Zabte Sote is a wellspring of inspiration, not because of some fetishization of Iran or least of all its pain, but as a reservoir of adventurous curation and expressive sound design. It’s a label that consistently has something to say. This year Ate ‘Sote’ Ebtekar has already put out three more gems, and it’s worth visiting all three.

The label had gone silent for a while, as I understand it out of deference to political struggle and suffering. I saw Ata in the fall at the Tehran Contemporary Festival, and everyone I spoke to from the scene seemed stunned, in a state of reevaluating what to even do with their music. (I don’t want to speak for them on that, but it was the beginning of almost every conversation.)

Keeping that in mind, though, we all inhabit this same planet with its traumas – I think we might as well ask ourselves the same existential questions. I know in the end the answer winds up being that music isn’t always helpful or purposeful, but we do it just as we eat – because it sustains us. So after fasting on Zabte Sote releases, it’s good for me at least to break the fast.

Ata said he would return with releases, and then from March they returned.

Soheil Shayesteh – nhA

Soheil Shayesteh is an audiovisual artist as well as composer, and nhA instantly conjures imagery and narratives even without a visual cue. He plays the kamancheh – a Persian bowed string instrument – and it can be heard mournfully crying atop raw electronics and woven into reverberations and stretched textures. No matter how diverse the elements – crunched noise, granulated strings, deep drones, or staccato electronic utterances – Soheil’s music never loses its sense of coherent whole. The kamancheh becomes a natural electronic and electro-acoustic instrument as well as acoustic one.

Soheil says he has built a toolkit of specific audio processing units for the instrument, a contemporary Persian pedalboard in effect. That makes the whole album feel breathing and alive. It’s perfectly composed but also spontaneous and live. These dark and forbidding journeys then never feel cold or somber, but personal, like moments of shared grief and joy.

The Amsterdam-based artist has a beautiful statement that I’ll just reproduce here, describing those flights of fancy and sonic imagination from improvisation:

All those unexpected results that you might get while experimenting with specific ideas are something that motivates me to explore new possibilities with my instruments.

nhA is an exploration in an electro-acoustic environment with a strong focus on improvisation and live acoustic instrument.

My fascination for the spectral information of the sound of the Kamancheh had a crucial role in choosing the sound palette of the album. Most of the electronics used in this record have been derived from the complex spectrum of the live signal.
The use of electronics in this album sometimes leans more towards the compositional side of the process to create the form and structure of the pieces.

The initial idea of the album was an audio-visual experience creating defined spaces through movement between masses and transformation within an omnipresent continuum of geometry and sound. Both sensations, sonic and visual, can independently evoke the consistent perception of depth and distance in the emerging spaces with their unique properties.

I consider silence as the very essence of music. It works as a bridge between sonic events, I compose in a way that, emphasizes those spaces that I am trying to create with their unique quality. This is where the listener contemplates.
Sometimes I find it more fascinating to listen to just a single note than complex harmonies. The way it liberates my ears and lets my imagination wander makes me experience something that I strive to create the same atmosphere for my listeners through my sounds.

I appreciate the silence between notes more than the note itself. I believe this is the place where the listener can immerse into my sonic universe and become more aware of all the small details in the music

Hamid Rahmati – Rhizosphere

Sound and instrumentation in Hamid Rahmati’s world seems to rustle and flow as if blown on a breeze. Piano ostinati gyrate atop indistinct tones and drones; reversed sound tumble across uneasy swells. It’s music like liquid or air, glowing and uncontained. Those harmonic elements of the piano in another element might seem to fix that easy-going organicism in some known structure, but here even gently tussled modal triads are treated as much as sonic objects as anything. There are field recordings and synthesis, but you could almost believe these pieces were themselves discovered, simply living like this.

It’s a beautiful, unique take on ambient music, connected to a wide range of influences and not only the ‘classical’ definition of ambient structure. Hamid contributes almost the whole album as a one-person band, including synths, electric guitar, and piano.

Maybe imagining plants is dead-on – in roots in the biological sense:

Rhizosphere is about roots, areas which originate all of our inspirations, not only from an artistic point of view but also from an exhaustive aspect that embrace our whole being and becoming.

The main characteristic of root is its ever-changing and ever-growing property that makes its influences unique and transformative. In an extensive sense, this quality affects artistic creativity and produces an ever-transforming synthesis which in combination of diverse and sometimes opposite elements can relatively create unique forms. For instance, accurate and deliberated approach to music composition, and far from it, unpredictable nature of some electronic music techniques generates a new quality which can induce motivations spontaneously.

From an aesthetical perspective, I have always been under the influence of diverse traditions and philosophies, from different styles of Rock music and experimental attitudes to Contemporary Classical and Iranian Classical music. Rhizosphere is the result of contemplation and getting immersed in my roots and trying to reflect what exists deep into my consciousness and sub-consciousness. 

Milad Ahmadi – Hormoz Noise

From all those delicate moments, we finish on the utterly brutal electronic sounds of Milad Ahmadi. (I have to admit I didn’t realize until reading the bio that Milad is 22 years old, but – while this sounds free and creative, it sounds in no way naive.)

Milad’s music is raw and direct – sounding in its broken beats as influenced by hip hop as industrial techno (and not only for the raps). Searing synth leads blaze against crunchy percussion, with everything bone dry rather than drenched in glacial reverbs like so much stereotypical monochromatic “hardcore” and techno releases. Persian and southern USA rhythms blur together so that you’re not always sure where one begins and another ends. Milad comes from Bandar Abbas and is based there, but you could easily imagine a wormhole opened up to Atlanta and some rhythms synced up. Hoover-style leads appear but somehow sound fresh and new. Drones buzz and swarm like insects.

What’s equally remarkable is that there are 13 tracks of this, and not once does the energy let up.

Now having heard it in that abstract music, I do need to get some lyrical interpretation – not that it’s ever the same as speaking the language natively, but even to get the chance to speak to a native speaker about it.

Bandar Abbas is southern Iran, so given dirty south / southern Hip Hop, maybe a genre will blossom around Milad’s endlessly inventive music.

In a perfect world, this album would appear on best-of-2023 lists, but barring that, I’ll keep playing it loud enough that my studio neighbors can hear. Go listen to it on something with some bass extension. Thank me later.

There’s so much more music to talk about; I promise more regular dispatches. Feel free to nag me.