Amalgamy founder and multi-instrumentalist Lubomir Smilenov started off his musical career as many young men do, hoping to strike it big with a rock band. But where his musical journey has taken him is worlds away from that conventional aspiration. The young man who used to rock out in a band called Zetizen now plays traditional Bulgarian instruments almost exclusively (along with a little sampling) in his experimental improvisation project with cellist and composer Bryan Wilson.
The two men’s musical pedigrees could not be more different. Smilenov taught himself to play traditional Bulgarian instruments like the kaval, the gadulka, and the gaida, while Wilson is a graduate of the LA Conservatory of Music with a degree in cello performance. But while their musical journey has taken them on two completely different routes, Amalgamy’s mutual love for performance came from the same place: their respective grade school cello classes.
The duo’s first contact was made through a Craigslist post advertising Wilson’s home cello lesson business. Smilenov contacted Wilson claiming to be a prospective student looking for a refresher course on the cello and Wilson happily obliged, but little did he know this was the first step in Smilenov’s plan to recruit a cellist for Amalgamy.
“I tricked Bryan (Wilson), I was completely lying to him and instead of the lesson I said come to a show I’m playing, and within 3 minutes I had him onstage with me and we improvised for like 2 hours,” said Smilenov. “Bryan has like a sixth sense when it comes to music, he just knows exactly what you’re thinking.”
The origins of Amalgamy began well before that fateful night of improvisational bliss, however, tracing back to Smilenov’s time working as a research assistant on archeological digs in his home country of Bulgaria. Smilenov was already starting to embrace the traditional instruments of his country but on one trip back to spend the summer doing research, he found himself sitting next to world-renowned kaval player Teodossi Spassov–and his entire folk quartet was with him.
“Even at that point in my life he was one of my heroes,” said Smilenov of the chance encounter in 2011 and ever since Smilenov has known his course is to play kaval, gadulka, and gaida. The kaval is a type of flute, the gadulka is like a Bulgarian violin, and the gaida is a bagpipe.
“All of these instruments are handmade and homemade so I had to track down a gadulka luthier in a small village and befriend him over 3 weeks. And in that 3-weeks I got him to build me one. I played shows and I sucked for the whole year and then I went back the next summer I finally got someone to teach me how to play it,” said Smilenov.
Amalgamy is really more an evolving musical collective than it is a band, but you can now stream their debut self-titled recording featuring electronic producer Amawalk on “Ataraxia”. Listen below via Spotify.
Catch Amalgamy live at Debonair Music Hall in Teaneck, New Jersey tomorrow June 27th at 7PM.