We sat down with Persian composer Parham Bahadoran, who wrote ‘Scenes of Iran’, which was released in February 2020 on our new West One Music Group label, ‘Asia Record Collective’. Parham shared his inspiration for the album, how he captured the essence of Persian music with the instruments used and what his first foray into Production Music was like.
- ‘Scenes of Iran’ is all about evoking the spirit of Iran in a variety of ways. Could you tell us a little bit about your inspiration behind the album?
The journey from sunrise to sunset and everything that can happen during that time was the inspiration for this album, so we focused on capturing the essence of that journey throughout.
Many traditional Persian sounds don’t fit into what a conventional three-minute song should sound like and many of my ideas didn’t work as standalone songs – but they all shared one centric idea, they all captured the authentic spirit of Iran.
I wanted to be selective and smart with the different textures and melodies that I used. As my vision evolved over time the album came together organically and I hope the result is inspiring.
- What was your thinking around selecting which sounds to convey and which instruments to use to really capture the authenticity of Iranian music?
Playing the music rather than imagining the sound of the tracks felt more of a natural and traditional approach for me, so I picked up all the instruments that I wanted to use and just played – this is how I created the initial demos to share with the musicians and it really helped me to stay on track with my original idea.
Here are some of the instruments played and the sounds created in the album:
In the Percussion family we used the Tombak, which is a goblet like drum and is the most authentic Iranian sound as it’s not heard in any neighbouring countries – it’s completely unique to Iran.
Track four, ‘Tehran Calling’, was inspired by the sounds of a café in Tehran and includes many different instruments, including the Cajón and the Fiddle with added bass plus lots of western elements also really helped to give the track its urban feel.
In track three ‘Tale of a Lost Land’, we used multiple variations of the Dayereh drum to really capture the many shades and textures of a range of different sounding drums. The majestic and central musical instrument, the Santoor, can be heard in the middle of the track, with its multiple ranges.
In the Wind family, we used the Ney, which is an end-blown flute made of bamboo that has holes in it. The sound is created in the mouth, so the sound that it makes is completely dependent on the human breath and changes according to whoever is playing it.
The Duduk, which is found in lots of Armenian and Kurdish music helped capture the sounds heard across the Middle East – it creates many layers and textures in the sound it produces.
In Track eleven, ‘Sunset over the Persian Gulf’ (my personal favourite), you can hear the B Flat Clarinet, played in the Eastern way. The Clarinet is hugely versatile and its sound can be changed and altered in so many ways.
We used many instruments in the String family – the Tar, a six-string long-necked, waisted lute, which is the central instrument to all Iranian bands. The Setar, a four-string lute that you play by just stroking strings and hitting wood was my go-to composition instrument, I used it for melodic inspiration, testing for sounds and demonstrating ideas and techniques – I used it to imitate other instruments such as the Dotar or Tanbour because I only had a Setar.
On tracks 5 and 6 I imitated the Dotar using my own Setar, the Dotar is a two-stringed lute. For a few tracks, I would play my vision on a fretless guitar when I needed to imitate the Oud, which is a commonly known instrument in the region. I would send these demos to an Oud player who recorded the music based on my demos, this was instead of using notes and sheet music.
- Is there anything special in the way the pieces were recorded that helps them work together? Tell us a little bit about the creative process?
I provided the framework and inspiration behind the music and each of the tracks and allowed the regional artists to create the music in their own unique styles.
Remote collaboration was key in the making of this album. I have a friend in Iran who knows many local musicians and who also has his own band – it’s three young guys who look like they should be Rock stars but who play very traditional Iranian music and instruments. I trusted my friend’s creative choices and the local players that he brought on board to help record the album.
30% of the album was recorded in my London studio and the rest was recorded locally in Iran. I was very privileged to have a contact in Iran who helped me translate my ideas and facilitate recordings. I’m also extremely thankful to the musicians from Tehran and Karaj, all top-level performers and graduates from Tehran University, The Tehran University of Arts or other top institutions for lending their talents to the album. With the current sanctions on Iran, the economic hardship and the difficulty to travel and work with the international market, gifted artists and musicians are struggling. I hope to see and participate in more projects like this where we build bridges, no matter how small, to provide a chance for their art to be heard, seen and experienced by the world.
- In terms of what else is available on the market, is there anything else that you think is equivalent to this?
It’s not common to see an authentic Iranian production music album as most similar products on the market are part of the greater umbrella term ‘middle eastern music’ which doesn’t truly represent the sounds of Iran. I think there is a need and desire for more authentic Persian music as it’s key to demonstrate the distinct difference between cultures and countries.
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself – when did you get into music and who was your mentor or inspiration?
Early on in my childhood, it must have been when I was about four years old, my dad brought me a keyboard – he taught himself to play so that he could teach me. My dad was my musical mentor as I never had a professional music teacher. As a teenager, I wanted to impress people so naturally I picked up a guitar (Western-style) and left the keyboard behind. It wasn’t until I was sixteen that I picked up my first Iranian instrument.
Wind instruments opened-up a whole new world when I was eighteen. I also co-founded an Iranian roots music band with an urban soundscape, which went on to gain some international success. I co-composed, arranged and performed with the band for many years.
I’ve always wanted to bring one of my ideas to life in a different way and this is exactly what ‘Scenes of Iran’ does, it follows a journey that I began a long time ago.