Spruce Ritual

The Way the Evening Speaks

Lucian Kano Balmer composer, violin, vocals

Nils Bultmann viola
Hannah Addario-Berry cello
Joanna Mack sitar
Josh Mellinger tabla, tabla taranga
Jim Santi Owen tabla taranga

Release Date: February 10, 2023
Catalog #: AR0019
Format: Digital
21st Century
Vocal Music

SPRUCE RITUAL from Bay Area violinist, vocalist, and composer Lucian Balmer is a heartfelt dance between western classical and North Indian classical music. While the album is centered around violin, viola, and cello—the string instrument family at the heart of Romantic era chamber music—Balmer seamlessly integrates the sounds of the sitar and the tabla, two pillars of Indian classical music. While the recordings do not contain lyrics, the human voice is also a prominent instrument on this album. This is thanks to the use of sargam, in which the notes of the composition are sung. The music of SPRUCE RITUAL is richly illustrative of Balmer’s own life experiences, ranging from devotion, love, loss, melancholy, and excitement.


Hear the full album on YouTube

Track Listing & Credits

# Title Composer Performer
01 Avi's Revelation Lucian Kano Balmer Lucian Kano Balmer, violin, vocals; Nils Bultmann, viola; Hannah Addario-Berry, cello; Joanna Mack, sitar; Josh Mellinger, tabla, tabla taranga; Jim Santi Owen, tabla taranga 8:30
02 Media Distinctio Lucian Kano Balmer Lucian Kano Balmer, violin, vocals; Nils Bultmann, viola; Hannah Addario-Berry, cello; Joanna Mack, sitar; Josh Mellinger, tabla, tabla taranga; Jim Santi Owen, tabla taranga 2:58
03 Unfolding Lucian Kano Balmer Lucian Kano Balmer, violin, vocals; Nils Bultmann, viola; Hannah Addario-Berry, cello; Joanna Mack, sitar; Josh Mellinger, tabla, tabla taranga; Jim Santi Owen, tabla taranga 3:28
04 Begin Again Lucian Kano Balmer Lucian Kano Balmer, violin, vocals; Nils Bultmann, viola; Hannah Addario-Berry, cello; Joanna Mack, sitar; Josh Mellinger, tabla, tabla taranga; Jim Santi Owen, tabla taranga 3:44
05 Honey-Metered Morning Lucian Kano Balmer Lucian Kano Balmer, violin, vocals; Nils Bultmann, viola; Hannah Addario-Berry, cello; Joanna Mack, sitar; Josh Mellinger, tabla, tabla taranga; Jim Santi Owen, tabla taranga 4:47
06 Joy-Filled Afternoon Lucian Kano Balmer Lucian Kano Balmer, violin, vocals; Nils Bultmann, viola; Hannah Addario-Berry, cello; Joanna Mack, sitar; Josh Mellinger, tabla, tabla taranga; Jim Santi Owen, tabla taranga 5:53
07 The Way The Evening Speaks Lucian Kano Balmer Lucian Kano Balmer, violin, vocals; Nils Bultmann, viola; Hannah Addario-Berry, cello; Joanna Mack, sitar; Josh Mellinger, tabla, tabla taranga; Jim Santi Owen, tabla taranga 3:09
08 Dusk Lucian Kano Balmer Lucian Kano Balmer, violin, vocals; Nils Bultmann, viola; Hannah Addario-Berry, cello; Joanna Mack, sitar; Josh Mellinger, tabla, tabla taranga; Jim Santi Owen, tabla taranga 5:58

Tracks 1, 3, 5, and 6
Recorded by Neil Godbole, Airship Laboratories in Richmond CA

Tracks 2, 4, and 8
Recorded by Jesse Nichols, Fantasy Studios in Berkeley CA

Track 7
Recorded by James Ward, Live Oak Studios in Berkeley CA

Mixing Neil Godbole, Airship Laboratories

Mastering Melanie Montgomery

Executive Producer Bob Lord

A&R Director Brandon MacNeil
A&R Quinton Blue

VP of Production Jan Košulič
Audio Director Lucas Paquette

VP, Design & Marketing Brett Picknell
Art Director Ryan Harrison
Design Edward A. Fleming
Publicity Patrick Niland, Aidan Curran

Artist Information

Lucian Kano Balmer

Composer, Violinist

Lucian Kano Balmer is a Bay Area violinist, vocalist, and composer who performs original compositions often described as "raga-infused." He’s performed extensively in the United States and Europe as a solo act as well as with large ensembles. He has studied with renowned North Indian Classical vocalist Shweta Jhaveri, and continues to study vocals and instrumental with Bruce Hamm, a senior disciple of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. He combines his Western Classical upbringing (under local violinist Ben Spilman) and love of chamber music along with the melodic and rhythmic ideas from North Indian Classical music to create new ideas using ancient musical languages.

