The second in our series of artist interviews, Siavash Amini very graciously agreed to answer some questions for me ahead of his latest release “TAR”, arriving 9th June on Hallow Ground. A fine Dark Ambient musician with several years worth of records under his belt now, the following discussion was conducted over email with a few minor editorial changes to punctuation and grammar; the heart of the answers are his own. Enjoy.
Iranian musicians such as yourself have noticeably grown in number within the scene over the last few years; what do you think is behind this sudden influx of artists and what new ideas are they bringing with them?
I think there are many factors at work when we look at how fast the scene has grown in the past couple of years. One of them is musicians from different backgrounds experimenting with using computers for making their genre of music (mostly rock, metal and hip-hop) around 10-12 years ago, then following the other paths laid upon them by the vast possibilities of computer software. This was coinciding with high speed internet coming to big cities; people were now exposed to a variety of genres that they never imagined existed or just read about them. These two factors combined with the changes in the social and political atmosphere of later years which made solo efforts in your bedroom more pragmatic played a huge role. It was reflective of what was happening socially; public spaces were taken away from artists in most cities and the only way through was experimenting in the privacy of your bedroom and your home. Things started to change slowly around 2008-9 and people started coming together again in smaller groups, gathering to play private shows, or in cafes or galleries once again. They were reclaiming the public spaces which were rightfully theirs and trying to come together more often in smaller or larger groups to perform, exchange ideas and simply discuss music however difficult. The international rise of artists from these smaller communities in the past couple of years I think comes from those years of experimenting and a slight opening of cultural space during the past three years allowing for more performances and discussions. I think the spirit of those older days still lives on in different forms in different communities in Iran. Now they are equipped with a new way of looking at things with their past experiences. The good thing about this coming together of communities of creatives, that now starts to resemble a scene, is that they come from so many musical backgrounds and If they can bring their past musical experiences with them in to their experimental musical activities some very interesting things are going to happen. We are seeing a lot of communities with different and sometimes opposing aesthetics and approaches rising within these newly formed spaces which I hope would have a considerable impact and outcome musically and socially.
You’re very vocal online in regards to the representation of Iran and the Iranian music scene in the media, amongst other groups; what do you think that (Western) journalists could be doing differently to better report on your country and its art?
Well in some part that’s because I get easily frustrated with lazy journalism and all too familiar narratives that surrounds not just Iran but the Middle East in general. I have written in depth about this in my introduction to absence compilation and in response to an article in Cyclic Defrost. I must say it’s not that hard to do some real research, not just about the artists, but about what is really going here beyond what news and the media tells you. The thing that worries me the most these days is that the same thing that happened to the underground rock and post-punk scene of Iran some years ago happens to us. Situations like ours are really easy to abuse, and when the gold diggers and film festival winners are done getting their prizes for “finding the heart-breaking untold story of two Iranians in their country and how we came to the rescue”, the only people who are left in the cold and hurt are the people who had the most difficulty creating the scene and the music.
Growing up in Iran, what kind of music were you exposed to or brought up on? How do you think that influenced the direction you’ve taken in the music you now produce?
As a child I was bound to listen what my parents were listening to, which was mostly traditional Iranian music, classical music and some pop. But things got serious for when I got into metal music mostly bands like Black Sabbath and Metallica. There was also a lot of interest in progressive rock around me so I listened to a lot of Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Eloy etc… As I became a little older I got into jazz and then certain contemporary composers through a friend who had a huge collection of ECM Records’ CDs which I devoured at the same time I was listening to Black Metal and other extreme metal genres. Since I was fifteen my interest in classical music has dragged me into many interesting eras of music history which I enjoy and often study carefully but mostly music of early renaissance and late medieval period. It was in my last year of high school that I got into Massive Attack and it opened up a whole new world for me, I started digging more and more into the electronic music world and the search still continues. What I want to say by all of the things above is that most of the music that made their way in my daily listening experience and have stayed with me one way or another continue to influence me in many ways, I like to try out different combinations of different types of these genres and musics in my own music as sort of a remix of different parts of my listening experience every time I do an album. Searching for new music is now a daily activity for me.
Your early records had strong literary references in them: the poems of T.S Eliot; the prose of Dostoevsky: how important is text on your sound? Do they ground them thematically or are they more suggestive?
It really depends on the project, but all my solo albums have in one way or another have something to do with a literary text, Sometimes I use the images and the feel of the text to my advantage, other times I like to make my own narratives out of them, for example for “What Wind Whispered To The Trees” I was searching for personal narrative between the work of Dostoevsky and the movie The Mirror by Tarkovsky. However there have been times that a musical idea and image from a poem and a concept from philosophy crossed paths in my mind and I think these are rare moments of coincidence or maybe your subconscious telling you something. All I can say at this point is that literature and philosophy have the same importance for me as musical ideas when creating music, that’s why I can’t do just albums that are collection of things I did in the past month.
On your last record “Familial Rot”, poet Matt Finney wrote the spoken content specifically for you; how did that collaboration come about and how different was it for you to build off of his custom material?
Matt heard the album I did with Heinali, he got into my music and sent me a message that we should collaborate. He sent some of his older collaborations and I was really interested because I saw potential in Matt’s words and I think he saw it my music too; we both thought they could resonate together. I love how we start each album: first there is the text, then there is constant emailing about the atmospheres and the songs or sounds that can be close to the whole thing or even movies. Then I start sketching stuff and Matt sends the recordings of the text. Then I start to complete the tracks, I read the texts through and through; I love how he writes and I love how he reads his material. He has a way of hiding so many images and details in not too many words which is amazing. For me this is ideal, so I can dig deep and bring these images and feelings out in my own way. This has been the most fulfilling musical project of my life so far. My albums with Matt are when I feel free the most.
You actually have a new record with Finney in the pipeline right now: “Second Shift”. Is there any hint on when that might be released? What will be different about this one compared to its predecessor sonically/thematically?
We hope it will be released in 2017; it has been handed to a really great label so it is in very good hands and we are proud to be working with them. But there isn’t a fixed released date yet. This one sonically is an expansion on ideas of our first album in many ways, taking them to new extremes. It’s noisier, there is a lot of processed string arrangements, and a lot more dissonance. I like to keep the theme silent for two reasons: first is that the Matt is best person to talk about it, and second I think it should be talked about after the album is released.
Let’s talk about your upcoming album “TAR”; it really seems like your bleakest and most unforgiving record to date, would you agree? What has prompted such a descent into darkness and what should listeners prepare to experience on this one?
Well, it has to do with many things: during the past two years I’ve changed a lot as a person and as a musician. This reflects itself in the subject matter of the coming albums I’m working on; TAR started for me as an investigation of how dreams and nightmares of an individual can be connected to people who live in the same society and how our perception of a city and a society is formed by our subconscious, and at the same time how it works in reverse. This investigation led me to an interest in night at first as a starting point and after that as a concept. I like to dedicate most of the next releases to this investigation of night and its definitions and meaning through works of people like Blanchot. I always have this fear of being called one of those people who make dark music because it’s cool; it’s not like that for me at all. It comes from genuine state of mind I’m living at the moment. When I’m writing stuff I don’t think about dark and light I just stay true to the feelings and the images in my head. So to cut it short TAR is just a beginning of a series of works dedicated to these concepts.
Lastly, you seem to produce a really steady stream of content; what drives you to continue making so much new music and how important is that act of creation for you personally?
Let’s just say that it’s the only way I could stay sane. But all kidding aside It’s what I enjoy most doing and I like to spend as much time as I can making music or studying materials, listening to new and old music and doing every possible thing to make the experience more enjoyable and affective for myself and for my listeners