[photo by: Hirad Panahi]
The Guest Mix series [https://www.paynomindtous.it/guestmixes] comes today to its fifth episode. Our guest for the occasion is Ata Ebtekar, an Iranian Hamburg-born electronic music composer, sound artist, computer music and post-processing audio teacher, that spent his life between Tehran, Oldenburg, Germany and Berkeley, California. Ata has been releasing music since the end of the 90s by the early-alias Atax. In the first years of the 00s the Sote moniker was activated and the first records arrived on Warp Records, Dielectric Records and Record Label Records, while the forename was reserved for the more experimental works together with long-time friends and the great Iranian electroacoustic music pioneer Alireza Mashayekhi, published on great labels such as 333 Recordings and Sub Rosa. The Sote alias took a long break between 2007 and 2014, the year that marked the comeback with one of the greatest experimental-electronic records released in the recent years, Architectonic on Rabih Beaini’s Morphine Records.
As you will have the chance to better understand reading the interview, Ata is no average musician: checking the presentation he wrote himself and the selection of published works featured on his official website, it’s possible to see the huge amount of different activities over the years, both involving sound art projects and collaborations with galleries and museums. That’s why we are profoundly honoured to exclusivelly share with you his amazing mix called 99% Iranian and 1% Iranian-looking Friends Mix featuring almost only Iranian musicians (hence the funny title). The artwork is by Pedram Sadegh-Beyki and is a digital-elaborated version of the Azadi Tower in Tehran, Iran, built in 1971 following the project of Hossein Amanat. The tracklist can be found at the end of the article. Enjoy and share!
Before letting you read the questions Ata answered us few days ago, we’d like to give you an update about Sote’s recent works. Architectonic came out in late 2014 on Morphine and could be immediately numbered among the best records of the year thanks to “a hyperkinetic rush of trance-inducing tones and completely unstable, chaotic rhythms woven with supreme guile, intricacy and attention to detailed frequencies that flood the senses” [https://boomkat.com/]. In 2015 Arrhythmia saw the light on Record Label Records, the same one that had released Sote’s Wake Up EP in 2007, extending the discourse focused on massive usage of modular synth, absence of proper percussive patterns and fast / dynamic outings. 2016 has been a highly productive year for Sote: last February the Beautiful Black track appeared on the Flaming Pines’ Absence, a compilation of experimental music by exclusively Iranian artists; then, Hyper-urban 20 30, Hardcore Sounds from Tehran and 10inch04 was released respectively on Cameron Shafii’s Ge-stell, Stephen Bishop / Basic House’s Opal Tapes, and Ascion, D.Carbone and Shapednoise’s Repitch Recordings. Few words are worth spending about each one of those three pieces: here below you can find the streaming directly out of the bandcamp / soundcloud portals.
Hyper-urban 20 30 [Ge-stell 04]
Hyper-urban 20 30 is a release dedicated to all Iranian experimental electronic artists in their 20s and 30s from Tehran, as will be revealed further on in the interview [“Joe Gilmore and Cameron Shafii did a fantastic job for the artwork utilizing pure Persian fonts representing the music as well as the ode behind it”]. Mastered and cut by Rashad Becker at D&M, Berlin, the 12” features four original tracks and, for the digital version only, four remixes / reworks following up [two of them have been included in our GUESTMIX#5 too]. Here is Ata’s self-reflection about the work: “[it stands on] my path of beatless electronic music that aims for the brain to send movement signals to the rest of the body. [..] It was important for me to make electronic music [..] without using any fashionably expected percussive sounds such as [..] kick, snare and hi hat. [..] So, [whereas] Architectonic and Arrhythmia [..] were paradoxical odes to techno and noise, Hyper-urban 20 30 on Ge-stell aims for a future funk feel.”
Hardcore Sounds From Tehran [Opal083]
Hardcore Sounds From Tehran, released on Opal Tapes few weeks ago, is a two-sided tape collecting edits from six live performances done in Tehran by Sote. Stephen Bishop himself curated the tape’s artwork, which is a stunning take on a traditional Persian war horned-helmet. We’d like to report the best-suiting words about the record written by Siavash Amini, a composer, producer and guitarist from Tehran, and feature on Opal Tapes’ website: “Contrary to popular belief that you can’t do Techno in Iran or +you can not perform beat oriented music, we made it happen with Sote’s rhythmic experimental electronic music. [..] We have a few things that we can call our own and one of them we are really proud of is these collection of hardcore sounds produced by the most respected member of our community Sote. The fact that these sounds were performed in Tehran under normal circumstances can serve as a document of what a community can do by mutual support, self organization and staying patient and independent.”
