Ata Ebtakar & The Iranian Orchestra for New Music: Ornamental

A truly special and unique recording, Ornamental presents fifty minutes of electroacoustic interpretations by Ata Ebtekar (aka Sote) of Alireza Mashayekhi's classical and orchestral music as played by The Iranian Orchestra For New Music (all of it recorded in Tehran, Iran). To create the recording's ten pieces, Ebtekar began by using as sound sources live concert recordings and studio recording files of the Iranian classical and electronic music composer's work as performed by the Iranian Orchestra's dozens of musicians. With Mashayekhi's blessing, Ebtekar then transformed the material via electronic processing, and rearranged and decomposed it using sound generators, effect boxes, modular synthesizers, and samplers.

The opening title piece initiates the album with one of its most challenging and abstract settings. An almost nightmarish stream of convulsive electronic flourishes unspools alongside woozy melodic punctuations and turbulent percussion treatments. Though not an easy listen by even electronic music standards, the piece's exotic sound design and incessant metamorphosis holds one's attention throughout. With the possible exception of the title composition, the side-long “Meta XY” is arguably the most arresting setting. Strings are prominent but so too are instruments that instantly identify the music as Middle Eastern in nature (e.g., ney, santur, setar, etc.). String clusters violently swoop and dive amidst a swirling, at times claustrophobic, mass of orchestral and percussive instruments. The string writing in “Phonata” likewise exudes the lamenting character one often encounters in Middle Eastern music, even if its effect is mitigated slightly by Ebtekar's electronic interventions. Not all of the ten pieces are long-form, as short pieces, often slightly more accessible in their stylistic form, appear too. In “Little Tales 3,” a mysterious theme snakes a pianistic path through a more conventionally musical landscape, while “Little Tales 4” takes the listener on an aggressive roller-coaster ride with piano again leading the charge.

Aside from being a bold fusion of acoustic orchestral instrumentation and electronic music techniques, Ornamental offers a wonderful entranceway into the remarkably rich world of Persian music that for most Western listeners will be largely unfamiliar. For the record, there's no question that Ebtekar's renderings of Mashayekhi's compositions are compelling. Having said that, it's also possible that the composer's original recordings conceivably might provide an even more satisfying listen when heard in their original, unadulterated form.

April 2009