Track By Track: Aria Rostami – Agnys
Based in San Francisco, Aria Rostami, is an artist who hasn't crossed our radar or path before despite him having produced music for several years. He has previously released music for a number of labels but his latest outing on Spring Theory has seen him step on the gas just a little more. This record instantly struck gold from the minute we first played it and it seemed only fitting for us to invite him to provide some context as to the release which sees him dabble in textures of house, ambient and subtle electronics. Here is his explaination of the release…
This entire album is a dedication to my friend Shawn who passed away in 2011. Shawn and I also made music together for a few years. There were some ideas that we had worked on that never saw the light of day for any number of reasons. The B side of this album is more or less songs that are a direct influence based on his ideas and the A side are one step outside of that framework… meaning they are influenced by the B side recordings but not as focused on Shawn's ideas or things that make me think of Shawn specifically. The piano sample that I edited and chopped up for this song is the same exact sample I edited and chopped up for every one of the songs on the B side. I recorded the piano sample using Shawn's piano he bought when we lived together (which I now own). This song was influenced by Burial and Four Tet's song "Moth" which was the first Burial song Shawn and I ever heard. He had bought it on vinyl on a whim. It also samples an unreleased song I recorded called "Coven." For a number of years I would record songs based on the idea of peacefully and slowly drowning in a bottomless ocean. Growing up in San Diego, I didn't pay much mind to the ocean because it was so available, I was numb to it. It wasn't until I moved to San Francisco about 9 years ago did I start looking at the ocean as source of inspiration… and when I did it was usually dark and morbid… looking at the ocean as an overwhelming power of nature that we are subject to. This feeling was directly related to my opiate addiction I had from the ages of 20-22, when I made most of my songs about drowning. "Coven" is one such song that I made after becoming clean and the last song I made focusing on that theme. It was recorded for a sci-fi soundtrack for a movie that doesn't exist about the last human on Earth dying. I finished but never released that album. I didn't purposefully sample "Coven" for any conceptual reason but considering the history I have with Shawn, our addictions and relationship, it's easy to look at it now and see a bigger connection. A clepsydra is a is a timepiece that uses water to measure time. Many of the song titles are related to measurements or numbers… this is due to Shawn's attraction to cold mechanical music, his love for Sol LeWitt and his interest in Erik Satie's self description as a "phonometrician" or someone who measures sound. Shawn's attraction to art that felt mechanical or rigid, obsession with objects and tasks, and connection with animals may have been related to his autism which is not something I would typically mention but because of the nature of this article, may be necessary to give you a well-rounded understanding. Although variations in cognitive abilities can pose challenges for many, it can also be a channeling point for a truly inspired vision or in this case an influence on someone else's vision. In sum, this album exploits the idea of a rippling effect someone can have on your life, regardless of whether or not they still physically exist.
The title of this song references the numerical display calculators use. It starts off with a cut up synth melody which is a sample of a song Shawn and I made. The static and crackling from the sample was something I had created and the synth line Shawn had created. I was looking to Icelandic artists like Sigur Rós, Björk, and múm and their work from the late 90's and early 00's, (what's just on the cusp of being considered "retro") and brought those influences into a song that looks at my introduction to electronic music and at my relationship with someone who I discovered how to make electronic music with. In 2012, I made an EP called "Peter" that was later released as a double EP as "Decades/Peter" on Crash Symbols. "Peter" was the first thing I created after Shawn's passing and was the first work I had made about him. The music on "Peter" was not really music Shawn would have loved… It was more or less a way to emulate the feelings of a close friendship and I drew in influences from video games I played as a child to help communicate this. I sampled my voice on those recordings in a way that reminded me of the music in games like Zelda: Ocarina of Time on N64 or FFVII on Playstation. Overtime, that sound has melded in my mind as a representation of Shawn, even though he and I never played those games together. I used the same technic on this song with the vocal melody, which sounds like it could've come straight out of the N64.
