Sara Zavareyi Interview With Ramin Mazaheri

About Ramin

 

Ramin was a little boy when he got to know what computer is through his older brother. When he was five he had his own model 8086 PC. In the beginning he was more into computer games but little by little, again with the help of his brother, he got familiar with software and programming languages. His passion for knowing more led him to learning music production and sound recording software in his teenage years. Soon, he built his home studio in his bedroom.

 

Since his brother was interested in music, you could always find an instrument in their house, a keyboard, a harmonica, etc. The furthest he can remember is his brother’s Casio PT-20 mini keyboard on which he played his favourite melodies. When he was around five and a half years old, the family bought him a new larger keyboard. He also had a personal tutor who taught him the basics of playing the keyboard and the piano.

 

When he was around seven, he played his favourite songs on a Casio CT-670 while continuing learning playing the piano. When he reached the age of ten, he grew an interest in learning guitar. His father who always supported him in his musical passion, bought him a beginner’s nylon string acoustic guitar so that he can get started. At this point a new chapter in Ramin’s life started.

 

Although a tutor was teaching him how to play the guitar, he tries to learn more himself using different guitar method books. On a trip to Isfahan when he was 12, he met a friend who highly influenced Ramin’s understanding of playing and style. After that, he returned to Tehran and continued learning and playing the guitar, in pop-rock style.

 

He entered the Alborz High School, which was one of the prestigious high schools in Tehran. There he met Amir Houshangi, who he says was a classical guitarist, although owned a steel-string acoustic guitar. They exchanged instruments, and the 16-year-old Ramin who had encountered the steel-string guitar as a great new experience, started learning jazz from Bahman Nasri. He participated in Nasri’s classes for about two years, and at the same time using a simple sound card and basic equipment, he started recording.

 

His encounter with music production software was a bit of an accident. While he was installing a collection of random software on his computer, he realised that he had already installed some sound recording software. And then he started learning those software through trial and error and using the tutorials. He remembers at least a couple of them: Cakewalk and Cool Edit.

He had a friend called Naeim Messchian. They had a band together, played instruments, and recorded and shared their teenage life. One day when they were chatting with some music geek friends at the infamous music store "Beethoven”, they talked about their raw musical recordings, and they said they were looking for someone to guide them through the next steps. Then they were introduced to Amir Tavassoli. Amir was in the band Pejvak with Farzad Fakhroddini, Kasra Saboktakin and Arash Radan. They covered Pink Floyd and Jo Satriani and the similar.

 

"We jammed and recorded and took the recordings to Amir so that he gives us advice on how to make it better… I asked so many questions and we went there so many times that Amir referred me to their band’s sound engineer, Raymond Mosessian.”At that time, Raymond was a famous sound engineer who mastered Maestro Shajarian’s recordings.

 

"Little by little I spent more time on recording and less time on playing music. The home studio wasn’t satisfying anymore. At that time my father had an office, and I asked him to use one of the rooms of the office as a recording studio. I only played music when we were practicing or recording with our newly formed band Motif. Motif was a pop-rock band with Persian lyrics. Sahand Athari was the vocalist. After a while I dedicated some time to practicing music again, as we were going to go on the stage at Sharif University. We practiced long hours, and sometimes after a lot of practice we just decided to put aside some songs and make some new ones. However finally, the concert didn’t happen due to some university policy reasons…

 

Later on, we got to know a saxophonist called Veroj Melikian, who was good at jazz harmony and improvisation. He accepted to teach our band jazz harmony. He called the classes "how to play as a band”. These sessions helped us a lot to understand jazz harmony. However gradually, each member of the band had to take some responsibility in their lives and couldn’t spend as much time on the musical fantasies. So Motif faded out, until sometime later when the first underground recorded music festival was formed by the management of Beethoven music store and some others. We sent two Motif recordings to the referees. But we got rejected, as the referees believed that our style was blues, while the festival was meant to focus on rock. So we lost, but I participated again with Naeim, in his band called Amertad, and this time we won the second prize.

 

After that we didn’t do much about Motif, except for arranging some pop or jazz pieces as a hobby.

 

In 2005 a friend suggested that if I wanted, I could rent an already sound-proofed small recording studio he knew of. So I did so, and took all the recording equipment and accessories there. This was when Baran studio was formally established, and I officially started to be a sound engineer.

