A column about past, present and future ongoings in international electroacoustic and related communities [index].
Electronic Music in Iran
An earlier version of this article was published by The EMF Institute, Electronic Music Foundation, Ltd., in 2008.
For centuries, Iran has been renowned for her artistically and intellectually rich and diverse culture, including poetry, painting, carpets, gardens, architecture, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, calligraphy and music. Musical ideas appeared throughout the work of the major philosophers as early as the ninth century, with Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (9th century), and Farabi (10th century), who is known to the western world as Al-Farabi for his works on musical acoustics and rhythm. Persian music ranges across classical traditions, folk forms, music of prayer, traditional orchestral forms, contemporary popular, Western classical, and, since the 1960s, electroacoustic music. Among some contemporary composers, these forms are mutually influential, such as in the integration of Persian classical musical ideas, including body of works called the radif and seven modes called the dastgah.
The Iranian pioneer of electroacoustic music, Alireza Mashayekhi, studied in Europe as did some of his peers, but he brings a unique Iranian perspective to his work. Musical activity by several Iranian composers continues in electroacoustics, both in Iran and abroad, recently supplemented by an active presence in electronic dance and ambient music. Academic studio facilities in Iran are limited, but there is an active scene largely in private studios and through private instruction.
The Evolution of Technology
Iran has been a technologically advanced culture since ancient times, pioneering ideas in mathematics, medicine and the Sciences. Just to cite one example, the term “algorithm” is named after the great ninth century mathematician, Muhammad Ibn Musa-al-Kharazmi a developer of algebra. Al-Farabi authored one of the earliest major treaties on musical acoustics and he is considered to have originated the quarter-tone system of musical tuning utilized throughout Central Asia and the Arab world. Latin translations of the work of Iranian physicians, mathematicians and the natural sciences influenced developments in the West. The development of modern higher education in Iran was closely linked to technological development, with the founding in 1851 of Dar al-Funun (Polytechnic School) and a century later, in 1934, Tehran University. These trends grew more rapidly in the mid-twentieth century when the Shah began to send students abroad for technological education with hopes of industrializing the country. They have continued dramatically since the Islamic Revolution as university populations have grown and researchers have pioneered advances in many fields including physics, radiology, electrical engineering and cosmology. The linkage of technology and art focused largely on the development of Iranian cinema, beginning at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The National Iranian Film Society was founded in 1949 and film production took off in the 1960s, continuing today. The link between music and technology was slower to develop, but began when Alireza Mashayekhi studied electronic music in Europe in the 1960s and during the Shiraz Art Festival of the 1970s, when electronic music from the West was first performed in the country, resulting in additional composers studying abroad. These developments slowed immediately after the Islamic Revolution, but reemerged largely in private, rather than institutional academic settings.
Mashayekhi and the Beginning of Electronic Music in Iran
Alireza Mashayekhi, born in Tehran in 1940, was educated in both traditional Persian and Western music. As a child, he was first interested in Western classical music, especially Russian romantic music, Chopin, Bruckner and Beethoven. His fascination with modern Art led him to the music of Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, George Antheil, Henry Brandt and Dmitri Shostakovich. Beginning in the 1960s, he traveled abroad to study contemporary composition, first at Wiener Akademie für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, the Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna. It was his interest in the Second Viennese School that pointed him to study with Hanns Jelinek. He began to consider the nature of his own perspective as a composer, in response to the cultural complexity of being an Iranian in Vienna, a place not his own. Mashayekhi then began to study philosophy and he continued his studies, in electronic and computer music, at the Sonology Institute at the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands, under Gottfried Michael Koenig.
Koenig’s approach, which relied on technicians to address technical problems allowed the composer to focus on music, something that appealed to Mashayekhi. His relationship with Utrecht continued through the early 1980s, long after Mashayekhi joined the faculty at the University of Tehran, where he has taught composition since 1970. Mashayekhi’s first electronic works date to 1965 and among the first completed were Shur (1968) and East-West (1973). At that time, he was the only composer in Iran composing electronic music. East-West began a series of works composed using algorithmic processes. Some of his works in the late 1970s and 1980s used the computer as a compositional device, including the programming language XPL. Mashayekhi’s music includes tape music and works for acoustical instruments and tape. He is also a composer of a voluminous catalog of works for instrumental solo and ensembles. Some of his electronic works have subsequently incorporated in various versions of compositions including acoustical instruments. Mr. Mashayekhi recently resumed composing new works that include electronic elements. In some of his works, like the opera Shahrzad, he continues to utilize the computer in the compositional process.
