Superb composer, producer and artist Pedram Babiaee kindly took part in an interview this week to talk all things creativity, independent music, ambition, and what success truly means to him. We also touch on early inspirations, writing verses performing, and traveling the world with music. Here’s the conversation in full.
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Hi Pedram – thanks for the interview, how are things where you are right now?
Hey! I’m doing well. Almost!
Despite the fact that 2020 is a globally despicable year, I’m in my studio in Tehran right now, at the last stages of mixing my upcoming double album, Ruins of a Memoir, which originally was supposed to be my debut album but on an interesting turn of events, it wasn’t! The project was almost 4 years in development in both composition and production aspects and I’m so excited about finishing and releasing it!
Also getting prepared for its rehearsals with the ensemble and scheduling its 2021 tour in which we – hopefully possible due to the unpredictability of the current situations – have planned to visit Europe, Turkey, and Georgia too.
For those who don’t know – where and when did your journey as a composer begin, and how would you describe your sound or approach to creativity?
About the journey, I composed my very early works on my nylon guitar when I was I guess 14, also my first credit as a film composer was achieved when 17 years old, for an indie short film produced by a friend but I suppose that’s not where the journey began. Well, it’s actually a long story, which I’m going to tell the short version:
As it is in all the stories, a journey somehow begins when the main character leaving the home. Up to that point, mine wasn’t much far; I turned 18, had a dream, I decided to move out of my parent’s house to pursue it. I rented a tiny room in which I lived by myself and also was my workspace. I used to busk music in the streets of Tehran, playing acoustic guitar to pay the rent and cover up my university expenses. Also started my composing career as an assistant producer in a local motion pictures post-production studio. In my early 20’s, I realized that studying art at a university is a waste of time and money. So I dropped myself out of university to have more time for studying music! I guess that’s how the journey began!
Although sometimes it’s hard to keep the balance this way, I usually approach music from four different perspectives; As a composer, as a producer, as a performing artist, and also as a listener!
It might sound a little bit narcissistic to claim: I, myself, am the audience whom I have to impress, in the first place! That’s the source of my motivation for making music as an independent musician in such an exhaustible market of classical/contemporary classical music with only 3% of the overall music audiences.
Given that you come from a non-musical family, who or what was it that first inspired you to learn to play music?
Music was always there; I was truly fascinated with this phenomenon called music as a kid because I used to find music as a more familiar way of expressing my ego, rather than words. Growing up, I realized most of the other kids and even grownups were not as obsessed with music, as much as I was.
Although my parents had bought me a small keyboard in my early years, I precisely remember the moment when I first interacted with a real instrument! I was seven or eight years old and sitting behind an upright piano, pushed down a key – whose name I learned later, E4! – in my aunt’s house; That was the point when I ascertained the path and let myself be drowned in the world of experimenting with sounds!
Was there a strong live music scene where you grew up in Iran, and have you traveled much elsewhere with your music?
I’m honored that as a composer, my compositions have received commissions and got premiered in many countries (including the US, Germany, Greece, etc.)
Assuming that I enjoy writing more than performing live, the life-style I chose is more of a resident one. Recently I’m half resident in Dubai UAE and half in my hometown.
I don’t like traveling much! I mean obviously, I haven’t got booked for worldwide tours yet! But based on my own experience, when on tours or doing the gigs that require quite some traveling, I live the most pressured unstable insecure version of myself! So I prefer being in residence, although I believe that music is – in one of many aspects – a tool of communication.
You’ve released a fair few projects in recent years. What can you tell us about your solo releases – what do they represent for you?
To be honest, nothing in specific! They’re just personal propositions to my own compositions in music production. The only exceptional aspect is that since they’re my compositions, I give myself – and sometimes the performers – the authority to modify the part in favor of a more personalized production experience, right before the recording begins and even sometimes in post-production! Sometimes I take advantage of this feature in terms of making tiny edits to the original composition too!
Where do you imagine is the best setting for people to experience your music?
