Thea Farhadian: Tectonic Shifts
Creative Sources Recordings

The word multi-faceted would seem to have been coined with Thea Farhadian in mind. An innovative violinist, composer, improviser, label founder, and educator with home bases in San Francisco and Berlin, she's covered an incredible amount of ground in her life: she's studied violin and classical Arabic music with Simon Shaheen; earned degrees in Philosophy, Interdisciplinary Arts, and Electronic Music (the latter an M.F.A. from Mills College); and has taught violin for a quarter century; in addition, she's the founder of BlackCopper Editions, a label dedicated to improvised and experimental music.

While two earlier recordings, RedBlue (with guitarist Dean Santomieri) and eXcavations (with bassist Klaus Kürvers), were issued on BlackCopper in 2015, Farhadian's latest, Tectonic Shifts, comes to us from Creative Sources Recordings. The collection finds her operating in solo mode, though with her violin playing augmented by live electronic processing (Max/MSP the program involved), the sound field expands considerably beyond that of a single instrument.

Among those who inspired her was electronic music composer Maggi Payne, who encouraged Farhadian to explore the intersections between “experimentation, technical excellence, and compositional intent.” All three come together in the thirty-seven-minute recording, which plays like a boldly explorative set of experimental pieces generated in real-time (in fact, the twelve tracks, which include live and studio performances, were recorded between 2010 and 2013 at different locales in the San Francisco Bay Area and Berlin).

The violin is not so radically altered by processing that the instrument disappears from view, though its sound is so dramatically expanded upon, the settings often suggest a solo violinist accompanied by electronic chamber ensemble. Even that's a rather misleading characterization, however, in that it positions the two at separate poles; more accurately, the violin and Max/MSP-produced elements inhabit a shared, ever-mutating space, such that the sounds within these microtonal landscapes are always intertwined and swim in the same waters. As experimental as the material is, it's not lacking for musicality. In some settings, bowed and plucked violin fragments appear alongside rapidly shifting flutterings of processed detail; in a haunting piece such as “Ice Wave,” however, a less frenetic approach is adopted that allows the violin's natural timbres to assert themselves more audibly.

Regardless of the differences between them, Farhadian's explorations always show an advanced and fully engaged intelligence at work. Interestingly, she chose to close the album with its most straightforwardly musical setting, “Silverplate,” whose strings are left free of processing-related disruption for the full measure of the track's four-minute running time. While it's not necessarily characteristic of the album in general, it certainly enhances the positive impression the listener takes away from the recording when it's over.

October 2016