Between May 2014 and May 2015, Greek band Mohammad released a trilogy of albums exploring the sounds of a particular geographical area (34°Ν – 42°Ν & 19°Ε – 29°Ε). By doing so, the group called upon parallels between their sound and the physical landscape: the bass frequencies that mimic great rumbles of tectonic contact, the slopes of tonal (and microtonal) harmony that resemble crumbling valleys and sheer cliffs, and the persistence of the drone that threatens to harden sound into a solid object. By forging relationships between strings and electronics, or two frequencies of marginally different pitches, or vibrations and the surrounding walls, Mohammad wield sound as a means of architecture, generating the spectres of quivering mountains and desert plains.
The months ahead look busy. Mohammad play A L’ARME! Festival in Berlin at the end of July – along with the likes of Fire!, Peter Brötzmann and Sarah Neufeld – before releasing their new album, Pèkisyon Funebri, in the Autumn. The record will be their first since reducing from a trio to a duo in summer last year. Below, Mohammad and I talk about their ceaseless studies into microtonal harmony and low frequency, their gravitation toward pop music and the relationship between their sound and physical space.
You’re playing at A L’ARME! Festival in Berlin at the end of July. The lineup looks fantastic, and the theme of “Inner Landscapes & Unknown Chambers” sounds like it could lend itself to all manner of intense experiences. Are you looking forward to it?
We’re excited to be part of A L’ARME! Festival this year. The people behind it have showed great interest and enthusiasm in having us performing there and the theme sounds as close as it can get to how people describe our music. Perfect match!
Last year, Mohammad reduced from a trio to a duo. Given your sound’s relationship with density and sustained harmonic tension – which has always been beautifully manifest between the three of you – how easy was it to make this transition?
The transition was much easier than we thought, it is a different approach in some levels for sure but the overall feeling is that of a natural evolution. The basic elements have not changed and practical circumstances have made the whole process easier, tighter and the maths are easy to understand: one is more coherent than anything, two is more coherent than three and so on.
Given how your music works so prominently with the interactions between different low frequencies, to what extent are Mohammad performances shaped by the venue in which you play?
Architectural conditions and physicality of space have been key elements for our performances. This turns out to be a unique experience every time for us and our audience. The battle we deliver in each venue is sometimes very difficult as more immersive and physical experience means less dependence on the PA system and a more prominent role for the space itself.
I’ve personally been fascinated with the harmonic relationship between low tones for several years now. Phill Niblock was particularly crucial in my induction to the incredible cascade of consequences that takes place in the execution/modulation of microtonal harmony. How did you first become interested in utilising sound in this way?
We both have walked a long way on different approaches before the paths crossed and it all merged into the Mohammad sound. Nikos Veliotis has been exploring the cello’s microtonal possibilities for years and literally spending hours playing on every single inch of every chord. ILIOS has been specialising on low frequencies and physicality of sound the past 15 years, applying such phenomena in his immersive live performances and recordings. With Mohammad, the harmonic relationship started with a long study on inter-modulation layered on an abstract canvas with the “experimental” tag stitched on it, long before journalistic fever changed the tag to “chamber doom”. Our interest in utilising sound this way is still very intrinsical but has been gradually adapting itself to a more structured situation which ourselves now define as pop music.
Your new full length on Antifrost, titled Pèkisyon Funebri, is coming out in Autumn this year. The label has referred to it as being “probably our most ambitious release so far”, and I’m curious as to whether this new record will continue to explore the atmospheres that emerged in the latter half of last year’s album, Segondè Saleco. Are you able to divulge anything on that?
Pèkisyon Funebri is our new leap towards the infinite, and one could say that it’s a totally new approach in many aspects. However it stems out from the same foundations we have been layering over the years. Since we started the project we tend to work on different layers simultaneously and some of them see the light and surface on a vinyl side right away, as others stoically wait for their turn to do so. In Pèkisyon Funebri, more pieces of the Mohammad puzzle will be unveiled.
I understand that you’re also currently scoring Lukas Feigelfeld’s upcoming medieval horror film, Hagazussa. What has the experience been like so far?
We understand that music plays an important role for Lukas while he develops the ideas in his mind for his future projects and we are glad to be part of his medieval horror concept. The teasers from the Hagazussa shootings look very intriguing.
What’s else is coming up for Mohammad? I see that you’re coming over to the UK soon…
Pèkisyon Funebri will be out in autumn and we are currently scheduling the second half of 2016 and 2017 for live shows. We will indeed come to the UK in September, but only for 2 concerts: Manchester (Gulliver’s) on the 1st and Bradford (Fuse Art, curated by Norman records) on the 2nd.