10inch04 [Repitch Recordings, 10INCH series]
10inch04 is a part of Repitch’s 10inch series that already saw the participation of Mike Parker in #03, the owners Ascion & Shapednoise / D. Carbone in #02 and Markus Suckut in a split 10” with Marcelus for the first one. The two pieces appearing on #04 come straight out of Ata’s unreleased archive, collecting material composed more than 20 years ago. Quoting the press release: “Neuroenhancer [was] produced in 1995 [and] is a heavyduty techno drilling machine, pairing an oldschool-Mills-like groove with a throbbing mass of modular synths”. Turning the side, is the track In Music I Trust, dating back to 1997: “In Music I Trust’s main engine is an incandescent hardcore/jungle beat, haunted by spaced-out vocals in the darkness. The track was produced [..] with friend ‘Safar’ a San Francisco based DJ/Producer, shortly after Sote’s initial experiments with Jungle and Drum n Bass before his Warp EP in 2002.”
For a deeper insight to Ata Ebtekar and Sote’s interests and beliefs, we recommend you go check once again the official website. You could end up finding some extra informations you missed the previous time pointing to a still unknown release, or aspect of his activity, ultimately leading you to get caught in the brave mixture of past and present cultures, music and styles. Hardcore sounds by Sote.
Q: Hi Ata. Thank you very much for having accepted to be our guest. We’d like to start from the mix you recorded for us [the tracklist can be seen at the end of the article]. What can you tell us about it? Other than the three tracks directly involving you, which artists did you feature? Why the stress on the vocal component?
A: Hello, thanks for having me! For this Mix I wanted to feature friends of mine whose music I greatly enjoy and would like to support. Everyone with the exception of Michael Castaneda (Terminal 11) is Iranian; hence the title. If I were running a record label, I would sign 9T Antiope (Sara Bigdeli Shamloo and Nima Aghiani) and Dipole (Shaahin Saba) in a heartbeat and nurture their amazing talents. The London based Pouya Ehsaei who has a PhD in music and a MA in Music Technology is an experimental sound artist who works with collaborators in various fields such as poetry, video-art and computer graphics. I think he’s just getting started and is about to do some essential work very soon. Parsa Jamshidi (Raincheck), whose day profession is in computer science and unfortunately way too busy to produce more music, is from the heart of Tehran.
NUM (Milad Bagheri and Maryam Sirvan) are from Northern part of Iran and make dreamy electronic music, I really wanted to include one of their pieces in this Mix. Although I absolutely enjoy their work (especially their live performances), their style did not fit what I had in mind for this particular project. So I asked them for the individual parts of A Labyrinth Of Circles to do a rework of the already beautiful original. Pouya Pour-Amin is a professional actor, trained musician, performer, composer and sound artist living in Tehran. I wish he made more electronic music in the style of the piece included in this Mix. Cameron Shafii, who reimagined my track r-flux into a gorgeous music concrete piece, lives in San Francisco and runs the young and marvelous Ge-stell label. Mike Castaneda (Terminal 11) is an old friend whose complex and intense music with always a layer of sad beauty I’ve adored for a long, long time.
Q: We got in touch with your music thanks to Rabih Behaini’s Morphine Records, and the incredible release on it out back in 2014, called Architectonic. Of course we know also that you’d been producing records since the mid-90s, at least. What were your interests and focus when you released a couple records as Atax? Was it your first moniker ever? One of them came out on a L.A., USA-based label, what about it? Where were you living at the moment?
A: I was living in the San Francisco area during that time, and very passionate about Techno music and electronic dance music in general. Besides a bunch of white label pressings, the two Atax records were the first official releases for me. One came out on the San Francisco based label Spundae and the other one on Rampant from L.A.. But my electronic music journey started in late 80’s before I moved to California. I was living in Oldenburg, Germany where I spent my high school years, being in an all-electronic-music band, covering artists such as Front 242, Nitzer Ebb and Depeche Mode. Eventually, my two other band mates and I decided to write original material, which basically was hard, danceable and wordless electronic music. We were mainly using synthesizers, self-made metallic drums and cassette players as sample devices. It was essentially Techno without us even knowing about it, and realizing this fact a couple of years later when I moved to the United States… And that’s when the whole Techno explosion happened in Europe.
Q: We found that you were a student and also a teacher of Sound Arts in North California, USA. How would you describe that experience? Is that activity still going on? Could you briefly tell us your travel across the world in order to get a more precise idea about your records and the context they had been released in? What about the Electric Deaf record on Warp, for example?
