Name: Fidan Aghayeva-Edler
Nationality: Azerbaijani
Occupation: Pianist, improviser
Current release: Watch Fidan Aghayeva-Edler's series of improvisations on Youtube.  
Recommendations: Something I absolutely loved recently is the book “The Blazing World” by Siri Hustvedt. It raises so many urgent questions that need to be answered basically by each and any human being in the modern world – from gender unequality through casual ageism and development of an artist to mother-and-child relationship and questions of ethics in art – it was a revelation for me. Also delightfully written!

And if we stay with books, another one is my favorite-through-years, a book with ideas that formed me and stayed with me as a solid part of my universe: “Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives” by David Eagleman. It tells us in forty different ways what happens to our soul after death. Generally, death is a topic we as humans hesitate to discuss, it is dark and unromantic, so when it happens to someone we love, we are lost. This book gave me strength and perspective, and taught me about unendless possibilities of our (soul´s) imagination.

If this Fidan Aghayeva-Edler interview piqued your interest, visit her excellent, informative website.

When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I have started improvising sporadically about two years ago. First it happened occasionally during various events. People asked me to improvise together with them, and I did it - with pleasure (as I am always curious about new things), but I haven´t really paid much attention to this way of music making.

I started focusing on improvising during the endless German lockdown, at the end of 2020. Back then, I just discovered the new way of sharing my work with people on various social media, and found out that I actually don´t need any mediators between me and the audience. I could decide what, when and where I play, and depending on my choice there will be different people listening. It was very inspiring to find out that there will always be a community that I can rely on, and that things I am doing are 100% only my responsibility. I haven´t had this feeling before the pandemic.

This also gave me spirit to start improvising more intensely, to gather my ideas and shape them into various projects.

For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?

It is true - “the first seven year you learn, the second seven years you forget everything you´ve learned, the third seven years you start to create”. Or at least, that´s how they say it … For me it wasn´t much different, even though I had to skip the second period (with forgetting). As a musician (which is similar to the athlets!) you think you don´t have that much time. Everything must happen as early as possible, there is so much pressure from the conformative musical scene in that sense. Big concert halls like to see young wunderkinds. All those competitions with age limits …

I wasn´t an exception, and I am wondering where I would have been without this, classical way. I still share approximately half of my performing time with traditional (modern, contemporary) repertoire, and I genuinly enjoy it. The other half belongs to improvisation and cross-over projects.

Toward the end of my formal studies in 2016, I felt a big panic rising in me. I had been studying whole my life – twenty three years of being with a teacher/professor/mentor who basically told me what to do. Who will guide me from now on?! I was genuinly scared.

But it changed for better – after a while I became acclimatized to the newly gained freedom. It cost me several years of wondering around though, which I probably could count into those seven years of forgetting. It all did bring me to where I am now, after all, and it is good that way.

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?

What I think and what I see around influences my creativity very much, even if only indirectly. Priorities also develop and change through time. Those changes are visible only in perspective. Who I am working with, which preferences I have when choosing composers to perform, and which topics I am confronting in my music are basically the ways of my identity showing through my art. I believe that art is always idealistic and reflects the world view of an artist.

What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

I guess my biggest creative challenge throughout most of my conscious time has been trusting my own impulses and taking myself serious. So, earlier I would rely 100% on voices surrounding me, and they haven´t been only supportive.

Only recently I discovered that questioning authorities is indeed sometimes a good option.  And with time I learned that the most important voice to listen to (and to trust to) is my own.

As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made over the years?

I have stuck pretty much with a very basic recording equipment. During the earlier times of the pandemic and livestreams (that became my daily job) I decided to stay with very rudimentary stuff (a.k.a. smartphone) to avoid tons of extra post-production work and keep being flexible and spontaneous. Later, I started using some more decent sound interface in order to work on my impros and to record more elaborate videos.

Also my only true love in terms of instruments is a grand piano. Except … well, there is a toy piano. First, there has been only one piece which I was dying to play (George Crumb´s “Metamorphoses I”) and which uses a toy piano. It became a rarity here in Europe, by the way. I spent a couple of months ordering here and there, sending three pianos back to get the right size and right sonority. Then, I started looking into the repertoire. Asking friends-composers. Some already had pieces written for toy piano. Some volunteered to compose something new for me. And then I ended up with an hour-long programm for toy piano. It is a new (and a wonderful) feeling to play an instrument which is so mobile.

