Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
With Opus Infinity which will be first performed at Frankfurt Lab on the 29th February, such a wide variety of my practices are involved in its multidimensional process. I’ve been fascinated by Sacred Geometry a lot recently, so I designed the composition as a piece of liquid, geometric architecture. This fascination is no doubt influenced by my Iranian heritage. All of the sonic material is directly connected to infinite patterns of the universe in fundamental ways, directly within the sound.
Firstly, I started with creating 3D graphic sketches to find correlations between linear movement in time, and movement in architectural space, for both the acoustic music -- that will be performed by Ensemble Modern -- as well as the electronics, which will be performed by myself. Then the painstaking notational scoring of acoustic instrumental music occurs, which is more complex than the usual scored composition. It is also my own take on orchestration: A very new direction for the craft. This process takes the longest period of time, maybe 6 months, although for a 50 minute scored composition that is actually super quick writing.
Then the programming of the live electronic ambisonics takes place, using custom state-of-the-art software developed by very talented colleagues of mine. My colleague Christian Duka will programme the parameters of the electronic spatial design, custom to the space the composition occupies. In performance, I produce the electronics live in improvisation including controlling the spatial movement, which I manoeuvre via an ipad. This software has been developed by my colleagues at AUDITIF, custom-installed by Artist and Sound Designer Christian Duka, and it is the very first of its kind for custom live ambisonics: I am excited to perform with it in my composition, presenting this state-of the-art technology for audiences to experience. I create electronic sound manipulation, transforming previous compositions of mine - as well as a synthesised version of the acoustic material in Opus Infinity - into new dimensions, using my own methods for CDJS, Turntables and Tape Echo (I also quote an older compositions of my own in the acoustic material at one point, repurposing its original meaning). I create all of this electronic sound through a listening process from the centre of the performance space, with Ensemble Modern scattered around the space with the audience immersed within.
The acoustic material is a constant, and a slow painstaking process, with a meticulous sonic outcome, merging rhythm with physical movement. Whereas the electronics are direct and evolve through time whenever the piece is performed: It is also a higher physical process determined by the circular movement and speed of the moving discs. In fact, the live electronics can be given to any artist to perform in the future, and they become the featured artist. My only rule is that the music needs to be improvised using a listening process. Thus, the composition lives through many people, through time, and is constantly shape-shifting with no end.
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?
We have to accept that this is different for everyone. For me, it is about being open to the unknown and contradictions. Learning to be open and flexible, yet also single minded. Learning craft, but also being able to let go. Going with the flow of your own energy as creativity. I don’t really have creative blocks any more because I have learned to be fluid and flexible in the way I create music. If one method is not working, I just switch to something else, or change the concept, or simplify. I keep shape-shifting until I feel the flow. I don’t beat myself up, I go to the pub and chill out, even if I have a big composition deadline looming. I don’t sit in my studio and encourage stress to build if things aren’t going to plan. I just let go and come back. That way there is never any counterproductive energy (funnily enough, I am not like this in my personal relationships, but am able to do it in my creative process!).
I am naturally a very good time-keeper, and quite fast, which makes it easier to be like this. I think my creative output roughly amounts to around 50 hours of original music a year, not that speed is good or bad. I definitely have different speeds of composition: Again, something to do with practising expansion and contraction.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
I have a wide range of practices and skills that are involved in my work. Some are craft and discipline, such as the painstaking spatial notation that I score: constantly finding new and original ways of orchestrating my music, unique to my own experimental methods. Yet my live electronic performances are totally raw, direct and improvised from energies deep within: I get into some sort of trance-like state. I use the studio to compose, record and practice, and sometimes edit. All of these skills and processes blend together to make a wide spectrum. My constant attention is always on perspective, in every sense and dimension of the word.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
I am always finding interconnection between music as scalic notation, and music as physical sound, vibration and frequency. Because I work at an advanced level with both scored composition and live electronic sound, I am able to explore the interaction on a progressively new level.