A: I did study Sound Arts in North California, and eventually I started teaching various courses in Computer Music, Digital Audio and Post Production at the same college I had graduated from a few years prior. It was an amazing and intense place to be at, like a huge toy store filled with some of the best gear and million dollar studios, for which I had 24-hour access to. Unfortunately though, I got too involved in the academic part of the whole thing and did not have enough time to compose as much as I would have liked to.
Regarding my travels across the world: I was born in Hamburg, Germany but immediately moved back to Tehran, Iran where I spent my elementary and middle school years. I experienced the Iranian Revolution and sadly the Iraq/Iran War. Then as I said earlier, at the age of 11 moved to Oldenburg, Germany until the age of 17, at which point I moved to Berkeley, California. Regarding my Electric Deaf EP on Warp instead, I had sent a CD-R demo to Warp and had totally forgotten about it until six months later… One evening, I came home and started to check messages on my small-tape-equipped answering machine, and there was the voice of Warp Records’ owner saying something about wanting to release some of my work! At that point, I had no idea which tracks he was interested in. I called him back, and embarrassingly, he actually had to play me back the tracks he was interested in over the phone because I had no clue what exactly I had put on the CD-R months earlier.
Q: Your latest release is 10inch04 on Nino Pedone’s Repitch Recordings, a double-tracked 10” collecting previously unreleased material straight out of your 20-years-old archive. We really enjoyed the record, and we are curious to know how much stuff do you produced / composed throughout all your career without releasing it. We guess a lot of it dates back to the 2007-2014 period in which you didn’t put out records as Sote, is that right? What’s the reason behind this Sote’s long-term hiatus?
A: Actually, most of my archival material comes from my DAT tape collection produced in the 90’s. With my birth name Ata Ebtekar, I did have a few releases in 2009, 2010 and 2013. In 2009, Ornamental was released as a double LP on the U.S. based label Isounderscore, and the same year, Sub Rosa out of Belgium released a slightly different version of that album called Ornamentalism on CD. This was my second collaboration with Mr. Mashayekhi, but this time with his Iranian Orchestra For New Music on board. In 2010, Digitalis released the album Sonic Within, which was a collaboration with my friend Mazdak Khamda. And in 2013, my album Dear Iran, Miniature Engines Throb In Time For Your Beating Heart was released on a label that unfortunately closed down shortly after. My less frequent public output was mainly due to the fact of being heavily involved in the sound academia world, which certainly had its toll on my composition workflow during that period.
Q: Referring to the previous question, what marked instead the comeback to the scenes for Sote, and why Morphine Records as the launch platform? How much have you been working on Architectonic before its publication date? That “paradoxical ode to Noise and Techno progressing further” which is Architectonic did state for you kind of a change of pattern with the respect to the albums preceding it? We refer in particular to Wake Up on Record Label Records, a three-pieces noisy and IDM / breakbeat-ish work that seems very distant to the modular-rhythmic trips the latest Sote has been submitting on record. What about this differences and the 7-years stop?
A: I think my last beat oriented record was the EP on Dielectric Records in 2003. The release date for the Wake Up EP on Record Label Records is several years later than its actual creation. The owner of RLR was a fan of my Warp EP and he had attended a live performance of mine during a Warp Records tour in Southern California in early 2000’s, and wanted to release something in that style… So, I dug in my DAT archives and grabbed the pieces, which you can listen to on the Wake Up EP.
When I started making electronic music in my teen years, the most exciting element of it was the production of new and exciting sounds. Techno in the early years represented that for me. It was truly experimental music. Eventually, I decided to move away from beat oriented electronic music because Beats in general were becoming formulaic. I had even included some beat-less (not ambient) electronic material in the Warp demo submission, which I was truly proud of and really passionate about, but Warp was not interested in those at all. Anyway, I saw a lot of potential in microtonal electronic music and producing Iranian music within an all-electronic framework. I did not want to do Ambient with Iranian instrument samples on top of it. I was interested in an active and maximalist outcome through pure synthesis. A few years prior to Architectonic, I was toying with the idea of doing a project as Sote again, but I was not interested in making any beats. I wanted to go back to my roots of Techno and Noise without using any old and tried formulas. I believed that I could achieve the same intensity and rhythmic effect without having to rely on any conventional percussion sounds. This was to be accomplished through layers of melodic and harmonic content forming fierce rhythmic patterns. I shopped Architectonic to several labels for over a year. One label was PAN, and their schedule was full at the time. Bill Kouligas told me that his friend Rabih Beaini would enjoy this material, and was kind enough to introduce me to him…
Q: Let’s get into details of the mentioned Sote break: you’ve been pretty busy releasing stuff with your forename on labels such as the legendary Sub Rosa and 333 Recordings. Your interest and research in composition and electroacoustic music can be traced back to some kind of ‘classical’ training / background? What are your relationships with Mazdak Khamda and Alireza Mashayekhi with whom you worked respectively on Sonic Within and Persian Electronic Music: Yesterday And Today 1966 – 2006? How was it to work together with The Tehran Contemporary Music Group’s performing entity?