In the Fall of 2020, I recorded a tiny album on toy piano in collaboration with another Azerbaijani pianist, Humay Gasimzade. The trick was, she lives in the USA and I live in Germany, so we had to communicate digitally. It is astonishing that it all worked out, and we both are pretty proud about the result.

Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you? Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?

As a basis, I take the idea that in the beginning there is nothing, no material to transform or improvise on. My imagination gets inspired by absolutely random (often non-musical) artifacts. Mostly, it is visuals and verbal images. They generate musical ideas which are primary, in that don´t belong anywhere, that are only mine. And from that point starts my improvisational journey.

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?

Most of my improvisational projects are based on collaboration. I think this is the first time in my life that I don´t feel like being a pianist necessarily equals being a solo musician.

I also felt an incredible support from the fellow artists. When I launched my Impro Project at the end of 2020, I got so many replies and so many submissions ... and this trust has been wonderful and stimulating and probably the best thing that happened to me during the pandemic.  

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

I get up pretty early, between 7 and 8 a.m. – mostly out of necessity, but also because I sadly noticed that the best work is usually done in the morning hours. If it is a school day I get to have coffee and a fast breakfast, then bring my daughter to school and head directly to my practicing room. I feel it's best if I get 4 to 5 hours of concentrated practice. It works well when I can afford to leave my smartphone at home. (Sadly, I am easily distracted.)

During my practice I do breaks every hour or so – I read couple of pages of my current book and drink a cup of coffee. After lunch and until approximately 9 p.m. I do chores, meet friends (when possible), teach (if it is a Wednesday) and spend time with my family. We generally enjoy doing things together whatever it is – taking walks and bike rides, reading, running errands, playing board games, painting, gardening ... I also take my daughter´s violin study very serious and try to be around when she practices. In the evening I have time for myself which I split between reading, answering emails, listening to music or watching movies. It is always a lot going on, but I need my 9-hour sleep, so I build my priorities according to that.

Also, I have a cat.

Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?

When I think of a breakthrough event, I come to realisation that the most enjoyable and productive time I´ve had was the beginning of the lockdown (spring 2020) when I spontaneously started daily livestreams from my studio to play contemporary music by all gender composers shared evenly. It hasn´t been a thing properly planned or thought through, and because of that it was brilliant! I did what I love the most (learning new music and talking about it without any strings attached), and it worked perfectly for a really long while. I got to know lots of new composers, and then played their pieces as well. I felt genuinly happy for two or three months.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

For me, it is a circle. If I am in an ideal state of mind, I am productive hence happy and content. If I am content and productive, I am in an ideal state of mind. So, my prescription is just never leave that state. (Coffee plays its part too, though.)

Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?

I think, being within the music (making music, producing sounds) is like being a doctor. If a doctor thinks too much of the world pain, he will go nuts and will not be able to heal anymore. So, I can only talk about sublime transformative experiences when music takes you places and you are not free to decide if you want to go there or not.

There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?

I think as long as cultural appropriation does not become just bureaucracy, it is an important part of our heritage that needs to be protected. But again, as long as this cultural heritage is not integrated in our lives (preferrably in a delicate way), it is a dead museum exhibit.

Nowadays, people have very short memory in relation to a vast amount of cultural artefacts accumulated throughout history. In that perspective the modernized educational system might become the point where this exchange between old and new happens.

Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?

My most developed sense is smell. As a reaction to some smells, I travel in time and space – I see other people, places, circumstances, hear different sounds, feel joy or nostalgia, and shiver with my whole body. Taste works approximately the same. Once, I traveled twenty years back by only tasting Italian aubergines fried in butter.

Sometimes the same happens when I hear music. But as hearing is a “heavier”, more effort-consuming sense, the time-and-space-traveling is generally not that easy.

In that perspective, I am really looking forward to getting older, as I am accumulating millions of possibilities to inspire myself with almost no effort!

(I think, I still haven´t answered the question!)

Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?

For me, the biggest meaning of human life is constant creation and/or learning at some level. In any case, it is always something new we strive for. And since it is a constant process and happens on a daily basis, it cannot not reflect all, or at least some of the processes going on around us. It is a neccessity by default. There is rarely any art in a vacuum. But it is interesting how different its manifestations can be.

What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?

You put the impossibility into the question itself! :)