Sadeghi playing live at Rodnya, Moscow.
With one foot in techno and the other in the art world, Kamran Sadeghi may just be one of the most exciting artists exploring the limits of modular out there.
Away from the hedonism and the party scene, electronic music lives another parallel life that is currently thriving. The world of sound art and academic electronic music is booming like never before with pioneers such as Suzanne Ciani or Morton Subotnick finding new, clued up audiences while modular synthesis is exploding and beginning to spread its tentacles into the mainstream. Between these worlds lies New York modular artist Kamran Sadeghi.
As a techno artist he’s recently released EPs on Sensoramic, Brouqade and Meander as well as singles on Cocoon, Meander Family Jubilee, and a track with vocalist Maia Von Lekow on Roche Madame. He plays live using a modular system, improvising on the spot using a deck of modules and drum machines at clubs like Berlin’s Hoppetosse or Paris’ Rex. He’s recorded mixes for respected podcast series such as XL8R and his next show is for Mixmag Lab on April 13.
As part of the award winning sound art trio Soundwalk Collective however he has found acclaim in an entirely different realm. Over the past few years they have travelled to far flung destinations like the Black Sea or the Peruvian Amazon to record material for various projects and performances. They have performed live in prestigious venues such as Berlin’s Volksühne, Paris’Centre Georges Pompidou as well as collaborated with punk vocallist and poet, Patti Smith.
Sadeghi recently just finished producing and mixing three albums for the collective, two of which are coming out on Vinyl Factory and Marionette. To summarise, he has a lot going on so we took the opportunity to speak to him about his other life as a sound artist, his early days of raving in San Francisco and what it was like working for one of the world’s most legendary modular pioneers.
Ibiza Voice: Can you tell us about where you're from and what part your childhood plays in informing the artist you are today?
I grew up traveling and continue to this day. I’ve been living in New York for over ten years. I was born in Isfahan [in Iran], my parents came to the US for University when I was around one or two years old, so I joined them naturally. We have a painter, photographer and sculptor on my mother’s side that were really inspiring to me growing up. I don’t think a specific moment made me who I am today - it’s really a combination of experiences that has created this desire to nurture my conscious, honest and creative side.
Portrait by Jakob Axleman.
Tell us about your time working with [modular music pioneer] Morton Subotnick? How did this come about and was this an indirect intro to Buchla and modular?
I started working for Morton Subotick just shortly after I moved to New York and at the time I was focusing mostly on my sound and video art. I was performing regularly in the sound art community in NYC and working as an assistant curator for a Sound Art Gallery. An artist friend of mine had said that Morton Subotnick was looking for an assistant - of course I jumped all over it. Like many people in New York, I wanted to do as much as possible. I was already fully into modular synthesis - but it was the first time I heard and saw the Buchla.
What was he like to work for?
I was having a real quintessential New York experience, something I just couldn’t have had anywhere else. When I started working for Morton, he was writing an opera and developing software for kids to learn music. I helped with a bit of everything. It was work, so I wouldn’t really say that he was mentoring me. I think the best way to learn from the world around you, is to not intervene - but to watch and listen. I did a lot of that while working for Morton.
Can you tell me about your introduction into underground electronic dance music? Did you find this particular branch of music through going to parties or through exploring electronic music as a musician?
I was raving in the San Francisco Bay Area during the 90s. I’ve always been drawn more to electronic music. I think it’s a constant circle for me - I float between very esoteric, ambient and conceptual electronic music to making this physical rhythm music. I can’t have one without the other.
Please expand how this process happened and what key experiences you had that directed you to where you are now?
I was commissioned to compose and produce techno for a live set that used the resonating sounds of a building as samples. Before this, I had released only one album with fully programmed beats called Through Thickness, but it was more in the experimental, abstract vein. It wasn’t until I first had a chance to play this music live that I was completely convinced - the immediate response and the collective energy just blew me away.
Undone from your Sensoramic EP is a very unique track, is there a story behind how it came together and its title?
