel that you’re losing the Tbilisi you once lived in?

I was always observing the ongoing modernization process in the other countries I visited, which is quite noticeable and at the same time, inevitable, but what has been happening to Tbilisi is beyond the limit.
While recording the sound material for the soundscape, I had to take long walks in the old streets, which is the best way to experience the city’s inner, real face. The true uniqueness of Tbilisi is its fascinating historical architecture which should definitely be preserved and taken care of instead of being destroyed, which is what they are doing here day by day.


We’re absolutely massive fans of your work and really are excited to hear any future work of yours. Do you have any upcoming projects?

I started a PhD in Composition at the Tbilisi State Conservatoire a week ago, developing my thesis on multichannel audio. What has been planned so far, is a one month period of artistic research program in Bergen, Norway, and later, an exchange program for which I have not chosen my destination yet. I am planning to organize a concert in the spring of 2018 where all my past and recent works (including the ones utilizing the multichannel sound system) will be performed.