Well, my music is typically considered to be a more quiet kind with a vast amount of detail. So for a better experience of listening to my music off the stage, I suggest a calm environment that has no distractions and a nice pair of speakers/headphones. Wynton Marsalis once said that if the music is loud, it’s hard to be good! I agree.
By the way, I think it’s disrespectful to listen to music alongside doing other activities. If you’re about to read a book, why even bother to play music in the background? Either you don’t know how to truly read or listen!
How does producing compare for you to composing or playing?
I consider myself a composer in the first place, I find it hard to make a living just out of composing music as an independent composer in our era. Also even though I enjoy performing piano in the studio or live sessions I don’t really think I’m arguably a professional performing artist, knowing that I can’t spend half of my awake time practicing my instrument! So, music production is basically the part of my career that I make a living out of.
When in the production process, I don’t care about whether it’s my very own composition that I’m producing, or it’s somebody else’s project that I’m hired for. I don’t care about its genre and I just try to be creative using the knowledge and tools I have in order to get the best result.
Is live performance a big part of what you do, or of your plans, and if so – what are the main differences for you when playing in front of a live audience?
Whether I like it or not, live performance is an essential part of making music. You can’t be sure about what your music is until you put it in front of the live audience and get the feedback. I’m not really into doing a lot of shows! I mean, I’m very respectful for the audience who desire to see me performing my music live on the stage, and I try to deliver the best possible experience to them.
Not only in this topic but in general, I prefer quality over quantity. I don’t like seeing my audience as customers who expect a certain kind of service. Maybe that’s the reason I don’t like doing the same show with the same repertoire and performance, twice! No offense to anyone, in my opinion, that’s what makes the difference between art stage and a circus!
The artist is not a product, neither is the audience. Live music performance must be a mutual experience that lets the artist and audience interaction through the language of music.
What’s your greatest ambition right now as a musician?
To feel successful! If you’re wondering what success means to me, here is how I define it for myself:
To leave a mark! I think of success as a concept which progresses during one’s lifespan, in certain continuous moments, and then disappears but its effect remains – good or evil – in different shades. Generally as an artist, not specifically as a musician, I believe that when a person walks into the space where my art is happening – by any means – and leaves a different person than the one who came in, if only the change has happened the way I intended it to, I’ve succeeded.
What advice could you give to new starting musicians who are yet to find their style or role within the world of music?
Most importantly, stay away from the dogma. Let your very own gift of music reaches its way out and don’t force your inner light to shine in a particular way because it won’t! Only that way you can establish yourself to be un-ignorable!
Instead of looking for exposure, aim for being bold. Pay attention to your social life but remember that technically, your brilliance gets built up in alone-time. Protect yourself from distractions. Have discipline in practicing and never give up the hard work. Also, pay attention to giving rest to your body and mind when necessary. Be genuine. Explore. When it comes to performing or composing, don’t play or write anything you don’t truly believe in.
If you love it, know about it! Without getting yourself educated about music theory, you have nowhere to base your music on! So, study harmony, form, orchestration, etc; Not necessarily in an academic environment.
If you could sit down for a chat with anyone at all, past or present, who would you choose, and what would you ask them about?
Probably either Benjamin Zander or Aphex Twin! From Benjamin I’d ask “why to make music in the 21st century?” and from Aphex Twin, I’d ask “how to make music in the 21st century?“!
Who or what were the most significant influences on your music?
Production-wise, over the years I’ve collected lots of records and music that I love. I guess nowadays that’s a good reference point to look for the influences. Philip Glass’s original Glassworks release was a game-changer; Also, another big influence was Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa and Frates. Max Richter’s Memoryhouse, Tool’s 10,000Days, etc.
In real life, there were also many precious moments – like the first time I spent time with a modular synthesizer, or the first time I noticed the reverb in a chamber hall.
Also, I’m under the influence of musical characteristics from the composers I love: Beethoven, Schumann, Ravel, Prokofiev, Elgar, Bach, Glass, Pärt…
Is there anything else we should know?
You should know that I appreciate your effort for the interview! It’s crucial to support independent artists we love in any way possible even kind feedback – Otherwise, there will be no scene for most of the great music we haven’t heard yet!
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