Don’t for a minute think Aria Rostami’s Sibbe is another entry into the great wide expanse of electroacoustic/ambient music, because it’s way too simple to merely prop up the music on his 2015 Audiobulb album with cursory explanations like “Oh, neat, he did that there,” or “That tone is really cool!” No – step back, and realize that Rostami is an actual ambassador, a human being collecting and processing and redistributing culture from the far ends of the globe back to America, his San Francisco home in particular. He’s not interested in making music – well, he is, but bear with me – he’s more concerned with opening eyes that are absolutely shut to the wider frame of human existence. And he’s way more resourceful than just going for the political crowbar and prying open dormant consciousness – he worms his way into your brain through your ear canals, and in doing so invades the parts of your mind that are unguarded to cultural enlightenment.
But first – yeah, I’m going to talk about the music. What intensely gorgeous stuff this is. Not only does Rostami have a great skill in manipulating his own instruments for tone and mood – he includes in his repertoire on this album piano, Turkish tar, melodica, glockenspiel, vocals, synthesizer, violin, and computer – but he also incorporates his playing with masterfully woven found sound pieces from the Eastern side of the planet. Indeed, Rostami allows his compositions to unfold and grow, and they expand like books or films, with patient and close listening rewarding those who hang on to the plot’s thread. One can barely even pinpoint the inspiration for much of the source material – its origins are often clouded within the wholly original expressions Rostami’s invoking.
And that’s part of the point. Rostami is Iranian, living in San Francisco, and, as any sane person sick of the strict ’Murican perspective on music in this country, he aims to inject patterns and tones and structures from all over the world into his work, specifically Iran and Asian countries. Why? Because there’s precious little of that infiltration into this culture, and god knows we need it. So, wielding field recordings from Tehran, Kerman, and Taipei, Rostami conjures a modern classical melting pot that feels incredibly lived in, and wildly singular, not content to veer too far to the East or West. I’m going to say this right now – if there’s a better electroacoustic record that’s been released this year, I haven’t heard it.
What’s wild is how Rostami connects with his Iranian heritage here, and Americans will not understand that it’s actually dangerous for artists living in Tehran and elsewhere in that country to express themselves. (Why don’t we get closer to this? Because we’re insane and xenophobic and we’ve been indoctrinated over the years through bizarre one-sided media with anti-Iranian racist sentiment. We have clearly lost our way.) Indeed, Rostami notes on his website that “some of the recordings sent could have gotten [the source] in trouble with the the law or otherwise.” For the sake of field recording for art! Thus, the album is “dedicated to all those who have been killed or imprisoned for making art and to those forbidden to document the cultures they live in.” So far we seem to be OK here in the ol’ US of A, but who knows how long that will last. While it does, we need to celebrate artists like Rostami, and works of art like Sibbe, and reach across borders and cultures to gain a greater knowledge and understanding of our wider world. We are all part of a human culture, regardless of ethnic and political boundaries. It’s about time we acted like it.
RIYL: Autistici, HolyKindOf, Leigh Toro