Nils Bultmann


Nils Bultmann is a violist, improviser, and composer based in the San Francisco bay area. Active as a performer in the United States and Europe, he plays both classical as well as contemporary repertoire. He is also involved in collaborative projects including dance, video, and avant-garde improvised music. He has generated an expansive body of work in the recording studio, including solo and multi-track viola music as well as collaborative and improvised musical textures. He also writes traditionally composed works for solo instruments, string quartets, and orchestra.

While maintaining a strong love of and connection to performing traditional western classical chamber and orchestra music, he has turned much of his focus towards composition and improvisation, performing in diverse settings with Indian classical musicians, electronic DJs , and contemporary dance companies. He self-produced and recorded two solo CDs of his own multi-track compositions, Forgiveness and Terminally Unique (Mutable Music) and was featured as a member of the Transatlantic Art Ensemble performing new works by jazz Saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Evan Parker, released on ECM records. He premiered the solo viola piece 9-9-09 written for him by Roscoe Mitchell and recorded for the Rogue Art label. More recently he was awarded the Aaron Copland Recording Grant for the recording and release of his acoustic works on Innova records, including his series of viola duets with Hank Dutt of the Kronos Quartet. As part of the 2019 Viola Visions Festival in Miami Beach, Michael Tilson-Thomas commissioned him to compose and perform in a new work for 31 violas (in 8 parts).

Bultmann received his B.A. from the University of Madison-Wisconsin on a music scholarship, studying viola performance with Sally Chisholm. He recently completed his Ph.D. in music composition at UC Berkeley, where he worked with David Wessel and Edmund Campion at the Center for New Music and Technology creating interactive works and video installation pieces. His multi-media work focuses on combining diverse live performances often recorded in unconventional settings with musicians of a wide variety of backgrounds.


Joanna Mack


Joanna Mack began her pursuit of Classical North Indian Music in 1997. While studying Neuroscience at UCSD, she attended a Classical Indian Music class with sitar virtuoso Kartik Seshadri, a senior disciple of renowned musician Pandit Ravi Shankar of the Maihar Gharana. She had been involved in Western music since childhood but was immediately drawn to Indian music. Recognizing Mack’s inherent talent and drive, Kartik recommended her to study in Kolkata under the now late Pandit Deepak Choudhury, also a senior disciple of renowned Shankar. That year, Mack traveled to India where she fully devoted herself to the pursuit of Indian Classical Music under the guidance of Deepakji. She continued her studies with him in Kolkata from 1997 through 2005.

Mack then returned to the United States, promising Deepakji that her dedication to learning would not falter and that she would accept the responsibility to teach the traditional values and ideas of the Maihar Gharana. Mack is fulfilling that promise today. She teaches private and group classes and performs in a variety of venues. She was fortunate to be able to study under the now late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and continues her studies with sarodia Bruce Hamm of the Ali Akbar Khan College of Music in San Rafael and master classes with sitarist Pandit Partha Chatterjee.


Hannah Addario-Berry


Canadian cellist Hannah Addario-Berry has been delighting music lovers around the world for over a decade. Specializing in chamber music and solo repertoire, Addario-Berry is passionately committed to performing music by living composers. Along with her exquisite cello playing, her warmth and unique presentation style enable listeners to forge a deeper connection with music.

In 2015, Addario-Berry created Scordatura, an innovative project combining Zoltán Kodály’s monumental Sonata for Solo Cello with a series of newly commissioned works, all of which share a unique altered tuning of the cello. Scordatura celebrated the centenary of Kodály’s Sonata and explored a new sound space for solo cello. Addario-Berry performed the program in 25 cities around the United States and Canada and recorded Scordatura in early 2016. Her previous album, Lady in the East, features music for solo cello by the Canadian composer Stephen Brown and was reviewed by Gramophone Magazine in October 2014.

An avid and versatile chamber musician, Addario-Berry performs regularly with many ensembles, including the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. She has been invited to play at festivals such as Other Minds and Switchboard Music in San Francisco, Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival in Northern California, and Music By The Sea in British Columbia. From 2006 to 2010, she was the cellist for the renowned Del Sol String Quartet, during which time the quartet performed more than 50 world premieres and recorded two highly acclaimed albums, Ring of Fire: Music from the Pacific Rim and First Life: String Quartets of Marc Blitzstein.

Addario-Berry lives with her partner and their two kids in North Vancouver BC, where she enjoys cooking, gardening, hiking, and her other career as a full spectrum doula.


Josh Mellinger

tabla, tabla taranga

Josh Mellinger is a multi-instrumental professional percussionist currently based in Portland OR. He received his B.F.A. in Percussion Performance from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Valencia CA, and has been studying percussion for over 20 years. He currently performs in the Portland area, teaches percussion, and studies tabla with Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri at the Ali Akbar College of Music.

While at CalArts, Mellinger studied under the guidance of Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, Randy Gloss, Houman Pourmehdi, and David Johnson. He has performed regularly with Lucian Balmer over the last decade, as well as other Bay Area acts such as StringQuake, Levona, Teslim, and Jovanger.


