Name: Idlefon akas Hesam Ohadi
Occupation: Producer, sound artist
Current Release: Idlefon's Coldstream is out via n5MD.
Recommendations: I absolutely love and praise Brian Eno. He really is an idol for me when it comes to being an artist (and political activist) for a lifetime. Also, his body of work is an exemplary portfolio of freedom in art and experimentation, in my opinion. I recently got the chance to listen to the album he and his brother Roger Eno made. The album's name is "Mixing Colours" and it is an absolute bliss. Highly recommended.
A recent read that I can recommend was George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia".
[Read our Roger Eno interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Idlefon and would like to stay up to date on his activities, visit him on Facebook, Soundcloud, and bandcamp.
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 started playing around with music production around 12 years ago.
Before that I used to play drums in an instrumental death/doom metal band along with a few friends, one of whom was Siavash Amini who went on to be an influential figure in the Iranian experimental music scene.
When we were about 19 years old, the two of us together with Siavash’s university buddy, Nima Pourkarimi (aka Umchunga), started to experiment with producing our own solo music using DAWs that we had recently started to learn. Those initial attempts resulted in a split album called “Spotty Surfaces” and a few private live performances. That was kind of the beginning for me and ever since, I have been lucky enough to make music either by myself or as part of collaborations with others whom I’m glad to call friends.
Coming from a Metal background, I was heavily inspired by industrial music. Bands like NIN, Skinny Puppy and more electronic explorations such as Gridlock massively fascinated me. At the same time, IDM projects like Aphex Twin and Autechre introduced me to some of the sonic experimentations that electronic instrumentations could make possible.
[Read our interview with Alessandro Cortini of Nine Inch Nails]
For me, the strongest appeal of electronic music production was the freedom that it offered to experiment and the power it provided me, as a home producer, to create personal aural spaces while enabling me to express my deepest emotions.
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?
I too emulated others. I recall being (and still am) perpetually amazed by good musicians and wanting to make sounds or rhythmic patterns that were similar to their work. Of course due to my limited knowledge, as well as artistic preferences, the outcome didn’t turn out exactly similar but the inspiration was definitely there and could be easily heard at times.
As I went forward, I worked more and more on the personal side of the music I produced, still keeping those influences but increasingly fading them into my mind’s background.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
My identity shapes who I am as a whole and that unequivocally has strong influences on what I create too. Be it the city that I grew up in, the environments I lived in or the people I have connected with throughout my life. No doubt that who I identify as, colossally leads my artistic approach and its consequential experimentations.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I never struggle to get inspired but I always have a hell of a time trying to turn those inspirations into music. I guess that’s the biggest creative challenge I always confront.
There are other kinds of challenges as well that add up to that. Challenges that come from my lack of knowledge in the technical aspects of music production as well as my limited understanding of music composition in general. This has always accompanied me from the beginning of my solo career. I’m always on the lookout to learn more though and a constant learning process helps me stay motivated too.
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 studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
During most of my career, I’ve been working with software. Partly because owning hardware is expensive and partly due to software being ridiculously good these days. I’ve had iterations in gear such as sound interfaces or monitor speakers but didn’t own hardware synths or effects units until very recently.
Having said that, I’d love to dig deeper into hardware and play around with some analog gear. That is the reason I finally purchased an Elektron Analog Four after I finished my latest album and I’m stoked to work with it.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Technology and the advent of software like DAWs have been my main enabler from the get-go. But apart from that, I really can’t think of one particular instrument or piece of software that has evolved the way I make music. They, of course, come in handy and play a big role when utilized in unison, but I can’t single out one that has been more influential than the others.
Sometimes there are plugins that make a unique sound and that could end up being a foundation for a track even, but in the end all the instruments and their tech are there to be a mere means to attain an artistic goal. Hence, in my opinion, they shouldn’t be really dominant over creative influences and feelings.
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?
When it comes to collaborations, I consider myself to be lucky because of the many collaborative projects I’ve been involved with. On the whole, human connections are a big source of inspiration to me and what could be better than experiencing this connection through music and with others who themselves are musicians!
