With insistent phasing tones ringing in your ears in phasing, tense microtonal tunings, sawing timbres in the background, Sote’s Ministry of Tall Tales for SVBKVLT opens immediately with deep-inflicted wounds. The artist Ata Ebtekar talks to us about desperate mental states as we try to share that pain with the video for “Lips Seeking the Forbidden.”

Sote’s full album Ministry of Tall Tales sounds more personal and introspective, a reflection of the growing weltschmerz of our moment. I heard Ata’s latest sounds live, and they cut like a knife. The images here seem conjured from a nightmare in the moments after waking; the video is a collaborative work by Ata and Arash Bolouri.

Warning: Potentially disturbing imagery.

Ata spoke to CDM via email from Tehran regarding the project.

CDM: Are there any notes on the video you’d want to share?

Sote: I prefer not to say much about the piece/video as it’s open for interpretation.

However, I can tell you that conceptually, I wanted it to be mostly about Iranian women in recent history (Woman – Life – Freedom) and also women’s struggle post Iranian Revolution (1978/79), but also really women’s lack of rights in all history…

Flowers have always played an important role as a symbol in Persian history, figuring during and after the revolution, important in Iranian paintings in various eras, crucial in Islamic art. And even today, Iranians always purchase flowers for all sorts of celebrations as well as mourning ceremonies…  

In this video, the flower symbolizes many things — good and evil, life and death, real versus fantasy, plant versus being, woman and monster, etc.

This work does not have a happy ending as the struggle continues… 

But it’s essential to mention that Iranian women have always been the heroines during different periods in history. They always find ways to fight the power by themselves and ultimately survive the oppression.

There is still a long way to go, and unfortunately, we keep losing many beautiful souls on this path.

There is still a long way to go, and unfortunately, we keep losing many beautiful souls on this path.

We talked a little bit about the feeling there in Tehran at the moment. I know this becomes relevant not just to foreigners but also the diaspora, especially since there are many who can’t go back.

The current mood is stale, flat and airless. Inflation and corruption is immense and out of control.

Hope is gone. So many people are thinking about leaving the country if possible, and many already have.

I know it’s difficult for pretty much everyone on a human level to digest the amount of news and sometimes sheer horror we have around us. How do you process this emotionally? Is music making at least an escape from doomscrolling?

I have become numb. Although everything happening now has been happening for decades, the horror in Palestine, the double standards and bullying of the Western world, the oppression and corruption in Iran, etc. 

Yes, music making for me is a great outlet to cope with it all. 

Also, focusing on raising our twelve-year-old child in a messed-up world is a big challenge and takes a lot of energy and time.

A very positive part of my life is teaching sound synthesis and electronic music to private students three times a week from morning until late evenings.

Hope is gone. So many people are thinking about leaving the country if possible, and many already have.

Since you bring up some of the deeper significance you’ve associated with this album – what’s your means of reflecting on that in your music? Is there a connection to political process, emotional process?

Even if sometimes my albums have a social or political theme, my aim is not to change the world with my music. My work is wordless and based on sound. So, it serves as self-therapy and an outlet to express myself during hard times. 

I prefer the listener to make up their own minds and stories.

And to that topic, is there other music you’re listening to where you’re able to find that meaning, or other artists you look to who make their practice political? Or how do you think about that?

I’ve always listened to all kinds of music. My favorite is experimental electronic music of course. But for political/social stuff, I love listening to Iranian classical music with poetry from great Persian poets from centuries ago because those texts are timeless pieces of art that absolutely apply to today’s issues. It’s fascinating.  

Thanks so much, Ata. These sounds always bring clarity and hope, even in hopeless days.

In addition to the premiere, the first couple of tracks are public:

The meaning I think comes across immediately even without perusing the track titles – it’s embedded in the sound. But there are more notes on the release:

‘Ministry of Tall Tales’ is an electronic music composition that reflects on hyperbolic orchestrations of political and social current affairs. In this work, notions such as misinformation/disinformation, biased mental states, bigotry, dogma and ultimately corruption are brainchild of the composer in order to achieve a sonic spirit in abstract form.

Ludicrous and distorted human behaviors are told by magnifying musical intervals and entering the spaces in-between, and simultaneously dramatizing subtle microtonal motifs, ultra-fine polyrhythmic, polymetric and polytempic pitched patterns assemble the skeleton of an engine symbolizing various systems.

The configuration and framework of this mechanism represents both harmonious and non-harmonious aspects in society. Rearranging and coloring components of tradition, neglecting moral codes, and separating ingredients of rituals to showcase humankind’s failures and accomplishments.

The composer has been experiencing an immense amount of frustration, anger, confusion, helplessness and fear because of what has been happening in his surroundings and the sociopolitical system. Consequently, the music is contemplations on corruption, oppression and murder.

I don’t want to give away too much before the release but – truly, stay in. It’s a challenging listen, but it leads somewhere. It’s best heard end to end. This progression of thoughts, this sense of trying to reach the surface, are woven into the release. It proceeds like a live show, with a narrative.

I listened without the track titles, and found myself in tears on “1401 Beautiful Souls,” without knowing why. Then I saw the title.

Ministry of Tall Tales arrives on February 29. Artwork by Leila Hobooty Fard, Arash Bolouri & Luke Griffiths; mastering by Raphael Valensi.