I have a broad number of skill sets that I use as a tool kit to my advantage. I have gained this advantage from a life-time of playful experimentation with the aim of expanding my perspective and opening my mind to gaining new experiences in order to learn. It’s also the reason why I can throw myself in pretty much any musical scenario and embrace it. As long as I receive an open energy from those around me, I am happy to make any music with anyone, any time, any place.
I try to have a different method of creating music for every piece, performance and project that I create, in order to broaden my perspective and horizons. Sometimes my scores are there to encourage the learning of music through a listening-process as opposed to reading, such as my composition for Strings VENUS/ZOHREH. Or sometimes for example, I create orchestral and ensemble music which I spatialize using geometry, such as my orchestral compositions ‘GABA-analogue or O’ and Opus Infinity. With these compositions the notational process and score is even more painstaking and detailed than conventional scores. Often these scores have so many staves it becomes an A2, 80 page score. But then in contrast with my electronic music and turntablism, I create compositions live in-the-moment, through improvisation, using organic movement to create the sounds. So you can see I explore a spectrum of methods from the arduous and exhaustive to the direct and instinctive in my writing that all expand my creativity.
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? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Once you realise that sound is interconnected with all other existential phenomena, you no longer see it as a separate force, nor find neurological overlaps such as synaesthesia such a surprise. When I create music, I am always exploring both the psychology of sound, as well as the physicality of sound. And then this psychology - how we internally perceive sound, is interconnected with its physical construction. Music isn’t just overlapping with other senses, or other physical elements, it is physics, it is architecture, it is nature, it is geometry, it is spirituality .... The same way that science is mysticism, and poetry is mathematics: We need to embrace multidimensional thinking. This is why I have dedicated my life to explore these interconnections, and think about my compositions as multi-disciplinary explorations of perspective.
Opus Infinity my latest work, follows a long chain of years of explorations into the psychology and physicality of sound. I have used the golden ratio to geometrically position and spatialize both the instrumental and electronic sound, so that it moves in the space it occupies. Everything is connected to this spiralic form, be it the shell of a snail or a birthing galaxy. I engage both the linear form of sound through time, with its sculptural movement in space, continuously creating correlations between the two: It is a painstaking process to score and notate such acoustic music, yet I add a contrast of perspective by completely improvising the electronic element. The golden ratio is numerically the Fibonacci sequence, which I then translate into rhythms, that move in the space: It is an infinite series. The harmonic series is also an infinite series, and Opus Infinity is based on the essential frequencies of this infinite series of sound, and looking at each acoustic instrument as a piece of architecture: I see each instrument as a vessel for natural resonance. Furthermore, the harmonic series is found in all areas of our existence: It is through vibration that our world exists. I focus on all these elements as one, when composing music.
Sound is also kinetic motion: The way I create the live electronics is based on kinetic motion, be it the circular spinning of the discs on the turntable (or in digital form, on the CDJs), or the live ambisonics, where the electronics fully immerse the space. It is all connected to the physicality of sound, and in turn gives each individual listener the autonomy to perceive these sonic perspectives for themselves, on their own terms. Opus Infinity is my most comprehensive exploration of perspective yet.
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?
Truly experimental music is always political, and on a deep and wide level specifically connected to the sound and the processes of the sound, e.g. So I never say this piece is specifically about something (e.g. “brexit” or “climate change” or “blah blah”) - it is always deeper than this, and connected to more open and interpretative views than that, to encourage freedom in the listener’s mind.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Really? I love the philosophical ideology in your statement, but we always have constraints or considerations! Commercial models mean music is pressurised to remain stagnant or regurgitated, although commerce as part of music is still young, in the grand scheme of music history. But also, so much of music, especially in the disciplines of Classical Music, is about archaeology and preservation …
What I explore in Opus Infinity is an idea of what music could be beyond its current form, it’s also a communication between different times, cultures and eras. But at the same time, the aim with it is to connect us back to the essential nature of sound; its primitive form. Anything in the future I wouldn’t want to predict as music is a powerful energy. It is physical magnetic vibrations, that work as flow with the universe, as time evolves. We can choose to connect with this, but we are never in control of it.