Interview with Siavash Amini

dsc01143-edit-2-3Photo Credit: Ashkan Noroozkhani

 

In an little over 7 years, Siavash Amini has managed to cement himself as one of the most articulate experimental composers of his generation. Releasing music on revered labels such as Hallow Ground, Opal Tapes, and Room40, his particular take on granular synthesis and post-classical composition has resulted in what are, to my mind, some of the most fascinating albums of the last decade, not least his ongoing trilogy encompassing Tar, Foras, and the forthcoming Serus.


Daniel Hignell-Tully: There seems to be a strong thematic, or conceptual element that runs through most (perhaps all) of your work. How would you describe your conceptual approach? Do you fix a concept in advance, and then create a work? Or does your composition perhaps emerge from your concurrent interest in the ideas, works, and composers that influence you?

Siavash Amini: It depends on the project. Sometimes there is a conceptual theme that I like to explore and at the same time I’m experimenting with certain techniques; at one point they come together and shape one or two albums. Other times, specially in the case of projects with Matt, I have the whole thing laid out before I start recording the tracks but of course a lot of things get modified in the process.

DH: To what degree is it important to you that your compositions audibly reflect their concept? Is it important to you that the listener can hear the concept within the work, or even that they know about the concept when in engaging with your composition?

SA: The main point of working with concepts and texts for me is to give structure to certain affects while I’m working or to explore the affective side of certain thoughts and ideas. It’s a two way street and mostly for my benefit. Music is a very tough medium to get concepts through if you don’t involve text or language. Even if you do; there are more new complications to deal with. Generally I would like the music to stand on it’s own because no matter how well you do what you have in mind, millions of factors you can’t control shape the listener’s experience of your music. The same music can mean two very different things to individuals with different listening habits. As long as certain emotions get through I’m happy with the result. The emotional impact is the most important part for me.

I have to add that what I find rewarding in my own experience, is to know these things about an artwork after the first few encounters. To a certain degree I agree that explaining the concept and the process before encountering a work of art can have positive educational influence but I find it very boring if everything had to be explained to me in order for me feel anything. If someone can’t connect with my work emotionally I doubt me going on endlessly about trauma and collective grief would make anything better.

DH: Your work on the Tar/Foras/Serus trilogy has resulted in three albums that are ostensibly radically different in many respects – what are the common threads (either compositionally or conceptually) that bind them together?

SA: The idea of the trilogy when I first started drafting was to explore what stroke me as an interesting and simple idea; the idea of “night”, different definitions of what night is, our perception of it and what night means to us. I first encountered it when reading the work of Eugene Thacker although I took his reading of things way out of context. 

For TAR what interested me was the collective unconscious and the way it produced emotions, sounds and images. We rarely think of our collective life having more to it than what lies on the surface. I think that certain emotions caused by past events live inside people’s psyche and manifest themselves in architecture, structures and soundscapes and even how they interact with certain places. I tried to convey the emotions of the few certain situations I was involved with during my lifetime. It has a personal approach to it, it’s me trying to convey some of those affects through my music. What it has to do with night? I believe that societies behave in manners that suggest there’s a collective subconscious at work; reorganizing itself by endlessly dreaming and producing images and sounds. I assume there is a “night” where that subconscious is very active. That’s where TAR begins. FORAS deals with sorrow as an external collective force that surrounds you. A darkness or a night if you will. Technically there some ways of controlling dissonance and structuring it that I used in all three albums but nothing more than that.

DH: It is interesting when researching ’Siavash Amini’, almost every reference to you and your work also prominently notes your nationality. How does your nationality as an Iranian influence your art? Is this element of your identity important to you, and how?

SA: I find it increasingly annoying. I think it’s only relevant when it comes to me as a person with certain struggles, which is a result of being born in a certain place like any other human being. Right now people in this region are going through the roughest periods of their history and this is being exploited for journalistic and artistic exoticist quests. People trying to sell it as extra flavor to what they do disgusts me increasingly so.

The only reason we mentioned things like that in Absence or to what I wrote about and talked about in the past was to raise awareness to how dangerous narrow and often conveniently concise media-friendly narratives or exotic flavors can be to people actually trying to do something they love while living here, but most people took it the wrong way I suppose. Both nationalistic pride and exoticism in any form are part of the same idiotic bipolar system.

