We begin with one of Touch UK’s new recruits. For anyone unfamiliar with the label, they’re a massive force in electronic/experimental music globally, garnering respect with their visually and sonically uncompromising aesthetic. Sohrab’s new album furthers the label’s trend of releasing records that amalgamate field recording with sound design and signal processing. Sohrab presents sound in a similar vein to label-mate B.J. Nilsen, creating atmosphere with diaphanous synths, and enforcing sense of place with samples that sound human and familiar yet elude complete understanding. His spatial transformations give an impression of structures that swell and collapse organically, and it is at times difficult to know whether the music depicts calmness and warmth, or an inhospitable glacial prospect. As A Hidden Place unfolds it is quite clear that Sohrab’s statement is becoming bleaker. When we reach the record’s keystone track, from which the album gets its name, a human voice emerges from granular clouds; it beams across the mix disembodied, genderless and eternal. The symbolism of central placement, and the ancient evocative quality of the human voice is devastatingly powerful at this moment, making it impossible to ignore dichotomies of frailty and resilience that typify the human condition.
Sohrab’s circumstance is useful to understanding his artistic endeavour: he is a homeless refugee living in Berlin having fled cultural isolation and censorship in his native Iran. He remains living in uncertainty and this, accordingly, expresses itself in his music. Asylum –physically and culturally- seems to be something that the music press has honed in on with regard to Sohrab, though I would say he deserves more recognition for his creative output. The equipment he uses live is crude by today’s standards: basic sequencing software, a cheap midi keyboard and a run of the mill sampler. What he draws from this setup, however, is extraordinary. Himmel Uber Tehran boasts nuanced sound design on a level with Johnathan Harvey’s Mortuous Plango, which was created in the luxury of IRCAM Paris under the watchful eye of avant-garde intellectual giant Pierre Boulez. Sohrab had no such indulgence, yet he manages to explore spectral composition, timbre transformation/disintegration and sophisticated encounters between the human contingent and abstract phenomena. In richness of sonority and detail Sohrab holds his own on the experimental scene regardless of his back-story, and when compared to current artists exploring the same frontiers it is possible to say he paraphrases many disparate activates into one unified statement.