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Interview with Porya Hatami

img  Tobias Fischer

There are myriads of producers out there working with a combination of field recordings and electronic sounds, multitudes of artists blending ambient atmospheres with the music of nature. Sometimes, the sheer volume and uniformity of their output can be tiresome. And yet, every once in a while, a new name will appear on the scene and make you feel like you've never heard this music before. A name like Porya Hatami, for example. Operating from the small, but picturesque city of Sanandaj, Iran, Hatami has created a haunting discography of three full-length  and a handful of EPs all delineating tranquil topographies, magical places of solitude ans silence as well as a sense of one-ness with the environment. Most of the audio material is collected at different places around Sanandaj, which lends cohesion as well as a sense of an underlying narrative to these compositions - the idea that you're secretly flicking through the artist's diary. As refined and touching as his debut Land, recently re-released with a disc of remixes on the Inner Ocean imprint, may have been, Hatami has worked hard at pushing his chops to the next level. On Shallow (tench), he has undeniably reached a new plateau. The album is remarkably concise, but condenses many years of experience, insight and ambition into its three tracks, with 22-minute opener "Fen" leading the way with an epic multi-movement arrangement and multilayered structural complexity. Hatami is perfectly fine with the idea of seeing this music as an escape from the burdens of daily life. And yet, it is always a lot more, suggesting a wealth of deep new experiences at every listen. Hatami may not re-invent the concept of blending electronic elements with field recordings in his oeuvre – but he does make you realise why you loved it so much in the first place.

A debut album is either particularly hard or extremely easy to pull off. What was creating Land like for you?
For me it wasn't that hard. When I decided to release my first album, I already had two or three tracks , a few of them were on soundcloud and I had received some good feedback for them. Having those tracks made the process much easier because I already had an idea of what the concept of the album was and how many tracks I needed. I'd also decided on the titles, so I started working on the album and it came to life pretty fast, within a month I think! I still like Land and am happy with it, even though there are some things that I would have done differently today. I did have a chance to remix or change these things, when Inner Ocean re-issued the album, but I didn't do it in the end. To me, these ebb and flows are part of Land and how it sounds!

In an early interview, you confessed that you spent many years 'doing nothing'. What were the years before your first release Land like? What were some of your most important first influences and breakthrough experiences?
Well actually I was doing something. I was listening to music all the time, studying, reading and researching. But for years I didn't do the one thing that meant the most to me. Which was making music myself. I still don't know why that was. Maybe I didn't have the courage. Be it as it may, it took me years to take the first step. Then I experienced a seminal breakthrough. I discovered Taylor Deupree's Stil album and Jan Jelinek's Loop Finding Jazz Records. I had never heard anything like that before and I fell in love with their sounds right away. After that, I started to explore the genre more. I knew that this was the path that I wanted to pursue, so I began experimenting and learning. A few years later, I finally wrote my first track!
Since then, I've obviously learned so many things, gained a lot of  experience and matured as an artist. For me, getting better means finding something unique for each new work. I'm not saying that I'll do something innovative or something that people never heard of. In fact, I don't know if I could ever do something like that. But my goal is to do something a bit different than other albums in this genre and than my previous releases as well. It's nice to have my own signature sound and style, but at the same time, I'd also love to have a slight shift in a direction for each album. That's one of my compositional challenges!

Since your work is very much based on your personal experiences and impressions, how would you describe Sanandaj and its influence on your music?
This is the place where I was born and grew up in. So obviously, it has a huge influence on my music. It's a  small and quiet city with a lot of peaceful and beautiful places around it: many hills and mountains, where I'll spend all of my spare time walking and collecting field recordings. There is a mountain called Abidar (Awyer in Kurdish), which I deeply love, and a plethora of small beautiful villages all around the city!
In my work, I'm celebrating nature. I'd like to describe my music as a series of sonic snapshots of the places that I visit and of the sounds that I hear in  nature. To this end, I will either use field recordings as a direct sonic documentation or I'll try to mimic sounds that I encounter in the environment with synthesized elements. A typical example of the latter strategy is my track "Sea", for which I used a pad sound at the beginning to create the impression of waves.

What are the sounds that will interest you?
Every sound and everything that produces sound is interesting to me and can be a potential source of inspiration. Each sound has its own musical qualities, you just have to discover them. There is a story and beauty in every sound even the sound that you think is harsh or ugly. You just have to listen enough to find out what is it or where it is.

Shallow, your new album, may well be your strongest work yet. It's to the point, refined and at the same time exploratory. What were some of the conceptual considerations for this one?
Thank you! The idea came from a place that I used to go to. There was a fen there and it was one of my favorite field recording locations, a very beautiful spot. Shallow is a year of life in that place condensed into a 40-minute recording. I tried to include all four seasons on the album: "Fen" is Spring and Summer and so on … I didn't really have any concrete plans when I started writing this album, but I did consider the possibility of releasing it on vinyl, so I tried to remain within time limitations of the medium. The title, too, came about without any conscious decisions. I was searching for a name and watching documentaries about fens and small lakes … One day, I came upon a documentary called Shallow Seas. I liked that straight away, but as the album wasn't about the sea, I dropped that part and just used Shallow

"Fen" feels more complex and meticulously composed than anything you've previously done. How did that piece come about?
I was experimenting with some field recordings that I'd captured last Spring and trying to layer them together. I eventually came up with the loop that you can hear in the first part of the song. I liked it so much that I started to build a track around it. I added sounds and layers and came up with a 25 minute long piece. It was pretty static at that moment, however, with the main texture being present all the time. So I divided it into three or four movements and worked on each of these sections separately, adding unique elements for each part. The field recording that you can hear in the last few minutes of the track was added later, when the piece was already finished. After listening to the entire composition a few times, I felt as though I needed some kind of closure. So I went into the field again and recorded that section in a place called "haft asiav" near Sanandaj.

There's a great moment in "After the Rain", when the acoustic instruments are suddenly transformed by an electronic effect. What's your philosophy to recording acoustic instruments and what are some of the reasons why you like their sounds so much?
I love the warm and organic quality that they add to my tracks. They create some sort of balance with the synthesized and noisy elements of the music, especially when I'm working on a piece and I don't want it to sound too digital or technological. I don't think that environmental and electronic sounds are opposites, however. The artistic side of the relationship between them and how I can use them both in conjunction with each other to serve the concept of the piece is important to me.  I'd like to see them both in the same category and have them both on the same pallet, so I can use them to shape my sonic world without worrying about the fact that they're recorded or generated! 
In the end, I want my music to be a scape to immerse yourself in, both for me and my listeners. I see beauty in the world and I want to write about it so my music can be a little break to get away from the stress of everyday life. I hope my listeners feel the same way.

What's your take on the relationship between creativity and the set-up you're working with?
Currently, my setup is all digital and it's fairly simple. I have ableton, max for live and a few plugins. I used to have more tools installed on my computer, but a while ago, I decided to downsize my set-up. It was a very liberating decision, it helped me be more creative. I think one of the downsides of new technologies is having too many options - it kills your creativity, you can easily get lost trying to explore all these options and all the tools that are being released every single day. Although I love computers and digital sound, my dream is to do something without using computers someday. Working with an all hardware setup, like a modular synthesizer, reel to reel and no more than a few effect modules. It's hard to find these things here in Iran and also it's kind of impossible to import them. So that's why it's just a dream at the moment . Anyway, if I had to choose one piece of gear to add to my setup right now it would be buchla 200e system!

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Porya Hatami
Homepage: Tench Recordings
Homepage: Inner Ocean Records