Alireza Mashayekhi speaks of composing as an engagement in a process of discovery, in which the composer considers the contradictory possibilities inherent in complex issues of perspective and experience. The composer searches for solutions that allow for multiple realities to coexist. Seeking a venue to perform his works that encompass East and West, traditional and avant-garde, he co-founded The Tehran Contemporary Music Group in 1993, and, in 1995, the Iranian Orchestra for New Music. To Mashayekhi, nationality is not necessarily determinant of identity or of musical perspective. Thus, he favors a multi-cultural perspective that allows one to integrate multiple perspectives. Mashayekhi uses the term Meta-X for compositions that explore this approach.
The reconciliation of opposing æsthetic, historical and cultural perspectives has been a pressing concern for many in Mashayekhi’s generation of Iranian composers, especially those who had access to education abroad. Like some of his peers, he struggled between tradition and modernity, the inherited traditions of Iran and the modernizing trends of Western culture. These were, in fact, among the concerns that fueled the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Another was a concern with an exaggerated materialism and lack of spiritual values in the West.
Iranian philosopher Dariush Shayegan, educated in France, describes the tug of the West and modernity, the “fractures which constantly oppose the traditions of the past with the great changes of modern times.” He describes his intellectual journey in this way: “I lived in a world devoid of colour or form. The old civilization to which I had belonged had more or less thrown in the towel: modernity had won the day and everything that came from the West had the irresistible attraction of the Siren’s song.” Studying comparative religions led Shayegan to see himself as “the bearer of multiple levels of consciousness, where all the sedimentations of the past — from the oldest to the most recent — exist side by side. I then tried, as far as it was possible, to untangle the inextricable web of this kaleidoscopic vision of things whose numerous facets I embodied, without my knowing it.”
As a result of this engagement, Shayegan reached this conclusion:
Now that I can take a bird’s-eye look at the world, I notice that the simultaneity of all the world’s cultures has replaced their successive appearance over time: all the changes of paradigm, all the layers of consciousness — from the Neolithic age to the computer age — now demand to have their say. The different levels of being are juxtaposed, follow on from one another, overlap and interconnect, without it being possible to reorder them in a linear structure … a sort of a mosaic pattern where all identities fit into one another. Hence the phenomenon of multiculturalism and the emergence of plural identities. Essentially, in the time we live in, no one has a single identity, we are all composite beings, we all have more or less a hybrid consciousness … we are no longer dealing with autonomous cultures in the literal sense, but with modes of being, [a] patchwork [that] brings the combinatory art of multiple relationships into play.
One can translate Shayegan’s description of the complex fissure between tradition and modernity, East and West, into a motivation for Alireza Mashayekhi’s compositional enterprise, Meta-X, in which multiple perspectives co-exist, overlap and interconnect into a mosaic where conflicts give way to a new multi-cultural integration.
Western Composers’ Work Shown in Iran: The Shiraz Art Festival
Beginning in 1967, in the final decade of the reign of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, Western musicians, film makers, theater directors, dancers were invited to Iran to participate in the eleven-year Shiraz Festival of Art. Among electronic music composers and performers were, on three occasions Iannis Xenakis, Karlheinz Stockhausen, featuring a week-long series of concerts of his music, and, with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, John Cage, Gordon Mumma and David Tudor. Sponsor of the Festival was National Iranian Radio and Television (NITV); the major advocate was Empress Farah Diba. Events took place at the ruins of ancient Persepolis and in the city of Shiraz. The ITRN also commissioned plans, from composer/architect Iannis Xenakis, for a major center with capabilities of simultaneously hosting forty visiting artists and fifty residents. The plans were based upon Xenakis’s design for a new Le Corbusier Center for the Arts in Chaux-de-Fonds, France. It was to include a Center for Studies of Mathematical and Automated Music likely modeled upon Xenakis’s CEMAMu, the Center for Studies in Mathematics and Automation of Music, in Paris. It was to include electronic music, recording and film studios and a library.
