Few electronic musicians currently working in Iran are as inspiring or as influential as Ata Ebtekar. Since debuting with an EP for Warp Records in 2002, Ebtekar has been making boundary-pushing electronic music under the name Sote, which means "sound" in Farsi. His most recent release, an album for Diagonal called Parallel Persia, united traditional Persian instruments and synthetic sounds to create a vision of an Iran where "the path to havoc" is met with "resistance via beauty, grace and symmetry."
As Tom Faber outlined in his 2018 piece, Hardcore sounds from Tehran, Ebtekar takes a hands-on approach to pushing forward the scene in Iran's capital. He teaches Ableton to aspiring producers from his tenth-floor office in central Tehran, where he also used to help to run SET, the country's leading experimental music festival and collective.
In 2018 Ebtekar launched his own record label, Zabte Sote. Because of the difficulties of running a label from Tehran, it operates as a kind of sub-label to Opal Tapes, which co-released last year's expansive compilation, Girih: Iranian Sound Artists. Ebtekar's RA podcast is made up of material from Zabte Sote. With artists like Pouya Pour-Amin, Temp-Illusion, 9T Antiope and Ixuol contributing music that ranges from gnarly noise to elegant sound design, RA.680 continues his mission to amplify and elevate experimental music from Iran.
What have you been up to recently?
I've been busy with preparing and rehearsing for my new electroacoustic live show with two Iranian instrumentalists, Arash Bolouri on santour and Pouya Damadi on tar. I'm also composing a new solo record of pure electronic music with a deep focus on sound synthesis. And a few days a week, I'm privately teaching young Iranian folks about sound design and synthesis.
How and where was the mix recorded?
It was done on my computer, using Ableton Live and a pair of headphones at my office in Tehran.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
All material is from my recently started label Zabte Sote, which functions as sub-label of Opal Tapes due to my limitations in operating it internationally because of the sanctions against Iran. It focuses on Iranian experimental electronic music composers from all over the world. The mix mostly contains pieces from the first release, a massive 42-track compilation named Girih: Iranian Sound Artists, which was supposed to be a symbol of an expansive electronic music movement inside of Iran as well as singular creations spreading out internationally with diverse Persian roots, all coming together under one umbrella for global presentation purposes, as well as giving hope to young and inexperienced Iranian producers.
After the initial compilation release, my goal is and has been to carefully curate individual albums that I artistically believe in. It's true that with Zabte Sote I'm trying to give Iranian artists a platform, but that does not mean it releases music based on nationality only. The quality of the work is the only factor that matters to me, and I will not release a project if it doesn't move me.
So, with that said, two individual albums post the compilation have already been published. One is by Tehran based duo Temp-Illusion, and the other by Ixuol named Abstraction In High Fidelity, from which this mix is benefiting from. There are also several unreleased banging tracks from forthcoming Zabte Sote albums that I used for this podcast.
You recently released your latest album, Parallel Persia. Tell us about the album's concept and some of the things that influenced and inspired the record.
Musically, my goal as a composer was to achieve polyrhythmic motifs via melodic patterns, which eventually result in wild and lush harmonies. The sonic pallet of Parallel Persia is particularly vivid where sound's frequency contents act as hyper modulators on each other for a panoramic spectral soundscape.
It was of utmost importance for me to achieve solid composition structures through various synthesis techniques, (notably, physical modeling, fm, wavetable, granular and additive) plus Persian acoustic instruments (santour, tar plus extended techniques on each one of them), calibrating the synthetic and the acoustic with equal strength to build a euphonious complete whole.
Working on an electroacoustic project such as Parallel Persia, I didn't look at acoustic instruments any differently than the electronic parts. I look at all elements as diverse colours on my palette to be used on the whole canvas towards a final complete composition. I look at sound where all elements and tools unitedly become almost indistinguishable by being a brilliant aural energy. I call this method "Locked Timbre."
Conceptually, Parallel Persia deals with the illusion and creation of an artificial hyperreal culture manipulated and controlled by an imperious agency somewhere within all galaxies. Like all realities, greed and arrogance channels destruction of life. However, the path to havoc includes resistance via beauty, grace and symmetry. Snapshots of an apocryphal Iran are presented via sonic schematics for a synthetic "Meta-Persian" experience. This experience can be in our present day life or maybe somewhere else somehow differently in a parallel world...
How's the scene in Tehran since we last checked in with you?
Sound artists, musicians and organisers are continuing doing their thing of course. Unfortunately, it's pretty difficult, in some cases nearly impossible for Iranians to get visas in order to perform abroad and network with the rest of the world's music community on a regular basis. So, a sense of hopelessness is definitely felt these days even though some of them have their music published via Western record labels, they still can't really perform and promote their work outside of Iran that easily.
Plus, the sanctions have had a terrible financial impact on ordinary Iranian people in general. Everything in the past several months has gone quadruple if not more in price and the income of the people has stayed the same. This scenario makes renting venues and sound systems for organising independent events extra difficult.
Hopefully, in the near future Persian musicians and sound activists can overcome these obstacles and join the rest of the experimental electronic music community like their European peers without having to worry about such issues.
So, until then, Iranian artists have to improvise their ways relating to public performances and artistic activities since there is pressure from outside as well as inside of Iran concerning their paths and growths.
What are you up to next?
My main goal for the remaining of the year is to be able to concentrate on my new compositions and hopefully create some unique sounds that can be placed as functional members of my imaginary synthetic orchestra.