I stayed in touch with Raymond. One day he called me and asked me to take the lead in recording Homayoun Shajarian’s album, "Naghsh-e-khial”. This was my first professional experience in recording Iranian traditional music. It was the same year (2005) that Raymond called me and asked me if I’d like to be his assistant in live recording of Maestro Shajarian’s concert. I was excited and accepted the offer. Two albums were released from those recordings: "Saaz-e-Khaamoosh” (silent instrument), and "Soroud-e-Mehr” (Song of Mehr).

I continued my work and in 2007 I got the chance to be the official sound engineer in concerts of giants like maestro Shajarian, the Kamkars, and The Feast of the Music House. I was also Raymond’s assistant in Maestro Meshkatian’s last concert (the Aref ensemble). Still, apart from traditional music, I was busy recording pop music in the studio too. I recorded artists such as Mehdi Moghaddam and Narmian (whose works were composed by Payam Shams), and Maziar Fallahi and others.

Gradually I started recording rock and jazz works too, and I got to find my preferred route in recording, and realise which genres I would prefer to record. In the meantime, the pressure from the recording workload encouraged me to return to playing my instrument and arranging music, as a more serious hobby.

In addition to recording music albums and concerts, I was also active in film and TV. I even did a good amount of work in theatre music. As an example for films for which I did the recording and mixing, I can mention "Raees” (The Boss) directed by Masoud Kimiai, and as an example for series, I can mention "Mokhtarnameh” directed by Davood Mirbagheri and "Shamsol-emareh” by Saman Moghaddam.”

 

Sara:

What do you think about sound recording as an art? How do you evaluate its status in Iran?

 

Ramin:

It wasn’t until about two years ago that the Music House established a centre called the Association of Sound Engineers (Kanoon-e sedaabardaaraan), for the first time. This was an important attempt after a long time, to recognise the art of sound recording and to look at it professionally. Although the activities of this association is still not satisfying, but at least it helped different sound engineers to get along better with each other, in contrast to the past where they were just criticising each other. This association was at least a place for sound engineers to sit down and have a professional chat. And funny enough, I didn’t have the right to become a member of the Music House until two years ago, despite my background in music. The prerequisite was to be a professional player of either a traditional instrument or a Western Classical music or pop instrument, and also pass the exam in either one of these genres. And I was neither. And even if you were a great player in jazz, you couldn’t actually qualify as a member!

 

Sara:

How do you usually publish the works that you record in the studio, and how are these works distributed? Why rock and jazz music in Iran doesn’t have the target market that pop music has?

 

Ramin:

Music needs to be heard in order to find its audience. Perhaps the reason that those independent music recordings are not widespread is that they are not heard enough times, not that they don’t have their audience. I guess people who would listen to the English version of this music genre, would also like to hear the same genre sung in Persian with concepts and meanings coming from the Iranian culture.

There was a time where musicians tried to inject Persian vocal into rock and other contemporary styles, while they even didn’t have a clue about the music itself. But now, there are good examples of music where the Persian vocal perfectly fits the jazz or rock music and sounds good. But it’s a pity that due to a lack of budget these can’t be produced and distributed, and remain in the computers of their creators, or if they can be produced, they are just distributed with low qualities, online, for free.

Sometimes the production procedure becomes so lengthy and exhausting that, as I have witnessed, many great musicians become disappointed and isolate themselves and play in solitude.

But for me, production and distribution is about teamwork. I have my connections and team members who share the workflow and each person is responsible for a part of the work. With a background in composition, playing, recording, and also graphic design, I try to create a workflow package which is managed and done in Baran Studio.

 

Sara:

What projects are you busy with right now? What genres does studio Baran focus on more these days?

 

Ramin:

I have mainly focused on pop music these last years, and recently I have spent time on Iranian rock and jazz. Right now I am producing an album for "Manoha”, an Iranian rock band, and also I am involved in the production of an album called "May-86” as well as albums for pop musicians like Ali Shokat, Milad Bagheri, Mehrdad Gholami and others. There have also been projects where singers who live abroad have contacted me to work on their albums in Iran. I have been trying to keep my skills and knowledge up to date. I am in contact with some great non-Iranian sound engineers abroad and try to get advice from them too to keep my knowledge fresh.