The Shiraz Art Festival became controversial in Iran due to its Western focus (despite increasingly integrating classical Iranian artistic forms), an æsthetic and range of expression (including nudity) that conflicted with traditional Islamic cultural norms, its association with an increasingly political oppressive regime, and the stark contrast between the opulence of the festival and the economic struggles of most Iranians. Interestingly enough, each festival included a performance of Ta’ziyeh, a ritual drama portraying the founding of Shiite Islam. The third and final work by Iannis Xenakis, Polytope de Persépolis premiered at the Persepolis ruins in 1971, proved particularly contentious for some owing to its torch imagery, quite unintentionally reminding some of the burning of Persepolis by Alexander the Great.
The significance of the Shiraz Art Festival, which ended in 1977, was in promoting Iran internationally as a Western-looking, technologically and artistically sophisticated country. However, the festivals had limited value in advancing the fortunes of Iranian composers. The inclusion of classical Persian music performers, such as Hossein Alizadeh played a role in the renaissance of traditional musicals this form. Also, film-makers like Majid Jafari were highly influenced by seeing works by major European and American directors of the avant-garde, Jerzy Grotowski, Peter Brook, Tadeusz Kantor, and others. The work of a few younger contemporary Iranian composers was included, among them Mohammad Taghi Massoudieh, Hormoz Farhat and Dariush Dolat-shahi. The latter received a premiere and a commission for new works at Shiraz, one of them for strings and magnetic tape. by who left Iran during the final year of the Festival to study abroad at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City. Dolat-shahi, along with Massoud Pourfarrokh and Ahmad Pejman were sent on government scholarships to Columbia-Princeton, The 1976 Festival included two Dolat-shahi works. The scholarships, however, like the Shiraz Art Festival itself, ceased with the fall of the Shah. The music of Alireza Mashayekhi received performances at the Festival, but he refused to attend citing what he felt was their destructive impact due to the totally Western focus and opportunism on the part of some visiting composers that did not advance the cause of Iranian composers.
Mashayekhi’s Early Students
Among the early students of Alireza Mashayekhi were Dariush Dolat-shahi and Massoud Pourfarrokh. As a child, Dolat-shahi began studying both traditional Persian and Western music at a conservatory. His training included theory, harmony, piano and one or two Persian instruments. He entered the Tehran Conservatory, graduating in 1968, conducted a band in the Army and then traveled abroad to study in Amsterdam, in 1970, supported by a government grant, only a few years after Mashayekhi’s travels began. Dolat-shahi was first exposed to contemporary Western works while still in Iran and during that time, he first experimented with sounds on tape. His first real exposure to electronic music took place in Amsterdam and he immediately began work on his own compositions.
Two Dolat-Shahi works, Two Movements for String Orchestra (1970) and Mirage for orchestra and tape, both composed in Amsterdam, were performed at the Shiraz Art Festival. Critic Janet Lazarian Shaghaghi described the performance of Mirage in this way: [the work] “easily unfolded its beauty; it bloomed as fast as it was started, the sound effects and the orchestral music blended harmoniously.” (Tehran Journal, June 25, 1977). The official Festival program observed: “electronic music liberated [Dolat-shahi] from old concepts of melody and harmony and provoked further explorations into the raw material of music, i.e. sound.”
