Iceland’s Ambátt gives a chilling reprieve from a hot summer day in Tehran

TEHRAN, Jun. 24 (MNA) – Icelandic electronic duo act Ambátt, comprising Pan Thorarensen and Þorkell Atlason, gave a chilling performance on Sun. in the Iranian capital, as part of the 4th Tehran International Contemporary Music Festival.

Sunday, June 23, 2019. It’s one of those unbearably hot days in Tehran, temperature rising as high as 40 degrees Celsius in the afternoon with a vengeful sun beating down on rushing pedestrians and too few clouds scattered in the sky to be able to shield us from that scorching heat that seems to have it in for us today. You don’t really get used to hot temperatures in Tehran, because while summers feel literally like a season in hell, winters by contrast can get extremely cold, so your body is always going through these two phases of extreme temperatures without getting a chance to just settle down with one.

At any rate, one would think we in Tehran are still better suited to a 40-degree temperature than people from Iceland, whose hottest day of 30 degrees was in 1939, almost a century ago. But for Pan Thorarensen and Þorkell Atlason, two prolific electronic musicians from the faraway Nordic island nation, the heat was tolerable as the two were already used to it during their many trips to other countries.

Pan and Þorkell, the former lauded as a catalyst of electronic music in Iceland and the latter a classically-trained guitarist and composer, have made the long trip to Tehran as part of a duo act, Ambátt, to participate at the 4th Tehran International Contemporary Music Festival, the idea of which was originally thought of by Navid Gohari and Ehsan Tarokh in the spring of 2014. A very young festival, no doubt, but with great potential and aspirations, still experimenting, still learning, improving, expanding. The festival this year has invited musicians from Poland, Iceland, Sweden, and Belgium to accompany the Iranian artists in their pursuit of wooing the ever-esurient ears of music lovers during a five-day program of contemporary music.

Ambátt’s performance is held at Hafez Black Box, and I only realize why the workshop next to Hafez Music Hall in downtown Tehran is called a black box when I step into it. It looks like a garage, small but with a high ceiling, and the walls are painted an aesthetic, chiaroscuro black that actually look much cooler in photos than in real life. To be honest, I am a little surprised at the choice of the venue. It looks better suited for a garage punk performance with the crowd banging heads in a mosh pit than an electronic duo act with their equipment (two computers, a sampler and wires – lots and lots of wires) crammed on top of a metal, rolling table and the audience sitting awkwardly on plastic chairs. The festival artistic director, Navid Gohari, explains that the choice of the venue was intentional, as the festival aims to make use of other places besides the capital’s reliable, go-to music halls such as Vahdat opera house, which sits, interestingly enough, just opposite of Hafez Black Box.

When the performance starts, it no longer matters where you are, as you begin to lose yourself in the ambient soundscape created by brooding, relaxing, sometimes eerie melodies, and then as the show progresses and nears its end, the sounds of birds chirping, and heavy trudging on snow, becomes less and less peaceful, until it becomes close to a sense of impending doom, but less subtle and more urgent, more certain, with music booming loudly in the crevices of your chest like there is someone beating heavily on a drum in there.

There is something truly peculiar about an electronic live performance. On the one hand, seeing how the music is actually made, with software and samplers, the awareness that there is no bird or a streaming river or rain, gives the crowd a kind of self-aware, meta experience. Something like metatheatre, in which the play draws your attention to its nature as theater, reminding you of the artificiality of the presentation. Yet, you can’t deny that the experience is at the same time immersive. The music lulls you into a trance, the melodies engulf your senses like a continuous streaming river. You are both seeing and not seeing the equipment on the table. The musicians are solely focused on their computers, they can’t afford even a moment of eye contact with the audience. But you can hardly bring yourself to care. You see how the music is made, beat by beat, every twitch of a hand on the computer or the sampler is visible, but deep down you are ready to commit yourself to a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. Ambátt’s performance helps you to see what is not there, besides what obviously is.

Their debut collaborative album, and the only one to date, ‘Flugufen’ (2016) is a mix of different music styles, experimenting with trumpet in one track, and vocals in another. But their show in Tehran was even more unrestrained than the album. It relied heavily on improvisation, on what the musicians felt sounded right in the moment, and the end result was one hour of immersive, unbound and liberating electronic music that both soothed and invigored your senses.

Ambátt will perform a duet with Iranian-Polish SpectroDuo ensemble on Monday. SpectroDuo was founded in 2013 by Polish composer and conductor Martyna Kosecka and Iranian composer and musician Idin Samimi Mofakham. The contemporary music ensemble has a focus on electronic and electroacoustic experimental live shows, sometimes structured in complex forms, and other times performed on free improvisation. SpectroDuo, according to Pan, is taking part at the upcoming Icelandic experimental music festival ‘Extreme Chill’ in September. The festival, which aims to create connections between Icelandic and foreign musicians, has been founded and organized by Pan in Reykjavík since 2010.

News Code 146833


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