Experimental music has been developing for years in Armenia. Along with a few Armenian contemporary music artists, Arash Azadi, who’s one of the Hartak Festival‘s speakers this year, has been contributing to the development of the field during the last five years.
Azadi, a flamboyant artist from Hamadan, Iran, is self-taught; he developed his art by attending online and offline workshops. He mixes music with multidisciplinary performance, such as art, poetry, dance, lights, and visuals. During his performance, electro-acoustics and audiovisuals are accompanied with motion capturing technology and moves of dancer translate into sound, lights, and visuals.
He was introduced to the music world through the se-tar, a musical instrument from the tar family, at the age of nine. Azadi grew up listening to Iranian, Kurdish, and Turkish music, and rock and metal music during his teenage years. He studied mathematics, physics, and computer programming in high school, but was particularly interested in robotics since secondary and high schools and was always interested in creating new things. When he was introduced to electronic music, he realized that he can make music by incorporating all of the things he likes separately: the distortions of rock and metal with theatrical elements since improvisation is possible with anything in experimental music.
When he had to choose between Tehran and Yerevan for his studies, Azadi chose the latter option since it was an opportunity to learn a new language and culture. At Yerevan’s State Conservatory, where he’s currently involved in the department of classical composition and concert, he was introduced to Komitas, as well as the non-Western, particularly Soviet and Eastern European, school of composers, which enriched his experience.
“I don’t know what is so unique about my music. Subconsciously and consciously, whatever I am doing has some roots in my studies in Iranian music, but not on the surface level. You might not hear Persian themes but the thinking behind it comes from that culture. Like Sufism, it’s a mystical and meditative approach.”
During Hartak he plans to do basic improvisation with the help of a contact mic, catching vibrations of different surfaces (wood, for instance) and processing it to a tune that can be played on a normal pitched instrument. Since electronic music is not something one will learn in a day or two, instead of teaching technical stuff, his aim is to “create interest about this field, spread its aesthetics, and show that art is not a luxury that you put on a wall. It’s a living thing in your life, it teaches you how to question stuff, see the beauty of things from different angles, and how our daily life is a form of art itself.”
Iranian in Armenia
He likes Armenia because of the nice people and a culture which he finds to be similar to his native Iranian one. Azadi even learned to speak Armenian since it was compulsory for his studies at the Conservatory. Although he finds the environment in Armenia amenable to relax and composing music, he sees a lack of career opportunities for contemporary composers and he notes that this might be a result of a lack of media attention to contemporary experimental music.
According to Azadi, the Armenian school of contemporary art and music is quite different from the Iranian or European because it was heavily influenced by the Soviet school, unlike in Iran, where people go abroad, study in Western countries and bring that school of contemporary art to Iran. It’s different with financing as well: Iranian painters, sculptors, and writers not only get private payments but also get government support.
He can’t understand how Armenians, who have been pagan and who have their unique branch in Christianity are so materialistic nowadays, despite their long history of spirituality . One thing he’s positive about are the repatriates who see the gaps and want to invest in Armenia, fill in those gaps, and are hopeful for the future unlike many people who have lived here since the 1990s and are inclined to leave the country.
Besides his own projects, he also collaborates with two artists in the framework of Distorted Roots mainly focusing on avant-garde jazz and improvisation. “We (he and artists in this field) use lots of old, (not necessarily ancient) Armenian, Iranian, and also Greek elements, mystical thinking, but not on the surface. It may never occur to you that it’s Armenian or Iranian, it’s the thinking behind it. We want to remind people that there is a huge source of great stuff in your culture. It’s good to learn the tools of other countries to explore your own roots. I am not saying it’s better than others, but it’s nice to know who you are, and who you’ve been. We are trying to tell people about themselves, to know more about their culture and go beyond culture.” As he mentions artists like him don’t like to sell their identities during the festivals by wearing traditional, Armenian or Iranian themed, clothing, or dancing national dances. They just like being themselves.
To the question about what music is to him, he compared the process of making music to breathing: something he is supposed to do and if he doesn’t he will get sick.