In 1974, Dolat-shahi returned to Tehran, but he wished to study further and chose Columbia University in New York City and its Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. This choice was due to his familiarity with works by Columbia-Princeton faculty members Vladimir Ussachevky and Milton Babbitt. It is his belief that the rationale for the government scholarship, which continued while at Columbia was to prepare him to assume a role at a proposed art center in Tehran. Upon his arrival in New York, he first spent a few months studying at Queens College, in 1975. While at Columbia, he completed the tape for a third work, commissioned by the Shiraz Art Festival, From Behind the Glass for twenty strings, piano, tape and echo system and, after the Iranian Revolution resulted in the suspension of government scholarships, several additional works for setar, tar and electronics, which were released on a Folkways recording. These were composed after the completion of his doctorate in 1981, which was also followed by additional work in the studio at the State University of New York at Stonybrook, where he was welcomed by director and former Columbia staff member Bülent Arel. The loss of financial support required him to find work outside music and he turned to designing record album covers. Following this period, Dolat-shahi moved to Portland, Oregon, where he taught at a several universities before becoming a free-lance performer and composer. His current music is multi-cultural in influence and æsthetics, as he observes: “My recent performances are more influenced by not only Western, but many different types of music, from Indian, jazz, Latin … My performances don’t even sound Persian now. But this eclectic approach is not new for me.”
Massood Pourfarrokh and another student of Mr. Mashayekhi, Ahmad Pejman, also traveled abroad to study at the Columbia-Princeton. Pejman, a composer of Mashayekhi’s generation, had previously studied composition in Vienna and he did not find the æsthetic approach of Columbia to be to his liking. He now divides his time between Tehran and Los Angeles, California, composing symphonic and synthesized orchestral scores, some for film.
Pourfarrokh came to Columbia-Princeton, also supported by a government scholarship, albeit from a different department than that granted to Dolat-shahi. Pourfarrokh began his studies shortly before the Iranian Revolution and thus, the cut-off of funding left him with limited options since he wished to remain in the United States. He eventually became employed in the Oriental Collection of the New York Public Library, until his tragic death from a heart attack in 1996.
Mashayekhi’s Students in the 1980s and 1990s
After spending the early 1980s in Europe and the United States, Alireza Mashayekhi returned to Tehran to resume his faculty position at the University of Tehran and to privately educate young Iranian composers. His return coincides with early signs of artistic revival in Iran after a period of governmental bans on musical and artistic activities. Arriving in a country deprived of cultural intellectualism, he based his pedagogical activities on an ideological dream of fostering “1000 composers in Iran.” At a time when the younger generation lacked resources to support any kind of musical activity (from basic music education to access to recordings and scores), his goal seemed to be more an expression of hope than a practical program.
After more than twenty years of private teaching and preaching, the impact of Mashayekhi’s pedagogical activities has been substantial. Most (if not all) young Iranian composers and performers active in the contemporary music scene were introduced to what Mashayekhi terms the science of music while working within a political environment where the government treated art and, especially, music as worthy of little value. While Mashayekhi’s vision of 1000 composers in Iran may not have been realized, a small group of Iranian composers, researchers and activists in electronic and contemporary music indeed owe their development to Mashayekhi’s persistence and ideological approach to music education.
The most significant private student of Mashayekhi during this period was Kiawasch Saahebnassagh. He developed a rich background in traditional Iranian music and began composing at the age of 18. Subsequently, he traveled to Graz, Austria to further his studies under Beat Furrer. He graduated from the University of Music and Dramatic Arts Graz-Austria with M.A. in Musical Composition in 2002 and completed his Ph.D. in Electronic Music and Ethnomusicology at the Institute of Electronic Music and Acoustics also in Graz. While in Austria, he was awarded numerous awards and scholarships. Saahebnassagh then returned to Tehran, where he teaches at the University of Tehran, as a colleague of his former teacher. His music often contains formal elements borrowed from traditional Iranian music either through electronic music or instrumental composition. His repertoire includes tape and live electronic music as well as multimedia installations that have enjoyed an international audience.
One of Mashayekhi’s students in the 1990s was Arshia Cont, who recalls:
[H]e ran group classes. These classes, which I came out, were highly significant — they basically changed my life! We looked at Mashayekhi as a kind of blessed power. He made my passion for music so explicit that I can no longer live without it. Mashayekhi’s approach to teaching was on a traditional master-follower model, noting that at the time this was the only way to flourish the oppressed musical curiosity among the young.
The lack of a social reward structure for serious musical activities forced many young generations to find a home in lighter forms of musical activities. These have included commissions for commercial and national television and radio or work in mass media using traditional forms of Iranian music. As a consequence, many young composers choose to leave the country or direct their efforts to the commercial or traditional forms of art supported by government officials. Educational efforts on the scale that Mashayekhi had hoped for are not possible in the current environment. Nevertheless, Mashayekhi’s educational efforts continue unabated and his influence continues to bear substantial fruit through the work of a new generation of composers.
