Esfand is the last month of the Persian calendar, which ends with the celebration of Nowruz, which heralds the arrival of spring. They are also small seeds that are burned to make incense, a tradition inherited from the Zoroastrian faith.
This project was born from the musical work of Rouzbeh Esfandarmaz, who wondered to what extent Iranian folk music could dissolve into electronic dance music. This fundamental question led him to explore the various rituals and customs of Iranian music, establish a dialogue with computer music, and compose several tracks, each dedicated to a specific region or tradition, eventually leading to the album Hélé.
To help bring this music to the stage and add more flavor to it, Rouzbeh teamed up with fellow college student Patrick Stewart. Coming literally from the other side of the planet, the latter brought a new vision on the project, drawing the tracks from his Iranian land and feeding them with different musical energies.
We have had the pleasure of speaking with them and this has been the result.
Can you tell us a little about your experience? Where are you from / how did you get into music?
Rouzbeh: I'm from Iran and I got into music quite early. When I showed interest in music, my mom picked a class for me and the teacher there saw I had a knack for woodwind. So he put me in a clarinet class with a guy who was 72 (I was nine)! I've been doing music for as long as I can remember. Anything to do with music composition or playing and performing, I've done...except for performing on a ginormous stage. That's something we still have to do together. Patrick: I'm from Wellington, New Zealand. I didn't get into music so early - I was already a teenager and had always loved music, but I only got into playing when I was sixteen. I started playing bass and got super into it after a year and a half, went on to study jazz and jazz bass, figured out I didn't want to do jazz anymore, and finally got into music production. Put out a lot of records, toured all around NZ and a bit around Australia, and then felt I wasn't learning anything. So I moved to the Netherlands, where I met Rouzbeh. And then we started making stuff.
How is your sound evolving? Rouzbeh: In many directions! We don't spend so much time together these days, so that gives us a lot of time to experience things on our own. So each time we see each other we have some tricks up our sleeve. Patrick: Yeah. And going from doing stuff by yourself to writing together, adding to each other's bits, that changed the direction a bit. I think the concerns are the same in terms of what you want out of the music, but you can take different paths to get there. What projects are you working on right now? Rouzbeh: I have three main projects right and am trying not to add any more to my plate. The main one is Esfand, which I've been doing for the last four, five years. All of that's in the box. I also had a quartet with my friends back in Iran, which consisted of a clarinet player (me), a cellist, an accordion player and a singer. We'd improvise over Iranian folk music, trying to manipulate what we could around classical and other musical elements. With regards to electronic music though, Esfand is the main project. I did a similar thing with another artist Habib Meftah. There's a new project with a Norwegian singer - that's going to be a slower experience than Esfand, consisting of a lot of acoustic instrumentation and Norwegian folk music. Patrick: Apart from this project, I've been working on a couple albums in the R&B realm. I did an EP from a singer called Noah Larum, and now we're working on a full-length thing with a guy called Benjamin Froe. I'm also working on an EP with Hugh Blaines, a singer and composer from Australia who also lives here in the Hague - really strange avante-garde lo-fi soul, really got some weird corners in it. He's a strange guy with a strange sense of humour and that comes across in his music. Where are you and what have you been up to? Rouzbeh: We are in the Hague preparing for our first serious show with Esfand, which is stressful and exciting at the same time. Three of our friends just tested positive for Covid so we're really hoping that Covid doesn't mess with the project! Has your sound changed in recent years? Rouzbeh: We just started last year, but even then the sound is still changing. I think we are just maturing now so we have a lot of tracks that are really hard dance tracks, as well as tracks that are more ambient. We are figuring it out. What is your musical criteria? Rouzbeh: I have no clue! Some kind of dance music probably, but it's also changing so fast, and there are a lot of alien elements that make it harder to categorise.
Patrick: Correct me if I'm wrong, but an out-of-body experience is the ultimate goal, you want people to be completely removed from themselves, whether that's because there are crazy, loud, fast, screaming bass drums or because it's an ambient texture that paints a picture of a misty mountain top in their mind. Again, the musical criteria is still largely the same.
Do you feel safe to play a more experimental sound?
Rouzbeh: I think we already did.
Patrick: Yeah, I think because we're both older as well we don't really give a fuck.
Rouzbeh: We're not afraid of going somewhere else. We're not trying to make a product, we're trying to make music. We go where the music leads us.
We all know that the digital revolution has affected sales, but has it affected creativity?
Rouzbeh: I think yes, it made it a lot easier to be creative because you can do a lot. Of course sometimes that's a disadvantage. Patrick: Because everything's so saturated. So much creativity sometimes reduces the impact a lot of the time, and you don't have the same impact hearing it because we have so much information being fired at us. It does change how we collaborate though, giving more options to communicate between people interested in the same niche. You can reach people who are interested in the same shit on the other side of the planet much easier. Rouzbeh: I think it's also one of the cool anchor points that we have in Esfand. I am more than 80% in the box, and Patrick is the other way round, about 80% outside the box. In that way it's cool we can combine our very different approaches. Can you tell us what your present and future projects are? Rouzbeh: We already talked a bit about that, but in terms of the next album coming up (which is actually somehow finished!), that's with Habib Meftah, the same percussion player I'm doing that project with. We had four days with him in August and made six tracks. I'm still digging out samples and ideas from those four days. Hopefully the next one we are planning to work with three female folk singers, so we'll see what the future brings, maybe move towards more dancey music, towards more ambient stuff.
Patrick: Probably both. A bit of everything.
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