It’s important to listen. As someone whose main interaction with Iran is through the mainstream British media, I have a very diluted (and undoubtedly warped) understanding of the country and the plethora of artists within it. Not only would it be stupid to slot Absence – a compilation of Iranian experimental music – within my current level of comprehension, but doing so would also obstruct the act of truly listening. These pieces are sound worlds in themselves, rich in vibrant and meticulously crafted audio flora. Every second I spend trying to frame Absence within my own naïve picture of Iranian life is a moment I’m refusing to hear the music as a negotiation of emotional nuance, environmental influence and sculptural prowess. This is an opportunity to learn – not to critique.
Vivid sensations abound. The speckled synth drones of Tegh’s “Station Four” feel like delicate rainfall tickling the palms of my hands, before thickening into a more insistent and thoroughly drenching downpour; a soft rhythm throbs from within like a lighthouse beam winking through the blur of water and monochromatic drear. On 9T Antiope’s “Venator”, the singing of Sara Bigdeli Shamloo spirals up through the darkness like a wisp of violet smoke. Her voice swoops confidently and with mesmeric inner strength, even as the vaporous noise around her offer no means of melodic support. Meanwhile, “Alogia” has Bescolour turning synthesiser into thick blobs of moist putty, slamming against the walls and floors with a moist thud, sliding away from the glitches that try to pen them within the immaterial realm of the digital. One of the most consistently powerful aspects of Absence is the way in which each artist wields the three-dimensionality of headspace; the melodies lap against every nook of my skull and negotiate deftly with emptiness, existing as poignantly in the suspenseful omission of sound as in its masterful materialisation.
The melodies on Absence seem to tend toward melancholy and shadowy nocturnal haunts, wafting into the mind like miserable incense. “Fading Shadows Of Dusk” by Siavash Amini is a vivid evocation of its own title, with violins descending gently into the eerie drones of the night. Umchunga’s 10-minute finale “RS” tilts between two chords like a lone tree nudged back and forth by the wind, with electronic drones sweeping through the spectres of brass, choirs and violins as they whirr mournfully out of the tape. The last notes drain out of my ears, taking tiny flakes of my Western ignorance with them. The mutual location of Iran may be fact by which these artists are bound, but the sheer diversity of Absence highlights the fact that they spill far and wide beyond the lens of Western dilution, pressing against the perimeters of sonic experimentation with as much fervour and ingenuity as anyone. A wonderful collection.