Composer Shahrokh Khajenouri has been a dedicated composer of electronic music since the 1970s. More than two-thirds of his ouevre directly or indirectly involves electronic and computer music, often featuring the technologies that every decade has had to offer. His electronic sound world generally includes abstract representations of his native Iranian folk music using either processed recordings or combinations of these materials with live instrumental music.
Shahrokh Khajenouri’s curiosity about new musical possibilities motivated him to explore electronic music with Michael Groubert at the Morley College of London in the 1970s. At the time, he was a music composition student at the London Academy of music. Khajenouri’s experiments with musique concrète techniques and analog synthesizers, especially the VCS3, culminated in two major works: Three Movements for Concrète Electronic Music (1978) and Life and Death of VCS3 (1980).
After the Revolution, Khajenouri returned to Iran, but a lack of equipment led him to concentrate on acoustic composition. Fortunately, as computer music software became available, he was soon able to return to his electronic endeavors. A major work from this period, Dialogue for Flute and Electronic Music (1997) was the first in a series of works for acoustical instruments and computer music. It emerged out of a collaboration with virtuoso Iranian flutist, Dr. Azin Movahed. Soon after, in 2003, Khajenouri initiated a series of solo electronic music shows in Tehran, with different instruments, tape loops and computer controlled electronic sounds and live processing. These works were performed in the Niavaran hall in Tehran, a former ex-Shah residency, now officially a suitable concert hall. A 2005 residency at Bremen University of Music’s Neu Atelier für Musik computer music studios resulted in Voyage of Dena (2005) for eleven musicians and live electronics. The success of this work led to the commissioning of two works that were shown in 2007, Fracktuna for saxophone, piano, percussions, guitar and electronics, and Memorial, a sound installation, exhibited in Syke, Germany.
Iranian Composers Working Abroad
Shahrokh Yadegari was raised in Iran. He describes his early musical education in this way:
My mother’s family side is very musical. My mother had a santur and at times played it at home. I used to play on it in hiding and it was more like a game for me rather than anything serious. However, when shortly after I got to the United States in 1979, I started taking santur lessons and following it very seriously for about 15 years as a disciple, I also studied the ney and [undertook] more formal studies of the Radif. In the same period I also took classes at college level in harmony and counterpoint with special attention to 20th century music which was heavily involved with theory.
Yadegari studied Electrical Engineering at Purdue University and during the 1980s, worked as a software engineer at Sun Microsystems and Interactive Systems Corporation. He continued his education in the Master’s in Media Arts and Technologies program at the MIT Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology, and worked at Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM, at the time directed by Pierre Boulez). Yadegari also continued his deep involvement in Iranian music, serving from 1993 to 2001 as artistic director of the Persian Arts Society, and Kereshmeh Records. He completed a Ph.D. at the University of California at San Diego where, in 2004, he joined the faculty of the Department of Theatre and Dance, where he is founding director of a progressive sound design program. As a sound designer, he has collaborated with director Peter Sellars, video artist Vibeke Sorensen and choreographer Yolande Snaith. His work has been performed internationally.
In addition to sound design, Yadegari’s music compositional focus is the design of software interfaces for composition and live performance. In works such as Tear (1999) and Migration (2005), his musical conceptions are related to the traditional Persian system of the Radif. Tear was realized by a software system of Yadegari’s own design that integrates form and content, drawing an analogy with the internal logic of the Radif. Migration digitally processes the live performance of a violinist who draws upon improvisatory structures and modes from the Radif to create a multi-layered texture. As one of the present authors [Gluck] described these processes in a previous article:
His basic idea is conceptually simple yet philosophically radical. It draws upon a core idea of traditional Persian music where an improvisational work draws upon a series of pitches, that is to say, a mode, and a set of musical rules. The result is music that integrates form and content. And indeed, in Migration, there is no differentiation between the two.
