“If being creative is our concluding nature, then freedom is about being good at letting go of things that don't serve that essence”
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and sound that drew you to it?
Singing was from an early age the way I identified with the world. Had my parents stayed in Iran, it might have been different. I grew up learning multiple languages and hesitated to speak any of them until I was about five. Around that age, I remember obsessively playing with the idea of being mute. I even went through a slight religious phase, insisting that all the adults call me Ariel, the Disney character in Little Mermaid. I thought, maybe if an adult would buy into it, then perhaps it would be true. That realm of fantasy led to songs, especially non-verbal melodies. All of that played a great role in the way I communicate.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your development as an artist and the transition towards your voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning, and creativity?
It's a good question because deep down, I want to be just that, if it only existed. Some hundred years ago, we took pride in representing ourselves for past works, and now it seems we disconnect from that collective credibility to stand out as our own. As much as I try to simplify its meaning, I'd like to believe that originality, in and out of its paradoxes, is not a matter of being it per se. Instead, it's about being receptive to revelations, adapting to different practices so that the combination might strike something in someone. And that someone may trace it into something new and impress it onto somebody else. Being original is too individualistic of an approach, but I would be happy believing I can be that for somebody! I think it's more of a phenomenon than the reputation of a person. So much of literature and the relative arts stem from these brief prophecies that we receive and transmit. We do it all the time. The best thing I can do in that department is to interpret the things that move me and be honest with how they come out.
What were your main compositional and production challenges in the beginning, and how have they changed over time?
I can't think of any technical challenges that have stayed long enough to address. Generally, I have always done what I needed to do, realising something anchored in that made people nervous. I don't want to apply that to my gender because there may be other reasons for it, but I can imagine that every woman faces a similar consequence, doing what pleases her. It does provoke people. Asserting herself in what she enjoys doing and then practicing it every day like a religion, without the father figure peering down at her. Sometimes, at the price of eras of betrayal, we can become quite militant, because it replicates a world we have submitted to for so long and perhaps to simulate it will make us feel safer in it. So, we do become like leather sometimes, especially in the work field. Even by something as small as being identified as women composers, women directors, women writers, "strong women" like it's some kind of revelation, it turned out that way! It would be great if we left the first part out and let the work speak for itself.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first studio was in a warehouse in Copenhagen out by the water. I lived there for half a decade and gave everything away when I moved out. As of now, I don't own much other than a few essentials like a microphone and tablet. I'm more drawn to visiting studios, seeing how people work, and working with some, by chance.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach, and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming, or just talking about ideas?
All directions work as long as there is mutual admiration. It's natural to share ideas, but there comes a time to press reset and see what stays out of that conversation by trying out different things without judging the process. There is value in not assessing the work while it’s still new and tender, it’s part of being vulnerable. Something helpful is to put it aside and come back with editor's ears, so that the roles are split. The first stage stays open and resourceful, and the following sessions more certain and narrative focused. It, of course, also becomes easy when you work with people you respect! When I get that lucky, I forget the ego and simply trust that we are going to the same place. I get really excited working with someone who looks for the same things without discussing it because it means we can be intuitive together. It's sort of like meeting an old friend who lives on the other side of town and realising you're about to take the same train.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
It excels at the length of how we respond to it. Suppose we see technology for what it is, a manifestation of the human mind, making any thought come alive; the place where we succeed is where and how we position machines ethically. But to the advantage of humans? At least it needs more of a motive before I can find that reassuring. Maybe, when it cleans air and water, protects animals and people's rights, and performs our labour. Saving time to do what we love doing, learning more about ourselves, and tending to our loved ones. Technology will only thrive with courtesy to nature. We can only excel at the length of preserving nature instead of having a war on it.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I don't judge based on its interface as long as it does the work. I have to be sure that I can keep up with whatever I'm using when the ideas come through. Melodic compositions come naturally; they happen very quickly, so my agency is to do it without much thought or hesitance. Sometimes, the best way to follow through with an idea is to work with someone who can assist the parts that would otherwise deplete the imagination. For periods where I'm receiving a lot of creative information and want to get it out reasonably, I invite someone close to the project who trusts the craft and wants to support the vision. It makes things fair on myself.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Routine is important, but sometimes it gets trivial, so I switch things up. Some days start already at 5 in the morning, and some won't start until I find a reason. A friend calls this my monk phase clashing with my boyhood, which is very on point.