DH: There seems to me a certain over-riding dark aesthetic associated with your work, albeit explored in a nuanced fashion. You seem to deliberately embrace complex and often negative themes, a choice reflected in the density and complexity of your arrangements. Is this a description that you agree with? What is it about the darker aspects of life that you enjoy exploring?

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SA: I think it’s not very intentional that I find some themes more interesting, I believe in honesty when it comes to what type of feelings you’re expressing. The things that I find interesting is things I can feel a strong connection to as a human being and part of a specific society. I think I find certain sound worlds more interesting because they help me express the feelings I try to communicate easier. 

That’s why I don’t like the term dark ambient and the aesthetic that follows it to describe my music, my world is not the world of monsters and hellish fantasies, it’s not about escapism in form of D&D role playing. It actually comes from real outside experience. I’m not downplaying the importance of that type of approach or great artworks it inspired, I just need to maintain at least a certain theoretical distance from it. 

DH: Compositionally, there are two defining aspects of your practice that stand out to me. The first is that you work broadly fits under the banner of ‘drone’ music, and the second is that you seem to employ a more classical sense of arrangement and tonality. Do you consider yourself as a ‘drone’ composer? What does the use of long, evolving sound-worlds afford you as a composer?

SA: Although I love and am hugely influenced by drone music, I don’t consider myself a drone musician, I love long evolving sounds because they let me focus on the certain aspects of texture that I find fascinating. Other than that I’m becoming more and more interested in structures that involve a lot contrast and disruptions. This is something that I’m injecting fairly carefully to my new music. But I admit that I find the idea of tonal stasis very intriguing and I’m yet to explore a lot more in that respect but I’m not sure if you can call it drone but a lot of it is not up to me to decide.

DH: And is there a more ‘classical’ basis to your arrangements? Do you consider yourself coming from a classical tradition, and how is this invoked in your compositional strategies?

SA: I started my musical education as a metal guitarist when I was 12-13 but from the beginning was very interested in music theory and I came from a home that classical music played a key role, these two crossed paths when I was 16 and started learning all the basic necessities of classical composition, this continued until I went to study classical guitar in the university but eventually dropped out. So I don’t have a classical composition background as a composer traditionally does, but I’m very well equipped with the all the necessary skills.

Studying classical music for the most part gave me the ability to give more coherent structures to my compositions, I find a lot of basic rules of counterpoint immensely useful in realizing pieces involving a lot evolving layers. I learned a lot from and am still learning from studying works of Schnittke in regards to using very different and often contrasting sonic materials or how a composer like Arvo Part maintains a sense of harmonic stasis while keeping other aspects of the piece evolving. For example I used his Tintinnabuli technique for all string and woodwind parts in Subsiding although not strictly adhering to it. I can go on and on but the most important part for me is being able to access a wealth of western music compositions and go in depth and extract the techniques I find useful to my work.

DH: What are the core compositional tools you tend to rely on? There is (audibly) no small amount of granular synthesis, and the aforementioned drone. Are there specific instruments, techniques, or audio processes you enjoy working with?

SA: My main tool for composition is Ableton Live I do a lot of editing and manipulating samples whether it’s a fragment I wrote for strings and recorded or something I did in Reaktor. Things always takes shape in Ableton Live, strangely enough not in its session view but the arrangement view. I try to limit myself to very few tools, this helps me concentrate and get the most out of a very simple chain, also makes it easier when mixing. I don’t like cluttered projects. Ableton gives me the organized look of a paper score while giving an ocean of possibilities to manipulate every aspect of each sound on the fly. You can discover a lot of interesting things with their instruments and effects alone. I use Reaktor and GRM tools, that’s my whole setup which I think is more than I need.

DH: Are there any areas of your practice that are, for one reason or another, under explored? Is there a particular direction or idea you would love to develop further?

SA: I’m fascinated by spatialization of sound as a compositional tool and integrating architecture in structuring a piece something that I hope I can explore more seriously when I have enough financial support to do.

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