Born in 1978 in Tehran, Gorji’s interest in classical music merged with the new musical approaches that he learned from Alireza Mashayekhi, with whom he studied beginning in 1996. Gorji participated as a composer and performer with the Music Group of Tehran created by Alireza Mashayekhi. His major focus has been contemporary music. He has lived in Germany since 2001, where he studies composition at Bremen University of the Arts with Younghi Paagh Paan. He is also a student of electronic music with Kiljan Schwoon and of analysis with Andreas Dohmen. In 2006, his work, including electronic music for both live performance and fixed media, was commissioned by the German government and the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany.
Reza Vali was born in Ghazvin, Iran in 1952 and began his studies in music at the Conservatory of Music in Teheran. In 1972 he went to Austria to study composition and music education at the Academy of Music in Vienna. He earned his Ph.D. in music theory and composition from the University of Pittsburgh in 1985. He is currently a faculty member of the school of music at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. Vali’s music is highly influenced by traditional forms of Iranian music to the point that he has been cited by the press as “the most brilliantly successful composer since Bartók to combine ethnic folk music and Western classical music in a unique way that is as appealing as it is original.” Currently, Vali is developing a computer based Persian keyboard instrument called the Arghonoon. When fully developed, the instrument will be able to produce the sounds of all Persian as well as Western instruments and will be able to create any type of interval tuning including Iranian traditional modes.
Ali Momeni was born in Isfahan, Iran and immigrated to the United States at the age of twelve. He studied composition, improvisation and performance with computers at the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies in UC Berkeley under David Wessel and Edmund Campion. He spent three years in Paris where he collaborated with performers and researchers from La Kitchen, IRCAM, Sony CSL and CIRM in Nice. In the past few years, he has also collaborated with artists including Laetitia Sonami, Alvin Curran, Pierre Boulez, Atau Tanaka, Kent Nagano, Peter Mussbach and Shu lea Cheang. He is interested in interactivity in the arts, technologically mediated social interaction, gesture to sound/image mappings, and data-driven search and synthesis techniques. He also remains interested and active in improvisation, musical theater and instrument building. He currently holds and assistant professorship in the Department of Art and the Collaborative Arts programs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Ata Ebtekar aka Sote is an electronic composer, sound artist and recording engineer. He was born in Hamburg, Germany to Iranian parents, and was raised in Iran and Germany. Sote studied sound art at Expression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville, California, in the United States. He seeks to create what he terms a “new form of Persian art music with electronic technologies, drawing upon electroacoustic music æsthetics and techniques.” While his music is rooted in classical Iranian musical forms, the Radif and folk melodies, these are removed from their traditional tonality and rhythms and placed in an electronic framework. Sote composes using electronic means, using sound generators and effect boxes, and computer synthesis languages, which he programs. When traditional instruments are used, they are electronically processed. He believes that “music is a cultural habit of sound and anti-sound (silence) [and should be generated] without a specific culture which [he terms] the other sound.” Sote’s music has been released on the Warp, Sub Rosa, Record Label, and Dielectric labels. As a sound designer, he has collaborated with Alireza Mashayekhi and The Iranian Orchestra For New Music, deconstructing selected classical and orchestral pieces by Mr. Mashayekhi.
Alireza Farhang’s musical interests combine Persian and Western traditions. One of his interests is in the psychoacoustic properties in traditional Persian music. His first electronic works included two compositions for tape alone, and works for acoustic instruments and real-time electronics, including Echo-chaos (2007) for string quartet, Pénombre et particules (2008) for flute, and Imeros (2008) for tenor saxophone, bass trombone, piano and Wave Field synthesis.
About Echo-chaos, Farhang writes:
It may seem paradoxical that the new technologies represent vast considerable potential for integrating traditional musical elements into a composition. Controlling space, timbre, microintervals and many other features of music and sound, which are difficult or impossible by instruments, are now possible by electronics. The main idea of Echo-chaos was to simulate a space within which the audience is able to hear the subtlest gestures of the quartet.
Towards this end, Farhang used Max/MSP to spatialize the sound and “reduce the distance between the quartet and people in the hall.”