From earlier projects like Photomat to current collaborative projects that I’m working on such as Herr Spectre or canadabasement (in which I play the drums), I’ve perpetually been having fun making music with others. And rightfully so, those experiments have reciprocally influenced my solo work.
As for the method of engagement, so far, jamming with others has been my main way of collaboration. Of course talking through ideas and finding mutual points of attraction and interest always come with any form of engagement, in my view. As for file sharing and remote work, I have proven not to be very good at it but hopefully I’ll get better as more chances arise.
I think I should also mention that, for me, collaborations don’t necessarily always come in the form of working only with other musicians, as collaborating with artists from other disciplines can be an interesting avenue to explore too. The audio visual project COLDSTREAM A/V in which I worked with the visual artist and my long time friend Amir B. Ash is an example of this mix.
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 try to not sleep till late in the mornings, which I don’t always succeed at, to be fair. Working on my computer programming vocation and other daily chores usually take up my day and I often work on music at night time. I don’t have a fixed schedule although I envy artists who do because in my opinion that takes a certain amount of discipline that I lack in my life.
I procrastinate quite a lot too which is not very work-friendly either. But I try to procrastinate by tending to other already procrastinated tasks. At least that’s what I aim for.
I think other aspects of my life definitely feed into my art. Whether they are social or political issues that engage my mind or relations with other human beings, I certainly see them blend into my music.
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?
No, not really. I really can’t think of a work I’ve done that I count as breakthrough. I enjoy making music that I’m fond of and reflects me and my emotions, but nothing I can call impactful in my career.
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?
The ideal state of creativity for me is when I lose myself in the music while I’m in the process of making it. That’s when I can reach in for the deepest emotions and express myself the best.
That state is not always easy to arrive at though and I do struggle to get there from time to time. Having peace of mind definitely helps to get into the zone easier and day to day issues are always distracting.
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?
In my opinion, music is one of the most abstract forms of art. It can easily transcend cultures and languages and for that reason it can be tremendously effective as a medium. For me personally it has always been a place of refuge, something I can lose myself and harbor in.
History on the other hand bears many examples in which music was used as a form of propaganda or even a tool to directly torture or hurt people. By harvesting its inherent power, I believe music can be an instrument of bringing people together and a great catalyst in social or political changes.
So whether it’s healing on a personal level or on a more collective and social level, music can be a strong force.
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?
For me, cultural appropriation really takes life when a "dominant" culture plagiarises elements from a "dominated" culture. This happens not with the intent of exchange and mutual understanding but more with the aim to exploit and take ownership of that element as if it were native to that dominant culture. One might call it Cultural Colonialism. Copying in that context is of course malign and abusive, be it copying from another culture or from an oppressed minority.
That being said, there's always room for cultural exchange in my opinion. As long as both sides feel equal and respected and the relationship doesn't feel abusive or nonconsensual.
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?
Naturally, the first connection that springs to mind is how auditory and visual senses are inextricably intertwined. That is maybe the most obvious connection and one can witness it being put to use in music performances too, as the basis for A/V shows.
In my view all of our senses are deeply linked and can have tremendous effects on eachother. A connection that, when turned into a “disorder”, exhibits itself in phenomena like synesthesia. And since this connection is so strong, the more an artist engages different senses and the more immersive their work, the greater will be the impression it can leave behind. This concept could also resonate with many musicians who would utilize it with an emphasis on the auditory sense, as a way of deeper engagement with their listeners.
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?
My music, so far and for better or worse, has not taken any social or political directions and has mostly stemmed from personal states. Therefore, I really can’t speak to this subject from personal experience. Having said that, as I touched on in a previous answer, history is never short of such impacts.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Because of its unique qualities, music can surpass words when it comes to expressions. The abstract and fluid nature of music makes it a great vessel, not necessarily to pass on solid concepts or ideas but to transmit emotions that can describe any kind of phenomena. Life and death are no exceptions to this notion.