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Interview with Siavash Amini

img  Tobias Fischer

These days, originality appears to be the main gauge for artistic success: No insult could be worse than being made out a copycat or ripp-off, no praise higher than having one's work being commended as 'unique', 'personal' or 'inventive'. And yet, as much as it's in demand, originality is a highly problematic term. For one, entirely original music is an impossibility, since every composition already builds on what came before it in some form or the other. Also, originality as a main priority does not by default result in satisfying results. Even more critically, our notion of originality is questioned by the advances of the information age: The more people are making and releasing music, the smaller the potential for each of them to create something truly original, after all. What happens when everything has been done - every sound sculpted, every beat programmed, every chord played and every arrangement tried? We spoke to a wide selection of artists from all corners of the musical spectrum to find out more about their take on originality, how they see it changing and what it means in their work.

In this interview, Iranian sound artist Siavash Amini describes the creative process leading up to his current release What wind whispered to the trees, outlining how personal experiences blend with external influences to create something new.

For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?

Well, I have to say that I wasn`t any exception to this rule. For me like many others,developing my own language means careful study and often imitation of certain aspects of the works and artists I find interesting. I consider myself open to any change and influence coming from many fields, be it visual arts or philosophy. Anything that can empower me to express what I want more accurately. I have listened to and studied works of many great musicians and composers from different eras of music history. It`s an on going process for me, I can never say ok i`ve found my language, that`s it! Let`s stop here and do everything within this framework. For me the frame is ever expanding and finding my own voice is an ongoing, flowing process.

When, would you say, did you start to appreciate originality as an important quality in music? What were some of the first artists that stood out in terms of their originality to you and what was it about the originality in their work that attracted you to it?
Oddly enough I  first encountered the idea of originality in a book about romanticism when I was in high school. At that time the notion of romantic genius was so appealing to me and I found myself seeing it in artists such as Jan Garbarek, who was my musical hero. But as time went on and I studied other artists and musician`s lives and techniques more carefully the whole idea seemed a bit too shaky for me, but I could not find any alternative to it until some years later when I read the work of Roland Barthes, it changed so much in me and made a lot of sense. Most of it still does.  What appeals to me in making of a work of art is  constructing a new world out of preexisting worlds created by other artists, I mean right now I am stunned by the work of Arvo part , how carefully and with patience he has made his world of sounds and wonders with using simple rules borrowed from and inspired by previous composers from another era.

What's your own definition of originality?
That`s a very tough question to answer. I don`t think an original work of art is a result of only the artist`s genius. I believe if we carefully look at every work that we call original and study it closely, we will see that it`s made up of many influences from the past and present works of art. So my definition is that originality is shaping the forces that influence your creativity in such way that you can make a world unique to your experiences, a work of art that stands apart as something only you could have done. I don`t know if that`s a definition but I think I`ve come close to it!

Originality is one, but certainly not the only aspect of quality in music. What, from your current perspective, is the value of originality and has it become more or less important to you over time?
I don`t think that much about it nowadays to be honest, so long as I stay true to myself and my experiences and thoughts, I`m ok with What I`m doing, I don`t concern myself with the idea that whether it`s original or not.

With more and more musicians creating than ever and more and more of these creations being released, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality? What are some of the areas where you currently see the greatest potential for originality and who are some of the artists and communities that you find inspiring in this regard?
I think there is always room for creativity and originality in every field that might interest you, but right now for me the most interesting things are happening where drone, noise and classical music intersect. There is so much going on on the drone scene and I`m astounded by listening to a great new album almost everyday!

What are areas of your writing process at the moment that are particularly challenging to you and how does the notion of originality come into play here? What have been some of the more rewarding strategies for attaining originality for you? Please feel free to expand on some of your recent projects and releases.
For me the most challenging thing in making of What wind whispered to the trees, which is out now on  Futuresequence was to keep my quite simple setup that I had for many years, consisting of a guitar and a laptop only, and change the way I approach them, sound-wise. Trying to mix it with the string parts I wrote, so they can blend in together and have a unified sound. The inspiration for string sounds came from how the string sections in Preisner`s soundtracks for Decalogue sounded, highly reverberated and with a very soft texture, so the reverb tails can blend in with guitar drones which where also highly reverberated.  So the soft textures will have a nice contrast with the distorted drones.

The idea of originality is closely related to one's understanding of the creative process. How would you describe this process for yourself - where do ideas come from, how are they transformed in your mind and how do experiences and observations turn into a work of art?
I try to experiment with the process as much as I can. There are many things that stimulate my mind, but mostly I draw from literature and philosophy. Apart from music of course. Good things happen when a feeling or experience from my own life resonates with something I read or a work is so strong that I actually live in it`s world for sometime. Then I can combine the Ideas which I got from it with the musical Ideas I have at that time and come up with a concept that makes sense on a musical level.

The aspect of originality has often been closely linked to copyright questions. I'm not so much interested in the legal and economic consequences, but your thoughts on how far an artist can claim an idea / composition as being their own – is there, perhaps, a better model for recognizing originality than the one currently in place?
That`s a questions that I have grappled with recently. I think that the work does not belong to the artists in the sense that copyright laws say they do. I think these laws are outdated and can be very harmful to the creative atmosphere of the new technologies we have create. For example I think it`s ridiculous to sue someone over sampling a ten second snippet of your music, or even an entire wor work actually. When the work is out there, everyone should be able to use it in every possible way, that`s how styles have evolved through the ages. Artists in each era borrowed from each other and quoted each other in very direct ways. For example it`s good to consider how one sample i.e. the "amen break" changed the whole electronic music scene. Imagine if the drummer went after everyone who used that sample at the beginning! Would we ever have had the Amen Andrews albums or Drum`n`bass in general?

How do you see the relationship between the tools to create music and originality?
I don`t think there is any link between the two. You can use anything and any tool you can find in an original way.

Do you have a vision of a piece of music which you haven't been able to realize for technical or financial reasons?
Yes. Actually there are a few projects that are kind of a follow up to What wind whispered to the trees, which are written for  chamber orchestra and computer  and a work for two string quartets and computer. they are not completely done and I don`t have the money nor the equipment necessary to make them happen.- But I hope that I can get back to them in near future.

Siavash Amini Interview by Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Siavash Amini on facebook