Interview with Pouya Pour-Amin

Hi Pouya, thanks for agreeing to answer a few question for Fluid Radio. To begin with, could you tell us a bit about yourself? You are a musician, producer, composer, multi instrumentalist, sound artist, and actor. Which came first and how do each of these different practices inform each other?

I have been in the music field since my childhood and I have also been active in theatre for ten years. I think in order to answer your question it’s better that I start from my childhood. I grew up in an artistic atmosphere since my parents were both theatre artists. I also started studying music from then and because of my grandfather’s recommendation. We had an interesting library at home when I was a child and my mum and my grandfather were my encouragements for reading literature. So I could say that my childhood memories are mostly filled with different books and a love of literature in general. In my opinion music has an abstract instinct and as a result it’s not as expressive as literature or theatre. I noticed this fact when I had become a musician and I was busy with composing music. I needed to express myself beyond music and that’s why I started using literature in my music albums. In addition, I could say that working in theatre is also another way for me to fulfil my need for expression. 

In terms of your musical background, you play double bass, and I imagine you have classical musical training like your friends Sara and Nima from 9T Antiope? Also, I understand you were all part of the Camerata Theran Orchestra under Kayvan Mirhadi?

Such a good question because Keyvan Mirhadi has an important role and a big influence on my understanding of music, art and life in general. I was first his student in Harmony and Music history and then I played in his Orchestra “Camerata” for ten years. And Yes this is the way I met Nima and Sara since we all played in Camerata orchestra. I learnt a lot from Mirhadi and especially about contemporary classical repertories. 

How did you get into drone-ambient music and how do you integrate your double bass training into electronic music? Also, what is your current studio setup and your favourite piece of gear? And how do you approach a live performance?

It is complicated for me to answer this question since I have started composing music for quartets or string orchestras, for sure one of the reasons could be that there is work for professional players or orchestras for such music. But in my opinion this is not the main reason I began to play double bass. I think the main reason I got into drone-ambient music is due to my musician friends and colleagues who had influenced me in this field. For instance working and cooperating with Nima Aghiani and Siavash Amini for such a long time for sure had great influence on me.

As for my studio I have a very simple set up, a small room, a sound car, computer, and monitors. I like to use instruments in my live performances and for that the software I use is Ableton. One of my favourite pieces of gear is a TLM 103 microphone. 

What was the inspiration behind your album Prison Episodes? I believe you are a Jorge Luis Borges fan, did his narrative style inspire the way the album is constructed and could you say something about its episodic structure?

Choosing this concept has many reasons for me. Some of the reasons are personal and I don’t want to talk about them. My previous album “Lalaei/Lullaby” also had come out of the same concept. I could relate it again to my childhood and adolescence and my interest in literature. As I mentioned before I have always been interested in Iranian contemporary poets, such as Shamlou. For instance one of Shamlou’s poems that had a great influence on me for choosing this concept is called “The Penalty / Here there are four prisons / In each prison several tunnels, in each tunnel several quarters, in each quarter several men in chains …” Or I could bring other literary examples focusing on the same subject such as Masoud Sa’d Salman or Borges as you said. But I should also say that I was not inspired by Borges in form or music. And about the episodic form of the album I could compare it to theatre in the Aristotelian way of narrating. I have tried to recreate this theatrical form in my music. As I said before music could not express itself comparing to literature, so I used words in this album to complete this expression and I considered each track (piece) as a part of this linear narration. 

On the theme of incarceration, one of the first things that came to my mind, was the work of Forensic Architecture who work with audio analysis and acoustic modelling and have studied the way sound shapes the experience of many prisoners. Does your album in any way reflect similar concerns?

As I mentioned before I have tried to tell a story through my music. Therefore I have looked at the whole album as a story writer or let’s say a theatre director and I have used personal and also historical experiences while composing. 

The artwork for Prison Episodes is by Barbad Golshiri and references the prison memories of A’ezam, a political prisoner of the 1980s, as retold by Akbar Sardouzami. As the liner notes tells us, the text reads: ‘A’ezam has been degraded and tortured, living in timelessness and facelessness. She has nothing, and has turned to nothing, she says. Then one day she finds a rusty pin in her solitary confinement. She starts to draw squares, and the squares become her world: ‘Then I saw if I draw a square within another square and reach the depth, the square turns to a point. The cell was too dark, but I could see a point in the middle of the square that helplessly looked up at me and said: you should testify that I’ve been a square. You are the only one who knows that I have been and still am a square.’ The sound of the album is certainly harsh and abrasive, even mournful, but it’s not relentless, there are suspended moments of light within the darkness floating in clouds of reverb. You’ve not just gone for distorted electronic tones, but you’ve included violin/viola and trumpet from Adel Poursamadi and Sardar Sarmast to give a more organic feel. It is possible to retain some level of hope in our current times?