A Square Tablet Strewn With Dust
The title of this song references a possible (but disputed) meaning of the word "abacus." This was the first song I made for the record before I drew out a concept for it. Every once in a while I'll hear a song or artist and the thought "Shawn would like this" pops into my head. We had built a relationship around trying to introduce new music and ideas to one another… it was part of the fun of hearing something new. In some ways it was a friendly competition. One such artist that I discovered after Shawn's passing was Floating Points. This song is directly influenced by Floating Point's remix for Four Tet's "Sing." This song uses samples from two sources, one of which is a song I made for the unreleased sci-fi album I mentioned above and the other sample comes from a video of 1970's Iran. I went into this album straight out of finishing up my album "Sibbe" which came out last year on Audiobulb, and "Sibbe" is about my experience of living in the Iranian Diaspora within the United States and modern comunication. The concept of that album had a slight bleed onto this album with this song but is not conceptually driven towards those ideas like my last album was.
I originally wanted to call this song "White" but I remembered I already had a song called "White" on my album "Uniform" which came out on Audiobulb in 2011. "Uniform" had a few originals and a few remixes of songs from my previous album, "Form." Shawn did a remix that ended up on "Uniform" and that is the only song of his that ever got a proper release. Shortly before Shawn passed away he was almost done with an album but his computer was stolen and the hard drive he used to back up the files has since gone missing. So really, at this point the only work of his you could hear would be that remix. I don't think Shawn would've made a song like "White-White" but I think if he were to hear any one of the B sides of this album he'd probably would have been disappointed I didn't make them with him. As I mentioned before, all the songs on the B side were constructed by chopping up the same recording I made using Shawn's old piano. Each song holds a different mood. This is a nod to Erik Satie's Gymnopédies. Shawn's old piano, which was created sometime before The Great Depression, makes a lot of noise as well… it can detract from itself as a musical instrument and lean into the fact that it is a large bulky object just sitting in my room. I have a lot of Shawn's old things… his synth, a few paintings, his beanie, a manikin head… all just random pieces of furniture. Erik Satie referred to his music as "musique d’ameublement" or "Furniture Music" and I like the fact that it feels like I made this album not just with a piano but also with something that feels like a piece of furniture. I also like that electronic music and musical recordings have some true essence of the idea of furniture music because they are things that are able to sit in a room and decorate the room without drawing attention to themselves and, unlike in Satie's world, it doesn't need a performer, making it ultimately less intrusive. This song is also influenced by Shinichi Atobe and آهو (Ahu), artists that I think Shawn would've liked if he were able to have heard them
A soroban is a Japanese abacus. I made this song very quickly and it serves as a sister track to "White-White". I always liked the way this song had a faster tempo but more mournful tone than "White-White" did. I think of a small American town when I hear this song. Perhaps someone sitting on their porch at dusk, perhaps they're on their way to do something important or life changing tomorrow. It makes me think of an Edward Hopper painting. Near the end of the song I take out everything except the beat. This is something I did on the song "Vietnamoses" as well which was on the "Czarat EP" (also on Spring Theory) and on "Sibbe"… I liked the way it worked on that track and I wanted to try it again with something a little more light-hearted. I don't think it has the same effect but after I tried it I realized it allowed me to try something a little different. When the piano comes back in everything is a semi-tone higher. It gives the track a slightly different rhythm as the notes come in just slightly faster… I don't think anyone who doesn't have a trained ear would easily be able to pick up that the entire song is now, not only in a different key but all notes are raised by a minor 2nd making them completely dissonant if paired with the original melody. It does carry itself differently though and I like that it's done in a way that is hard to figure out.
Beghilos, Beghilosz, 50714638, or 250714638 (turned upside down on a seven-segment display calculator) is a term used for calculator writing. The cut up piano for this song is directly influenced by the work Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto did together. When Shawn and I discovered this collaboration, we basically redirected our entire focus of music to Raster-Noton records. It was something completely new for us at the time. I currently do a collaboration with Daniel Blomquist and we preform live throughout San Francisco semi-often. For our last performance, I used a piano near the end of the set while Blomquist was manning his cassette tape loops and guitar pedals. Afterwards a friend came up to me and told me my piano playing reminded her of Shawn's playing and for a second she thought it may have been one of Shawn's songs and a stranger came up and told me that my playing reminded him of Ryuichi Sakamoto. It'd be a compliment to hear either of those things said separately, but to have heard them said about the same exact performance? I can't really think of anything to say that would accurately explain this.