The Egyptian Centre for Culture and Arts, more popularly known as Makan, hosted a one-hour live electronic music performance on 12 July featuring contemporary Egyptian musician, composer and producer Rami Abadir in collaboration with musician Mostafa El-Sayed.
In the dark room lit only by the projections of neon abstract shapes designed by artist Islam Shabana, the music is loud, manic, and abrasive. Rami Abadir, who usually performs solo, and at times partners with visual artists, choreographers and filmmakers, decided this time to collaborate with electronic musician El-Sayed for this live improvisation. And it did not cease to be immersive.
After the performance, Ahram Online spoke with Abadir, 32, about his transition into electronic music, his collaborations with various artists, and his experience with the art form as a passport leading him into various other realms of art.
It took Abadir nine years of playing in a rock band before he discovered that his heart was entirely elsewhere. A few months of open jam sessions at the Ganoob Studio in 2010, in which he improvised with other experimental musicians, gave him a glimpse of what he would rather be doing with his music.
"Playing electronic music was something completely different, a different world, where music didn't have to be calculated using a paper and pen," says Abadir of the turning point.
The musician invested in a guitar synthesizer and a drum machine and ventured into a new affair with pure electronic music. To cook up his multilayered sets, Abadir strays away from digital software. What sets his sound apart is his complete reliance on experimenting with analog synthesizers and his creation of original sounds. He also samples different beats and vocals, a practice more common in sound art than electronic music.
He says that this genre of electronic music has been around for decades, yet it radically spread since 2009. By virtue of the proliferation of affordable digital software and social media tools, the art form became particularly popular among both musicians and audiences starting 2011.
Abadir believes that what has been constant about his work in the past three years is that it is always changing. His music has become faster, more upbeat, and more layered as he delved more into experimental music.
He says that he sometimes craves the presence of a human factor when he performs. "I miss the idea of dialogue," he says. He admits that he has tried to play with various other musicians, but that there was always "a missing wavelength."
Playing with Mostafa El-Sayed, however, felt right. He recently suggested that they experiment with live improvisation, and to his delight, "it just worked." He continues: “We listen to and work with very similar sounds, so we just … met somewhere."
At Makan, the musicians seem to exist as separate entities, Abadir focused and precise and El-Sayed a bit more playful and animated, it would appear as if each of the musicians was playing his own show. There was a strong and seemless dialogue between Abadir and Mostafa's respective musics, adding a fluid and fresh element to the performance.
"Collaboration always helps me break my pattern," he explains.
Electronic music has allowed Abadir to dip into various other art forms, which enriches his practice, expands his audience, and affirms the interdisciplinary nature of contemporary art.
Abadir says this horizontal expansion has also allowed him to reach a wider audience. He explains it started slow for him, in terms of the size of his audience. When he worked solo in 2011, his audience was very limited. Yet after the release of his second album at Rawabet in 2012, he was exposed to practitioners, curators and audiences from alternative branches of art.
"I discovered that despite the fact that I was doing this kind of music alone, not in a band, it could open unlimited avenues, in visual art, film, dance, theatre," he says.
In April 2013, he collaborated with visual artist Mohamed Allam in a live audio-visual performance as part of a multi-part project engineered by the latter, dubbed 'My '90s: A Panorama of Collective Memory Televised.' And in January 2014, he also played live music during choreographer Mounir Said's harrowing dance piece 'A Room Filled with Smoke,' which brought two dancers grappling with life and suicide to the Falaki Theatre stage for Studio Emad Eddin's 2B Continued Festival.
In the performance at Makan, Abadir also collaborated with artist Islam Shabana, of Alchemy studio. The wall behind the musicians and their machines was flooded with projections of abstract, geometric shapes that were, save for a few highlights, generally screensaver-ish. The juxtaposition of the rustic interior of Makan and the electronic sounds played by the duo, along with the abstract, neon projections, made for an unusual yet engaging experience. The vintage light bulbs dangling from the wall and the twirling ceiling fan left their shadows on the wall, and were at times more interesting to watch than the visuals projected.
Also abstract were the lyrics that made their way into the one-hour set played at Makan. Abadir says the lyrics were not the reason he chose to sample these songs. "I never pay attention to the lyrics, because I am not at all concerned with the concept of art with a message."
His choices are sometimes outright spontaneous and often random, to the extent that he sometimes cannot even make out the language of the song. Once he feels that the sound and mood of the song is fitting with the overall atmosphere he is trying to create, the choice is made. One of the songs he inserted is by a Syrian singer that he stumbled onto on YouTube, in a video that had a total of four views when Abadir found it.
On that night at Makan, the mechanic movements of the musicians, and the movement — or lack thereof — of the audience were incongruent with the upbeat, energised sounds produced. At times it was like the sounds were spinning out of control, yet members of the audience remained transfixed in their wooden chairs, eerily still, without so much as a bob of the head.
Aware that the music he is now creating typically exists in a performative context, rather than in the traditional concert setting, Abadir is still experimenting with recipes for live performances.