Aria Rostami recently released Sibbe, an LP that’s been in the work for years, on Audiobulb Records. The child of Iranian immigrants in America, Rostami explores diasporic identity and “Otherness” through the use of processed field recordings sent to him from Tehran, Kerman and Taipei. In addition to exploring his own heritage, Rostami chose additional locations in Asia in order to comment on the long tradition of Orientalism in the West, which situates Asia as exotic and “Other.”
Some of the recordings sent could have gotten Rostami‘s Tehran source in trouble with the law or otherwise. There were even a few instances where people confronted the source about what was being recorded. Although there are many artists making modern art in Iran, distribution and performance within the country is very difficult and/or in many cases illegal. But, through modern technology, instances of events happening across the world can be digitized and transferred. The source material which was sent and recorded through. This is a representation of how technology opens conversation between cultures, spying and voyeurism through technology, and relationships sustained through cellphones and computers. Sibbe is dedicated to all those who have been killed or imprisoned for making art and to those forbidden to document the cultures they live in.
This mix situates his own work within the context of his many influences. (Joseph Sannicandro)
Please introduce yourself. Tell me a bit about how your approach, how you came to be making music, etc.
I started making music 13 years ago at the age of 14. To keep a long story short, throughout high school I became obsessed with making music… probably to a point that could be considered mentally ill. I would skip meals and lose sleep to record. I couldn’t and still can’t sing so I was making instrumental music (nearly) exclusively. I wasn’t very good at song writing back then either so songs would often change genres throughout or the album I would be recording spanned a few genres. This is something I’ve held onto to this day… I’m not very interested in sticking to a genre so I make very different albums for each release. I’d say my musical influences that travel or have traveled the same path would be David Bowie, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Moondog, John Zorn, Tortoise, Mike Patton, Secret Chiefs 3, to name a few. I tend to make songs that have a beginning middle and end and travel from one idea to another and you’ll hear that a lot on Sibbe. This is an alternative to a verse chorus, verse, chorus format of a lyrical song.
This mix was compiled in a DAW without any additional editing other than some overlapping and cutting tracks down. I stuck to a non-percussive mix with a hand in experimental and ambient music. I tried to get a good cover of sounds from acoustic, to synth, to computer music to reflect influences and techniques I used on Sibbe.
I’m intrigued by the nature of Sibbe, incorporating cell phone recordings and the need for caution in exporting them out of the country. It’s interesting conceptually and sonically. I’m also reminded of the productive use Khomeini made of cassette tapes in the years leading up to the revolution. (Cf. Small Media, Big Revolution by Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi and Ali Mohammadi) Sound can be very powerful things. Maybe you can tell us a bit more about the process and the overall concept? How do you understand your use of these sounds? Did you commission them? Is the importance in the act of making such recordings, or transmitting them? Did the “weight” of the material require more attention in crafting the album than your earlier work?
The process of making Sibbe came from many angles. There’s the influence of music and information coming in through the internet and a new interest in all music of the past that the internet allows us to easily access. There’s the influence of the music I heard growing up from my parents versus what people at school were listening to. And then there’s the more abstract world of sound and how that relates to the modern world. I really wanted to make an album that focuses on our time and place and I knew if I were going to do that I would need to use not just cultural information but information information. In some ways the recordings are arbitrary.. they just needed to be recordings from somewhere far away I could communicate with through modern means. But a lot of the recordings ended up coming with a story. For example, one of my favorite ones was a recording of a prostitute in the front seat of cab singing along softly with the radio. How the music on the radio plays a role in their shared moment, how the cab driver and the woman are both hustling to make money, how my source was a voyeur to the situation in the backseat of that cab, how I am a voyeur across the planet getting the transmission of that audio like some sort of NSA agent or spy looking at illegal activity and how the audience is now unknowingly being presented with this information. The “unknowingness” of the recordings was a big part of it too. We blindly give out our information, our information is blindly collected, and as far as knowing about other cultures go, our understandings of those cultures are usually at best misinformed. Whether that’s me looking at my parent’s culture or me looking anywhere else in the world… there’s a lot lost in translation.
The importance is in the transmission of the audio. The transmission of information has become the most important thing that connects people of today. When I make music I don’t generally think of its importance. I know that I don’t want to be a victim to fads and I have a need to connect somehow to an audience but I try to stay away from whether or not the piece is going to be significant or even released. I find all work to be pretty equally difficult whether it’s experimental or mainstream or it’s complex or minimal. Every side of the spectrum has its unique difficulties. In some ways, using recordings that come packed with meaning is much easier than applying meaning to an instrument.
Your work hits on some interesting issues about diasporic identities, maybe hybridity in general, but I think there’s something specific to diasporic communities. In terms of forms of music, styles, genre, the intersection of local and global tendencies can often reveal something about the social organization of a particular place or community. I recently read Michael Denning’s latest book, Noise Uprising, which is about the emergence of styles around the globe in the 1920s, in part a result of the innovation of electrical recording and in part due to the economic changes happening in global port cities (jazz, tango, son, samba, tarab, hula, kroncong, marabi, flamenco, fado, and others). These styles are distinct from “folk” or popular musics (which are mostly rural), as well as distinct from whatever traditions of “high” or “classical” or “art” musics existed in these places at the time. Denning argues these styles had a profound effect on how local people listened to themselves and understood themselves, and he saw it as a moment of “decolonizing the ear,” foreshadowing the decolonization movements that swept the globe after WWII. I mention this because I wonder how we might compare the impact of electrical recording and shellac 78s recordings to our own age’s innovations in the production and distribution of recordings. I often wonder what impact a work can have, considering the incredible volume of material being made and shared. Considering your own engagement with transnational communication and identity,I wonder what you think about this.
05:00 Le Révélateur – View Model
08:16 Evan Caminiti – Becoming Pure Light
13:12 SND – 06
14:24 Grouper – Holding
19:12 William Basinski – 92982.3
24:00 Aria Rostami and Daniel Blomquist – Track 1
37:47 Ryoji Ikeda – Data.Vortex
42:56 Christopher Willits and Ryuichi Sakamoto – Releasing
44:59 Dariush Dolat-Shahi – Shabistan (Sehtar and Electronic)
49:00 RAUM – In Held Company