Name: Gity Razaz
Occupation: Composer
Nationality: American/Iranian
Recent release: Gity Razaz's The Strange Highway is out via BIS.
Recommendations: I’d recommend the book A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit and paintings by Remedios Varo.

If you enjoyed this interview with Gity Razaz and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.  

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I started playing the piano at age 7, and was composing music by the time I turned 9.

I started by playing the standard repertoire of Western classical music: my favourite composers were Rachmaninov and Chopin. There’s this earnest and passionate lyricism that lives side by side with thick, majestic sonorities in the music of both of these composers that’s unique to their language - and I remember loving the way these two contrasting sound worlds (the gentle lyricism and the powerful, thick textures) would intermingle and interact, albeit differently in each composer’s music.

This dichotomy was something that was appealing to me from an early age, and which continues to inspire me.

When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?

Listening to music is a visceral process, which wholly envelops my mind and body. Although I don’t see individual, isolated shapes, objects, or colors, I do see settings of interrelated elements - which I equate with harmonies - and feel the unfolding of stories - which are rendered through the melodic thrust of a piece.

This has a parallel in how I compose as well, as I focus on the depth of the harmonic language and how my musical structures unfurl and evolve over time.

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

My search for a personal voice, and it’s not something I consciously steer, has been about discovering and engaging with artists who share a similar, inexpressible longing and mystical coherence.

When I gravitate to other artists, whether through listening, reading, and looking, it’s because that work suggests a meticulous, indecipherable structure while also evoking a dramatic template for feeling. Having a sense of this shared path, this shared precarious balance, is what fuels my own creative search.

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

Though I lived for just under half of my life outside of the United States, it’s not the specifics of one country or another which inform my personal, let alone creative, identity. What runs through my veins is the turbulence and drama of “uprooting and rebuilding”, the process of leaving behind all that is familiar and rebuilding meaning and identity over time, piece by piece, somewhere new and challenging.

I believe this is a process that everyone can relate to one some level or another, whether they are an immigrant or simply someone who has had to grapple with the ramifications of change on who they understand themselves to be.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

What always remains central to me in my writing is having something to say, to communicate. It doesn’t need to have a direct correlation with anything else, as even translating the power of a painting or poem into sounds can be an inexpressible process.

For my writing to feel most satisfying, it has to have an overwhelming sense of coherence, as fragile in sound as that can be, and the undeniable impact of communication, of yearning to elicit a reaction in the listener.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

I’m interested in the “music of the future” without feeling any capacity as an artist to articulate what that future may be. Traditions will forever play a part in how I write, but they can be as broad as a cultural one, or as narrow as a beloved mentor, and yet their interaction in the psyche is haphazard, seamless, and unknowable.

I don’t believe there is such a thing as “perfection” in art, but ideas of “innovation and timelessness” interest me in that they point forward, as something raw and borne of our time, or something unyielding which will remain in generations to come, respectively.

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

As a pianist, I rely on improvisation at the keyboard to lay the groundwork for my melodic and harmonic ideas. This could be an isolated harmony which yearns for develop or a fully articulated melodic phase which desires to communicate.

At the same time, I like to have a sense of structure that is entirely independent, which is something I sketch on large-format construction paper. This provides me with a sense of coherence, a sense of the anticipation and inevitability of drama, onto which I can join my earlier musical ideas.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.

My creative and personal life are a bit too chaotic right now to allow for any true, reliable routine unfortunately, though the idea of one does sound lovely!

If there’s any regularity to the day, it’s that I do tend to compose most effectively right after breakfast when buoyed by caffeine and pre/probiotics, or late at night right before sleep.

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?

The composition process itself begins with a blank slate. Sometimes the  objective is clear (i.e. an orchestral piece focusing on the theme of climate change, a cello octet based on the poetry of Roberto Bolaño), so I start by improvising at the piano and as ideas begin to solidify I start to sketch my ideas and build around them. When the objective is completely abstract (i.e. write a 10-minute string quartet) the process changes a bit - I need to do things differently and mentally prepare myself before sitting in front of my instrument.

When I write music I always have to have something to say — it’s a personal necessity that feeds my creativity so that I can write music that excites me and more  importantly engages the listeners in a deeply visceral and emotional transformation.

Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?

I like working both in solitary and collaborative settings, and in fact need a balance of the two to exist creatively.

Though most of the actual composing will inevitably happen in a solitary setting, I like to maintain meaningful dialogue with my collaborators and performers. This can involve discussing the inspiration behind a project where I play a part, or what we want scenes to accomplish, as when working actively with a choreographer.

Even in pieces which are entirely at my discretion, such as an orchestral or chamber commission, I like to imagine my work and interrogation of the music in dialogue with another artist, poet, sculptor, painter, as a way to foster bold ideas and sharp focus on that need to effectively express, engage, and transform my listeners.

How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?

I think that music, that art more generally, holds the conscience of our community. It provides the glue which can hold disparate communities together, which can elevate the individual but also remind him or her that it’s through our differences that we can appreciate our shared humanity.

The very experience of listening together – in that we can bring the extremes of our varying backgrounds and personalities, can wrestle with wildly divergent thoughts and feelings throughout, and yet still hold the same act of listening together – is a powerful microcosm and advocate for empathy and coexistence.  

Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?

I’m not sure one can ever understand or appreciate the impact of these questions fully, let alone over the passage of time. I think what music can do is offer artists and maybe even more so listeners, a way of feeling the weight and depth of these questions in a way that is profoundly heartfelt in the moment but evades any specifics that would relegate it to a particular person, event, or moment.

Music can be both companion but also psychoanalyst, can force to you face your demons, but also to allow you to wrestle with them and find peace.

How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?  

The generation and processing of sound is science, and clearly mathematics and proportions are a fundamental part of how that sound is formed.

For me, however, the interest in attempting to pierce the mystical choreography between the two ends there, as composer and listener.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

My need for writing music comes from a deep existential place, and most of the time is not about expression of explicit feelings or events.

I see writing music as my way of understanding and responding to a hyperactive, easily distracted, and often disconnected world. It’s a path on which you can arrive at a deepened sense of self without ever being able to dissect or repeat the particular steps you took to get there.

Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?

I think the impossibility of ever explaining how a particular sound wave translates into the resurrection of a memory or constitution of a feeling is the very mystery that makes music so appealing.

Music dredges in the subconscious, is a catalyst to spark latent ideas of the imagination, and sound waves are just a drop in the ocean growing to fearsome crashing of waves or the placid hum of coastal waters.