I think each individual track is a very small piece of a larger picture in my productions. I do a lot of live recording which allows me to capture some really unintended moments. I’ll play for hours, building up rhythms and moods, processing things in real-time, pushing the instruments to find some new sonic vortex that resonates with me. I’m looking for that moment when I’m really inside the music and nothing from outside of that moment is coming in. I’m always coming up with titles and playing with words, they are usually coming into the picture as a verbal reference to the sonic mood of the track in this case, I felt like the track was undoing itself, going “in and out of form” and coming back together.
Why did you lose track with releasing music when you began working as a sound artist and how did you make the leap from one to the other?
There was a time when I felt that I needed to learn more about contemporary art and my process as an artist within that landscape. I was treating sound as a physical material like clay or paint. I didn’t want the music industry and this idea of genres and aesthetics to get in the way. For example I was awarded a residency at a studio in Upstate New York where they had this video synthesizer built by Nam June Paik that you can control with sound. These are the things that really inspire me - the things that I’m able to carry over into my albums, playing live, scoring for film or installations in a gallery.
A video art composition by Sadeghi that reveal the beauty, intricacy and patterns that exists in the basic elements of sound.
And why the return to releasing music under your own name in 2014?
I had only made music under my alias Son Of Rose at the time, and I wanted to break away from this project as I was becoming too comfortable. I’m constantly trying new things and as soon as I’m feeling too comfortable, especially when I’m not learning from the project, I instantly feel like I’m stagnating. I want to contribute to music, art and life not just milk it and suck its energy for my own comfort.
You mentioned in a previous interview about your fear of ego and why it’s one of the most harmful things for creativity. Can you explain your thoughts on this?
Not sure I want to get too deep in the conversation of ego here. I will just say that it blocks the flow of creative thinking and problem solving and can be extremely manipulative. Who wants that?
In your work for the Soundwalk Collective, you've spent a lot of time recording different sounds and environments? Can you tell us about some of your favourite sounds you recorded or experiences you had while doing so?
My favorite was recording the inside of Berghain. I was able to use the sound system in both Panorama Bar and Berghain - creating these long frequency sweeps and using contact microphones to record the infamous staircase, hand rails, glass wall and other surfaces.
What's it like touring as a live modular artist? Even playing vinyl in clubs can involve a huge level of unpredictability, does playing in this way present any unique challenges?
I love unpredictability! Of course you need to know what you’re doing, but playing this raw and full uncompressed sound on a sound system is my thing. That’s half of why I do it. I’ve of course had some really crazy experiences of things not being fully operational on my side or in the venue - but I also don’t mind a good challenge.
Can you walk us through how your live set works? Is it pre-sequenced or how much pre-recorded audio do you use per track?
It’s 80 percent improvised. I rehearse a lot and spend time to pre patch my modular system, but I don’t have a lot of pre-recorded material. I tried a few times to just add some drums over tracks, but it just doesn’t sound good to me. I have my computer running some textures, field recordings and a few parts from tracks that I really like and can’t reproduce live. I do a lot of live drum programming as well with the Elektron Rytm.
I’m starting to play with a more hybrid set since I have so many studio recordings. To be honest it really depends on the venue and crowd.
Photo by Barbara Klein.
New York club life is booming right now especially in Brooklyn, are you influenced by your nightlife surroundings and do you feel part of that scene?
I left New York for Berlin just before the club scene started to come back. It was one of the reasons why I left. When I returned from Berlin, it was in full swing and I felt a bit out of the loop, not in a bad way, it was exciting and still is. I’ve also been very busy with studio work, so I’ve had a limited amount of social time. To be honest I try to keep my head in the music and not the scene, but I have a great appreciation for what’s happening here at the moment. It’s starting to have so many interesting layers.
Can you see any new developments on the horizon for music technology that could have a big influence on the music of the future?
It’s all about imagination for me. Although I use a lot of different types of sophisticated equipment in my work, I don’t rely on it for creativity. I also think that a lot can be accomplished with very little, and synthesis is something that always comes down to a few core elements that you find in every new and old piece of gear. I want to hear the person or idea, not the technology.
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