Farhang studied composition with Alireza Mashayekhi at the University of Tehran, where he graduated with a Master of Arts in Musicology in 2000. He subsequently studied with Michel Merlet at the École Normale de Musique de Paris, and with Ivan Fedele at the Conservatoire de Strasbourg. In 2007 he became the first Iranian composer to participate in the IRCAM Cursus program, and continued his studies in Musicology at the OMF of Sorbonne (Paris IV) and Columbia University of New York under the supervision of Marc Battier and Tristan Murail.
Electronic Dance Music
A cluster of Iranian-born musicians are active in the electronic dance music DJ and music production scene internationally. Among them, in the United States, are Deep Dish (Ali “Dubfire” Shirazi and Shahram Tayebi) and Fred Masaki, in Washington DC; DJ Behrouz (Behrouz Nazai) and dirtyhertz, in San Francisco, California; Safar (bake) and Arastoo (darakhshan), elsewhere in North California; and Low End Specialists (Ali Geramian and Mac Clark) in New York City. Outside of the United States, one can find Omid 16b (Omid Nourizadeh) in London, England, Leila (arab), elsewhere in the United Kingdom, DJ Aligator in Denmark, and in Germany, Amir Baghiri, and dr. atmo. Other musicians of note include ramin and Collins and behnam.
Facilities and Institutions Today in Iran
Public institutions in Iran today generally lack the infrastructure needed to provide the young generation with a solid background in electronic music composition theory and techniques. Moreover, it appears to be the preference of the governing powers to not improve this situation but rather, keep higher education oriented to a more traditional music curriculum. Existing public studio facilities are what remains from the pre-revolution era under the Shah, such as the National Iranian Television (IRIB). Most electronic composition, however, is created behind the scenes or in private efforts. Examples include private classes run by by a handful of composers like Mashayekhi or and private studios run on limited budgets and closely watched by the Ministry of Culture.
This situation has led some composers with positions at universities to become activists: active as educators and composers outside academia while maintaining their academic positions. Examples include Alireza Mashayekhi (Tehran University) and Shahrokh Khajenouri (Art University). Their most significant educational and compositional activities take place outside of academia in private gatherings or through individual efforts.
The situation is far more difficult for electronic music that requires more substantial resources and training, especially from abroad. Many studios became active during the cultural liberalization of the Khatami government, at the turn of the 21st century, when the ban on popular music was ended. Commercial electronic music, such as sound design for films, TV advertisements, and popular music scenes began to flourish. However, this development has been mostly limited to the use of commercial software and simple techniques for commercial ends. It has not extended to the more technologically and æsthetically sophisticated associated with the field of Computer Music. Thus, computer and electronic music remains marginal, the domain of a small number of individuals working privately and willing to sacrifice personal finances and social acknowledgement.
Young Composers in Iran Today
Although resources remain scant, a hopeful sign for electronic music in Iran is the return of members of the first generation of Mashayekhi’s students. One example is Kiawasch Saahebnassagh, now Associate Professor at the University of Tehran. The return of composers who have been exposed to a broader musical culture, technical skills and æsthetic ideas is likely to prove influential to the younger generation of students. This development is one of several positive recent trends and may help fulfill the need for a new generation of visionary musical leaders.
In addition to the return of composers, there are additional factors that are now contributing to a positive situation for electronic music in Iran: (1) the Internet has opened Iranian society to many resources and aspects of western culture that were not previously readily available; (2) since Iran has not signed copyright conventions which might limit access to off the shelf, popular electronic music software applications, these are readily available to composers with computers; (3) the advent of Open Source and free computer music resources (such as the programming environment Pure Data and Miller Puckette’s book Theories and Techniques of Electronic Music) enables previously unattainable access to information. The world-wide free access and educational emphasis of these materials have given hope to creative young people in developing countries such as Iran.
Societal acceptance has grown thanks to the relative success of earlier efforts, such as Mashayekhi’s Tehran Music Group. These have established themselves forcefully in Iran’s cultural scene especially in the capital city of Tehran. Some record labels now publish local electronic music. Also in the capital, a DJ scene has evolved. Among those musicians are 2ins+1 (Ojan Zargar, Joubin Zargar and Arash Fattahi).