A: Mazdak Khamda is a dear friend of mine since the age of 17. He is a Classical composer and pianist. So, it was just a matter of time for us to start a project together. I’m very proud of our album Sonic Within, which is Mazdak’s piano compositions (on two of the pieces for piano and cello), and me doing electronic composition, synthesis, sound design and signal processing. The result is a silky and elegant modern classical project.
Mr. Alireza Mashayekhi is a wonderful Classical composer. Shortly, after my album Dastgaah was released, I was visiting family in Tehran. During a random CD shopping situation, I was exposed to his unreleased electronic material from decades earlier. I was shocked and blown away that an Iranian composer had created these amazing sounds decades before I made Dastgaah. Although very different in sound but aesthetically there is a huge connection between his electronic music and mine. Anyway, a couple of weeks later, I found out that he was conducting his Iranian Orchestra For New Music at a well-known concert hall in Tehran, where I met him for the first time. He invited me to his home where we immediately made a strong bond; and I told him that the rest of the world needs to know that an Iranian composer made such beautiful electronic music 40 years prior. He gave me his whole electronic music archive and I came up with the concept of the double album Persian Electronic Music – Yesterday and Today 1966-2006. The Yesterday disc is a compilation of his early electronic music, and the Today disc is a whole album of mine, which was going to be the follow up of Dastgaah. And what better place than Sub Rosa to release such project? My second collaboration with Mr. Mashayekhi was Ornamental / Ornamentalism, for which he gave me total freedom to deconstruct and reconstruct material from his Orchestra (Persian and Western instruments) and bring my electronics into the canvas for an electroacoustic celebration.
Q: It’s pretty self-evident how deeply your musical activity and research is rooted in your homecountry. We refer for example to the strong link between Persian culture and your record’s artworks [see Dastgaah and the most recent Hyper-urban 20 30 and Hardcore Sounds from Teheran]. How do you feel the iconographic component of it affected your way to conceive music? Are there any particular references to places, visual elements, peculiar illumination conditions or even climates you’ve been experiencing in your life in Tehran and its urban environment?
A: I’ve always felt a connection to Persian art and Islamic art for its complexity and pattern-based concepts, which are always present in my compositions regardless of the style I’m working on at the moment. Hyper-urban 20 30 is dedicated to all Iranian experimental electronic artists in their 20s and 30s from Tehran. Joe Gilmore and Cameron Shafii did a fantastic job utilizing pure Persian fonts representing the music as well as the ode behind it. Hardcore Sounds From Tehran released on Opal Tapes is an album consisting of edits from six live performances that I did in Tehran, Iran. Stephen Bishop was responsible for that artwork, which at first I had a hard time understanding, but quickly clicked with me, and ended up completely loving it. Dastgaah was images of Iranian women playing instruments in Persian Miniature style by Roza Matlabi. They were taken by SKL and layered into a mythical illustration.
The source material for Persian Electronic Music – Yesterday and Today was artwork from Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, which I gave to my talented friend Arastoo Darakhshan to digitally manipulate and transform. The result of his work was given to Sub Rosa and the amazing La Montagne transformed them further into one of the most beautiful CD packages ever produced. Dear Iran, Miniature Engines Throb In Time For Your Beating Heart started with paintings by my wife (Leila Hobooty) of Tazhib (Persian style patterns) and circuit schematics, taken by graphic designer Kevin Gan Yuen for further transmutations. Finally for Ornamental, Brandon Nickell did his math magic for a gorgeous piece of geometry art. Again, Sub Rosa’s La Montagne did his alterations for the CD version Ornamentalism.
Q: Would you articulate the concept of ‘The Other Sound’, which is the ability to completely de-contextualize the music you produce within any particular culture (nor Persian, nor European, nor American)? Given – as reported on Sub Rosa website – that you believe music is a ‘cultural habit of sound and anti-sound (silence)’, what would be the role of the musician then, if there is any?
A: For me personally, when composing, it’s important to come up with new concepts that I haven’t heard before but would like to experience in the physical world. Since I believe that the term music is looked at or thought of as a culture specific habit and routine, which people can get addicted to, I try to reshape and deconstruct familiar concepts into untried forms to challenge the system. I call that The Other Sound.