Jim Santi Owen

tabla taranga

Jim Santi Owen is an American percussionist, educator, performer, composer, and producer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Drumming since the age of 8, he has devoted over 30 years to the study of the classical percussion traditions of North and South India with tabla maestro Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri and South Indian master percussionists Vidwan T.H., Subash Chandran, and Vidwan Triplicane K. Sekar.

A dedicated teacher, Owen is on faculty at the Ali Akbar College of Music, Dominican University, the California Jazz Conservatory and LINES Ballet and travels around the world teaching master classes for adults and youth.
He holds a Master’s degree in World Music from California Institute of the Arts and was a Fellow of the American Institute of Indian Studies from 1998-2000. Owen served as Music Director for the San Francisco World Music Festival from 2009-2014 and is a featured composer/producer on Facebook’s Sound Collection, which has released over 150 of his original and traditional world music tracks.



SPRUCE RITUAL is a dance between Western Classical and North Indian Classical: Ancient yet living traditions which have made deep and profound impressions on my life.

Violin, viola, and cello — the signature strings of chamber music — are at the foundation of my compositions. Their harmonies and dynamic interplay are characteristic of chamber music in the early Romance Era.

I use sitar and tabla (both common Indian instruments) extensively, while also occasionally singing on selected tracks. There are no lyrics in this album, just sounds such as “ahhhs,” “oohhhs,” sargam (singing the notes of the composition), and syllables commonly found in North Indian Classical music. I gravitate towards using “raga” (an Indian melodic framework of musical phrases), though only flirtatiously and not strictly, and “taal” (Indian rhythmic structures), the latter of which is very evident in the tabla playing. I’ve also been deeply influenced by compositional elements of the North Indian Classical tradition, taught to me by Bruce Hamm (a senior disciple of the late and great Ustad Ali Akbar Khan).

Combining all of that, swirling it around with my own life experiences of devotion, love, loss, melancholy, and excitement, and you have what I consider the best expression of my internal landscape thus far. I do hope you enjoy this album.

–Lucian Kano Balmer

Avi’s Revelation is the opening piece, also the last I wrote for this album. It is the most ambitious composition of this project, using the whole ensemble, with lots of tempi, rhythm, and mood changes throughout. I named the piece for my son before he was born, only to discover that it mirrors his tempestuous nature!

–Lucian Kano Balmer

Media Distinctio is a direct contrast to Avi’s Revelation. The phrase Media Distinctio (latin) refers to the pause in the middle of a verse where a monk is to take a calm, expansive breath. It is performed on solo cello, conveying a slightly different pathos with each phrase while maintaining a meditative calm.

–Lucian Kano Balmer

The first section of Unfolding is the repetition of a simple, slow, three note motif, expanded upon or unfolded as it were, by the cello and sitar. The song culminates into a section where the sitar improvises while the string trio plucks their strings.

–Lucian Kano Balmer

The plucking section that ends Unfolding carries us over into the upbeat plucking in Begin Again. In early 2015, my wife and I were beginning to date and we sat in a cafe together, silently working on our individual projects: she would struggle on a short story, while I wrote this melody and outlined the piece in an hour. I had been studying Raga Bageshri, and very loosely took notes and borrowed some of the phrases. It was the beginning of a new relationship as well as what would become this album, while carrying the buoyant energy of these new beginnings.

–Lucian Kano Balmer

The first version of Honey-Metered Morning was performed back in 2014. Over time, it’s taken numerous incarnations into what it is now. It is written using a pentatonic scale, very loosely based on “Raga Hamsadhwani,” as introduced to me by artist Lisa Sangita Moskow. When I first performed my earliest version of this piece, I asked the audience to send me any titles for the piece, and the late Art Busse sent me this title, for which I am grateful.

–Lucian Kano Balmer

Joy-Filled Afternoon is considered the second movement to Honey-Metered Morning, starting with an upbeat rhythmic melody that was stuck in my head for many years and is introduced by the cello. One of my favorite parts of this track is the rhythmic middle section. While writing this section, I intended to write an homage to Beethoven’s Rasumovky Quartet no. 1, the rhythmic syncopations in the Theme Russe. I must admit that I failed, as that syncopated rhythm wouldn’t fit the way I imagined it. Instead I wrote a simpler rhythm that is more appropriate to the piece.

–Lucian Kano Balmer

The Way The Evening Speaks was the first piece that we recorded for this album. I wrote it, sent it to Nils and Hannah, and we met in the studio with only a brief discussion and no rehearsals. This was the first time the three of us played together, and after hashing it out over a few hours, we recorded this piece. I remember feeling nervous about this process, but this result gave me confidence to move forward with this album.

–Lucian Kano Balmer

Dusk is a rewrite of the song of the same name from my first album. As I wasn’t satisfied with numerous aspects of my first album, I felt that I needed to do this song more justice, with its captivating melody that carries the composition. It feels like the proper way to end this album as it incorporates all of the instruments and leaves the listener satisfied.

–Lucian Kano Balmer