(Compilation Review) ABSENCE [FLAMING PINES]

It’s absolutely essential to remember the arbitrariness of artistic scenes; while I do not doubt that they are often inextricably tied in some way or other to the sociopolitical climates of the soil in which they take root, I’d like to think that they just appear spontaneously, as landmarks denoting our shared narratives and symbols. The unfortunate reality, though, is that the level of exposure these scenes receive depends on either their proximity to the people who decide what gets a chance and what gets ignored, or the help of better-situated benefactors and curators.  Absence, off Australia’s Flaming Pines, a compilation of electronic music from Iran’s nascent experimental menagerie, is a prime example of what I am talking about when I allude to the hidden art scenes of this world that don’t get the attention they’re due. I cannot pretend to have any kind of at-hand knowledge of the cultural factors at play here, but I can intimate why these sounds may be considered, as contributor Siavash Amini puts it so well in his introduction for this compilation, “not newsworthy” by too many. Their loss.

Absence was curated by sound artist Arash Akbari, and the pieces collected herein run the gamut from glitchy microbeats that burrow deep in the brain (check Bescolour‘s “Alogia”) to overpowering ambient billows from the aether (Umchunga‘s “RS” finds an immensity that could swallow life itself). Nevertheless, it’s clear that the tone of the project, and maybe the scene in general (many of the artists are based in Tehran, though a few are actually no longer based within Iran), was deeply influenced by the work of curator Akbari (who contributed “Falling” in addition to curating the collection) and stylistically similar contemporary Amini (represented here by the opening track “Fading Shadows of Dusk”), who both broke through to the netlabel-ambient international scene around 2014. It’s hard to describe exactly what unites these Iranian voices in terms of style, other than to say that they find a cosmic romanticism that’s luminous and fierce, a dream holding on to life in the midst of an unimaginable storm.

They all get in this zone by diverse means– Amini, for instance, has a modern-classical influenced sound that utilizes Western string instruments, while Tegh’s “Station Four” goes the route of the impassive ambient techno of Wolfgang Voigt. I was particularly struck by Pouya Pour Amin’s “Exterior Wash”, a more minimal piece in which the duality of noise and melody forms a meshing of darkness and light that calls to mind a perfect soundtrack to Fourugh Farrokhzad’s The House is Black. The spiritual spaces fleshed out in these pieces often seem to speak of hope and loss– there is a poignancy and sense of purpose here that is not always present in ambient music.

This deeply textural, melodically captivating collection will not leave my memory soon. I hope you will give it your time as soon as you can.

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