The population of Iran is becoming increasingly predominantly young. Currently, more than 50% of Iranians are under 30. It is likely that cultural movements by younger segments of the popular will not remain silent despite current political and social constraints and pressures. A younger generation of musical educators, among them many followers and students of Mashayekhi, are continuing to emerge both inside and (for now, at least) mostly outside the country. This development may help change the momentum and thus support an inevitable emergence of a new musical and cultural life that will include electronic music. Such a cultural shift is already being supported by the recent, but rapidly growing access to Internet resources. For this reason, it is important for the computer music community to share its culture with the broader musical world.
What remains certain for the future is that the Iranian electronic music scene will be influenced by a multiplicity of ideas and musical cultures. Thanks to broader access to outside resources and to a growth in the number of gifted educators (some trained by Alireza Mashayekhi). Only the future can tell how these efforts will contribute to the general culture of Iran and how they will help build the much needed educational and material institutional infrastructure.
Afterword: A Brief History of Iran
For those unfamiliar with the history of Iran, its emergence, beginning in ancient times, has two roots: ancient Persia, unified by the Achaemenian ruler Darius I more than 2500 years ago, and, in the seventh century, Islam. Following the fall of the Achaemenian Empire, Iran was ruled by the Parthian and Sassanian dynasties until the rise of the first Islamic rulers, beginning in the 630s. Two centuries of Abbasid rule began an extended period of cultural explosion in the Sciences, Arts and intellectual thought. Even during periods of political decline, such as the eleventh and twelfth centuries under Turkish rule, Iran knew such figures as Omar Khayyam and Ghazahli. Cultural development continued even during Mongol and Safavid rule, during the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries. Political unification took place under the Safavids (16th ≠ 18th centuries), who adopted Shia Islam, and subsequently under Qajar leader Agha Muhammed Khan, who was the first to adopt the title Shah, in 1796. The modern state came into being with the establishment of a Parliament during the first decade of the 20th century. This followed a period of struggle with Russia. A military coup brought the pro-Western, Pahlavi dynasty to power, continuing until Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown by the Islamic revolution in 1979, leading to the present Islamic Republic.
About Daralfanoon. http://www.iranica.com/newsite/articles/v9f2/v9f224.html
Art Arena / Iransaga. “Persia or Iran: A Brief History.” http://www.art-arena.com/history.html
Darvishi, Mohammad Reza. “Ritual and Religious Music in Iran.” Center for Arts Studies & Research, Department of Arts, Ministry of Culture & Islamic Guidance 34 (Winter 1997), pp. 152–162. Available online at http://www.parstimes.com/music/ritual_religious_music.html
Farhat, Hormoz. “An Introduction to Persian Music.” Catalogue of the Festival of Oriental Music. University of Durham, UK, 1976. Available online at http://www.iran-heritage.org/interestgroups/musicintroduction.htm
Farmer, Henry George. A History of Arabian Music. Suffolk, England: Lowe & Brydone, Haverhill, 1929.
Gluck, Robert. Telephone interview with Dariush Dolat-shahi. 8 and 19 December 2005.
_____. Email interview with Alireza Mashayekhi. 28 July and 13 December 2006, and 7 January 2007.
_____. Review of Shahrokh Yadegari’s CD Migration. Musicworks 96 (Fall 2006).
_____. “The Shiraz Art Festival: Western Avant-Garde Arts in 1970s Iran.” Leonardo 40/1 (2007). Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
_____. “The Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center: Educating International Composers.” Computer Music Journal 31/2 (Summer 2007). Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
_____. Email interview with Ata Ebtekar (Sote). 19–20 September 2007.
Liän Records. About Persian Music: Regional Persian Music; Persian Religious Music; Baluchi Music. http://www.lianrecords.com/pgs/about_rpm.html
Puckette, Miller. The Theory and Technique of Electronic Music. World Scientific Press, 2007. Also available online at http://crca.ucsd.edu/~msp/techniques.htm.
Shayegan, Darius. Untitled essay. Accessed 20 June 2007 on the UNESCO website, but currently unavailable.
Xenakis, Iannis. Music and Architecture: Architectural Projects, Texts, and Realizations. Compilation, translation and commentary by Sharon Kanach. Hillsdale NY: Pendragon, 2006.