Life and work have always been synonymous, and I think it will stay that way with age. I want to be better at separating the two, but it’s so embedded in me that I am still figuring out how. I try to keep things simple, one step at a time: that way it's more productive. It’s boring if I get into what I do, but we all know that it's a lot of work to meet one's creative standards. It's a constant re-evaluation of self, one’s role in the world.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily? I work really laboriously to protect my creativity, and I know by experience that forgiveness is the most potent vessel for a fertile mind. If being creative is our concluding nature, then freedom is about being good at letting go of the things that don't serve that essence. It's a lot of cyclical work, but it doesn't have to become a punishment. You're not in a boot camp if you're doing what you love, you just do it the way you know how to, and forget that there are other ways to live, you know?
It does get a little reclusive. It helps to be entertained by something other than sitting in front of the same thing every day. That’s where life happens! Breaks are central to coming back to something, feeling more revived. So, I like to cook, go for walks. anything that softens the mind and takes it off things. I try not to compare myself with other people - that really burdens the imagination. I spend time with people I admire and could count my close friends on one hand. The rest is solitary.
'Self portrait: the singer in three stages' (Soho Rezanejad, 2020)
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art? A friend, who is going through menopause, tells me that I work like one of her heatwaves. I don't know what that's like, but she is probably onto something. Sometimes I have no idea what I'm doing until I'm a few months in, showing it to someone. All the leaps I have taken have come from some ridiculous mistake I made. I am full of those, and they are crucial to my growth. I wrote a number of compositions in 2018 that changed course and turned into a play a year later. After getting an offer to commission it, we turned it into a performance, and then it became a film, which is coming out by the end of this year (Crow Without Mouth). Producing and performing has to be instinctual for me. If it's forced, it gets too convoluted and paralyses the magic. When I was younger, I was critical and went after something I could correct to the brink of precision, but one of the advantages of age is that it passes! Now it's more natural; I prefer progress over perfection and have learned to enjoy my work instead of proving a point with it.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
I don't know what connects them other than the impulse of an itch. Music is a lot like the iceberg's tip, where writing and performance are a subconscious process I'm still discovering. I may produce something assuming it was for an album; then I find out that it was for something entirely different, like doing a play. It's two worlds apart, and it makes you question the entire arrangement, and sometimes even yourself! That's how it is when you're working between mediums... How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities? Ideas for narratives may be conceptual but sounds rarely are. The way I experience singing, it's personal fulfilment. Composing is a way to capture that; it's more conscious. Titles, lyrics, and other forms of information are a way to communicate the whole essence to the listener. Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders? Sound has very little value unless it evokes emotion. At least that's what counts for me when a listener feels struck with a sense of closeness. It’s hard to articulate what it does. A song can feel like a homecoming of the soul, and often words become too material for it. I admire Meredith Monk for that reason. Emotion is the sole language in her work. She uses vocal techniques, utilising the voice as an instrument instead of conveying meaning through words. There is something endearing and animal about that, and it makes it easy to empathise with. It’s powerful to have such a skill. I don't know if music is meant to have a function, but at least it can make us aware of how we feel - like a trademark of being alive. Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role, and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist? It's a big question with a lot of answers. Art, science, and politics can be powerful allies, but we need a far better understanding of our inner world before understanding the outer. It's not enough reading about people's experiences. We need to be contradicting ourselves and forgiving that process too. Otherwise, how do we learn? All artists who have created an inner world for themselves and dare to put it out, knowing they might change their minds tomorrow, understand the importance of possibility and failure. But we are hard on each other and seem to forget that judging is a mere shrewdness on ourselves. I suppose that is what sets the arts apart from professions that rely on persuasion. Art is suggestive, and it reserves a place to observe the world as a mirror. In a way, it is remarkable that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form? Milan Kundera wrote a book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It's about these four characters and their love affair during the Prague Spring in the 60s. The timeline breaks into unusual chapters that unfold the same events but under the four protagonists' individual perspectives. A friend was reading it to me, and I remember thinking about how that would translate into writing music. What would it sound like interweaving a collage of vistas into the same story? When I think about it, it's more of a concept than a potential form. But for a long time, I was mixing up the theatre with interpretations of Daoism, for all the same reasons. They exhibit opposing qualities of punishment and forgiveness by revealing possible states of perspectives. All art forms do, like religion, they open bits of truths. They cut you but they also heal you. If they didn't, we'd be as lopsided as when watching the news! I think a lot of storytelling has to do with trust. We believe in the narrative when it's suggesting different possible realities all at once. I want to wrap my head around it someday, but it does require a sense of sophistication... It requires more life experience.