Barbad is one of my old friends. I had seen this artwork in one of his exhibitions about nine years ago. And I could say it was so special for me from the very first moment and it remained in my mind since then. After finishing the album I consulted with Barbad for the album. He had another suggestion in the first place. But Kate convinced us both to change the first decision. (I have to confess that Kate helped a lot cause I don’t know the European audience that well). So Barbad finally suggested this piece and of course it made me deeply happy for so many reasons. 

In the album I position the trumpet and the stringed instruments almost in the role of characters themselves. It is difficult to know what to say about hope. Even in difficult times it can be found in unlikely places, or perhaps when you do not expect it. Perhaps in this album it may be possible to also find some hope. 

You recently played at CTM in Berlin with Rabih Beaini. How did this collaboration come about and on a more general level how has the collaborative partnership between CTM and the SET festival helped with forging new connections? 

Working with Rabei was one my best working memories with no doubt. Because I hadn’t experienced composing in this way before and it was so interesting. Additionally Rabei is a professional colleague and a decent human being. I should also thank Ata Ebtekar and Siavash Amini for giving me such an opportunity. I think one of the reasons that I have been chosen for this project could be my classical music background. And about the effects of this link and relation… I think I have to wait for a few years to see the result. 

There has been quite a lot of interest in the experimental music scene in Teheran lately. A lot has already been achieved in the space of a just a few years. People like Sote, Siavash Amini, Tegh and Umchunga are now firmly established on the international stage. What is the actual feel on the ground, is there a definite sense of a growing interest in Iran in experimental music, both in terms of audience and new practitioners? 

Whatever I say would be my personal opinion and so it wouldn’t be a complete explanation, so I am reluctant to propose exact reasons as to why this scene has come about. I could just say that one of the important characteristics of this group that you are talking about is that it is gathering artists with different musical backgrounds. But why has this happened? It’s complicated and I don’t know and it’s not in my knowledge. 

You have also worked for the stage as a musician as well as collaborating with the film director Jaber Ramezani, most notably on the soundtrack for Exterior Wash, which was included in Flaming Pines’ compilation album Absence. Considering you are also an actor, how do you approach your work as a composer when dealing with film and theatre?

Well at first I analyse the piece in a dramatic way. Then I study the performing form of the play and as a result I try to adapt my composition to the work. And that’s why what I compose for theatres or movies is not necessarily my favourite music. 

Could you tell us something about the sound piece you created for Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights? As I understand, the term Paradise comes from the old Persian word paradaijah – meaning “walled enclosure” which then lead to the idea of the Persian gardens. This is obviously far removed from Bosch’s vision. Did you have that tradition in mind when approaching Bosch’s Garden?

Working on Bosch artwork was because of my interest in art history. That’s why I could call it a personal practice and I didn’t want to present it anywhere. But one day I noticed that Barbad is exhibiting in a Bosch memorial in Bruges and I gave my music to him and he sent it to the art curator of that project. So it happened like this. The curator liked my music and it was finally presented as an installation in the exhibition. 

What are you currently working on?

Right now I am in Shiraz rehearsing for a theatre performance called “The Kitchen” by Arnold Wesker. The director is Hassan Madjouni and I am working with him as a musician and an actor at the same time. As well as this theatre performance I am also working on an EP for Zabte Sote, some other theatre and dance projects and also I am thinking about my next album’s concept. 

One last thing, are there any sounds specifically connected to the Tehran and specifically the place where you live that you feel have come to characterize your idea of “home”? For instance, if I had to describe in acoustic terms the area where I live in South London, amongst the sounds that come to my mind are the planes very early in the morning, the trains late in the evening, the neighbours calling their pets, the birdsong, the foxes… Also, what would your top recommendations be for anyone visiting Iran and Tehran?

In relation to these environmental sounds that you ask about and which of course an important issue in my music… I live in Tehran and I could say the routine sounds with which I live in my everyday life are those from motorcycles, car horns and variety of building and construction sounds . But I can’t really explain how it has affected my music! I could just add that this situation is completely different and the sounds are completely different in other cities of Iran.

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