Q: What about the equipment you use in your live shows? How do you develop them? Are you interested in craft a journey for the listener or they’re about something else? Checking your YouTube channel it’s possible to see few clips of you playing, and in many of them Arash Akbari is credited for the visuals projected behind you. How many other artists you worked with? Are the images conceived for particular, isolated live performance? Are they strictly jointed or it’s more of a free combination?
A: The equipment used to do an electronic music performance during this era is not important in my opinion. It’s about the sound journey itself as opposed to see which button the performer is pressing or which knob is being twisted, etc. Over the years, I’ve performed with all sorts of setups such as all hardware or a combination of hardware and computers. In recent years, it’s been mostly a laptop and a couple of basic controllers. I am utterly interested in creating a journey, but not for the listener necessarily. I do it for myself and hopefully the audience can come along, which is always a lovely feeling and delightful accomplishment. I prefer to do shows in complete darkness – so, the listener can concentrate on the music and not get distracted by any intended or unintended visual particles. However, I do love quality visual arts as well. And before I moved back to Iran, I sometimes would make my own visual collages for my performances. A few years ago, I met Arash Akbari here in Tehran, and he understood what my music needed in terms of visuals. I completely trust him in that department, and the few shows we did together were triumphant. Hopefully, we get to work on a new project again soon.
[photo by: Sadaf Azadehfar]
Q: In a section of your official website we found references for all the gigs you did in these years, together with art installations / performances that deeply intrigued us. What about Resistance by Taraneh Hemami [Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco] you composed the VOKS piece for? How did you gather the audio material you processed? How much the complicated Iranian political situation influenced you as a citizen and as a musician? Do you feature any political message in your music?
A: I absolutely do not feature any political messages in my work. My music in general is decidedly wordless. I prefer for the listener to make up her or his own stories and expeditions. I think the political situation within as well as outside of Iran has affected every Iranian dramatically. I don’t think it ever had a direct influence on most of my work though.
As I stated on my website, VOKS was composed for stereo and multi-channel systems. All source material is from the Iranian revolution protest chants and slogans during various demonstrations in 1978/79; sampled from various sources such as cassette tapes recorded by older family members and the Internet. The frequencies of the samples were analyzed then spectrally isolated and extracted for further transformation via digital signal processing and modular synthesis techniques for tonal and atonal stems to be utilized as an instrument part within the whole composition. The rhythm of these chants was altered individually to an unfamiliar state and placed into polyrhythm motifs within the macro grid. The whole concept for me was that I wanted it to be a side-less statement of a revolution. It would just be hazy factual. It didn’t matter which side you were on.
Q: We’d like to close the interview asking you about your immidiate and future plans. Is some further stuff out of your archive about to be released? What is your next booked gig? Bye and thank you very much for your time!
A: My immediate plans are preparation for my performances at several European festivals and events. So, far the confirmed gigs are the following:
- September 30th performing at Unsafe and Sounds Festival in Vienna
- October 2nd performing at UH Festival in Budapest
- October 3rd doing a lecture at UH Festival in Budapest
- October 14th performing at the Berghain in Berlin
- October 17th performing at Unsound Festival in Krakow
More dates are in the works as well, which will be announced soon. My future plans are to continue with my compositions as Sote, and maybe doing another Persian electronic music journey at one point, delving more into the electroacoustic world this time. A sound installation concept is also under development phases. And a very important mission of mine is to support young experimental electronic music artists here in Iran through education, experience, performances and collective movements such as the festival some friends and colleagues of mine and I have started last year and are continuing to develop it further. It’s called SET and here is the website for it: www.setfest.org. Thank you and have a great one. Cheers!
- 9T Antiope – Edax
- Shaahin Saba (Dipole) – Overtones
- Sote – Krom Uth [Terminal 11 Remix – List Obliterated]
- Sote – r-flux [Cameron Shafii Remix – de-flux_21]
- Sara Bigdeli Shamloo – Cataract
- Pouya Ehsaei – RocRast #22
- Raincheck (Parsa Jamshidi) – vbLmdx_3 Edit
- NUM – A Labyrinth Of Circles [Sote_NUM Rework]
- Pouya Pour-Amin – Exterior Wash
A. and C. have been living in Turin, Italy since late 2015. The former is pursuing his PhD in Telecommunications Engineering and considers Guy Picciotto being the repository of happiness in life, the latter is currently studying sculpture at Accademia di Belle Arti where she messes around with materials and fantasizes about turning into a bunny.