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Interviews

Cyminology: Exploring New Compositional Frontiers

By Published: May 11, 2009

AAJ: "As Ney" is structured more like a suite than typical jazz songs. How did your choice of form come about?

CS: That was one song I really had to struggle with at the beginning. The words and melody were very clear from the very beginning, like everything the voice does was there, right away, but I really struggled a lot, thinking about, "Can I maybe [make] the odd meter not [feel like] odd meter?" I tried something out, but this didn't feel right for me. Then, I tried to put just harmony underneath it, and this didn't feel right for me, and then one day after talking to Benedikt and him trying out some things, I thought, "Well, why not just go in for the classical direction?"



I mean I was listening, at that time, to lots of classical music, so it turned out that for me [that] it felt right. I thought, "OK, that's what the voice needs, what the melody needs." It just worked out. And the idea of the poem—it's such a classical idea, so why not put classical music underneath?



I don't think you find so many times in classical music the odd meter stuff, and my hope is that people don't actually realize the odd meter inside, but that's how it turned out for me.

AAJ: When performing live, how much room do you leave for improvising on the compositions? Does the band take radical departures from the tunes?

CS: Once we find a sound going on with a tune, we like to stick to that sound. I mean the details are still open and free. And just recently it happened two days ago, when we played here in Berlin, that one tune just happened to be very different from what's on the recording. So, we have that freedom and nobody is upset when we don't stick to the idea on a CD. But most of the time we really stick to those sounds because once we find the sound we think goes great to the poem and to the music, we like to be there.



I think, for the listener, it's nice because once you know the CD and then you listen to the music, or the other way around where you listen to the concert then go back to the CD, you suddenly start realizing the details that are there. And the details that are changing slightly because you can still improvise with the sound that you have and make people think that it's composed, but then at the same time knowing there are some composed ideas but it's not [actually] composed.



Maybe you can compare it a little bit with a standard tune. When you have a typical standard tune, the changes always stay the same, and when you know the tune, you know the changes and the person improvises underneath the special change line. So we improvise, but we have the sound there so the sound changes. Maybe that's something you can relate to.

AAJ: How does living in Berlin affect your composing? Is the community supportive of artists bringing different styles of music together?

CS: Living in Berlin for maybe six years now, I realize that Berlin is the kind of place you come here and you don't feel like a stranger. Because everybody does, there are no real "Berlin persons" here. I grew up in small town—a village—and I sometimes felt like a stranger because the German people would see an Iranian girl, and the Iranians who were living there would see a girl who was born in Germany.



So, I was not one, I was not the other; I was something in between. So, I came to Berlin—I don't see strange here. It's just easier to get together and you and can take inspiration from other people, from the culture they bring to you. You have the opportunity to be an inspiration to the other people so it's really something getting together and creating something.

I'm very, very happy it's happened like that. When we first got together, we didn't think about "Let's take an Indian drummer, and you're from Iran, so we have a multi-cultural band." That's not how we started the band. We were just thinking, "I know a bassist and I've been working with him..."

It just happened that we were working together and now it just happened, we're where we are right now.

AAJ: Did Berlin's community of modern music composers help Cyminology blend your sounds into something different?

CS: I think the music that you hear—the environment you grew up with—is the way you improvise and the way that you compose. So especially if you try to take off your hat, to not try to think but more try to feel what you're doing, then those things just appear by themselves.



When you listen to so many different things, it just appears to influence you when you're open minded, when you are excited to learn new music, new things and to meet new people, new cultures.

AAJ: Can you describe your approach to composing? Do you begin with a melody, or by learning a poem and working around from that?

CS: A lot of my music develops while I'm improvising at home, as I record myself. Sometimes, when I sing with words, without words, when I sit the piano and play music and just improvise on ideas, I like I try to stick to them and repeat them and see maybe if they need a change here or a change there. That's what I actually did most of the time—improvise, record myself and listen back to it. And write down the ideas I like most.



Sometimes, it happens that the lyrics are leading me, sometime it's thinking about different instruments, sometimes it's just hearing the melodies and trying find what I'm hearing.



Sometimes when Benedict writes a tune, I also try to write lyrics for his tune. I want to stick to the idea that he had, when he was writing the tune, but also I need to find the words that go with the melody so that the words make sense within the melody. That's actually the most difficult part for me to do, and I think I only did it on one of my songs on the CD, but I did it on two of his tunes.



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