Although I unfortunately missed Sote's performance, I had the honor of attending a few nights of SET festival and believe me when I say he's such a humble, down to earth person that you might forget he's a living legend, which this record proves once again. I can't possibly describe how the music makes me feel even now that it’s playing for the zillionth time and I'm afraid a follow-up, with the standard set this high, will be a very difficult task to accomplish, but I believe in the master.
Ata ‘Sote’ Ebtekar returns to Opal Tapes with his new album, ’Sacred Horror In Design’ (OPAL108).
Developed from a commission by CTM Festival as an audio/visual project in collaboration with Tarik Barri, and inspired by their 2017 theme of ‘Fear Anger Love’ and its relationship to his childhood following the 1979 Iranian revolution, the record reveals a dramatic blend of acoustic Persian instrumentation and contemporary electronics. Sote aims to devise an idealised fusion of the musical heritage and tradition of Iran with the forward-thinking vision which has propelled his storied career producing techno, hardcore and computer music for labels like Warp, Ge-stell, Morphine and Repitch.
Now living in Tehran, his music has frequently grappled with the strict cultural restrictions imposed in his country over the past few decades, finding a space and setting to nurture new developments in experimental sound and performance; first documented on last year’s ‘Hardcore Sounds From Tehran’ on Opal Tapes.
Working with Arash Bolouri who plays the santour (Persian hammered dulcimer), and Behrouz Pashaei on the long-necked, four-string setar, Sote frames and responds to their traditional artistry. On occasions he directly manipulates the music emanating from their ancient instruments, cultivating and thickening up a surreal and beautiful tonality plucked from their strings with a series of processing techniques, but mostly each track is a peaceful arrangement and partnership, Sote electro-acoustically augmenting their movements within his own cybernetic framework. The resulting form gives the impression of semi-improvised gesture between three skilled partners, a deft call and response that uses digital techniques to extend the intentions of the performers into a modern, shady, but ultimately optimistic narrative; creating an paradoxical amalgam of the mythic and the profane as strong as any folk music.
Across the six tracks the strange strings tend to conduct the overall experience, tuned to the unusual colour and complex microtonality found in the classical music of Iran. Blurts of noise, sour tones, and a vaguely technoid or dubwise impression expose the inner rhythm and counterpoint embedded in this strummed music, building a new understanding and doorway into unfamiliar timbres and environmental patterns which govern us. At times it finds the artist at his most compositionally delicate and measured—listen to the sense of space afforded to a beautiful solo that drifts throughout “Boghze Esfahen” and then into “Plural”—and redoubles his focus on what new insight might be gained from the emotional, mathematical and polyrhythmic principles underpinning Persian music.
The electronic parts on final track “Holy Error” are sourced from Sote’s residency at EMS Stockholm in late 2016, utilising their remarkable in-house modular Serge system and divesting from conventional Iranian tonal motifs for a spikier duel with the instruments.
Flux of Sorrow
Synthesis: Spectral, FM & Granular
Instruments: Santour & Setar
Source: NOVA Ensemble