Shahrokh Yadegari sees the Western divide between nature and culture as the troubling heart of todays environmental problems. This relationship, evolving from the Enlightenment philosophers who saw individuals as independent of their environment, is reflected in misled popular readings of Darwin, which insist on competition and historical progress as the driving forces of both natural change and human civilization.
Yet todays biologists are coming to understand that the line between an individual and the environment is profoundly blurry, a notion that Persian philosophers such as 10th-century mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam have discussed for centuries. You read in Khayyam that we are nothing but the earth. The clay cup you drink from, Yadegari paraphrases. When you are finished drinking the wine, be kind to this cup. You are holding your ancestors in your hand. Dont break the cup. Soon, you will be a cup yourself. This perspective is echoed in the titles of the individual tracks on Green Memories, which draw on Sanskrit and Persian to express the oneness and cyclical nature of life.
The interconnection and interweaving of our lives and our surroundings had a deep impact on Yadegaris approach to composition on Green Memories. Instead of creating sheet music for Azam Ali and Nourai, he defined modes and forms, in the same way that traditional Persian music spells out a faza or space, a structured context allowing for freedom of expression within. Yadegari also defined the musical gestures, emotional content, melodic contours, ornamentation, intensity, specific figures for openings, climaxes, and cadences, as well as performance techniques for each section.
The music is not necessarily built with a compositional structure which defines all the actions of the performers. The musicians walk into a context, one I have worked on for many, many years. Lila creates a world for the musicians to be able to express themselves in a way that they wouldnt normally. By echoing and transforming the elegant, haunting lines invented by Azam Ali and Nourai, Yadegari forges a musical mirror of our interaction with the natural environment and the responsibility we bear in that relationship. Yadegaris primary goal was to retain flexibility and freedom for the musicians while giving the pieces comprehensible contours and definition.
Almost a century ago, after a thousand years of Persian poetry, there was a major shift. It paralleled a seemingly global movement in which older artistic languages were transformed. In the West, this transformation can be seen in art (Kandinsky), music (Schoenberg), and literature (James Joyce). It happened in other parts for the world. In Persian poetry, maybe it was a cultural mutation, a literary development, or a seemingly abrupt change that was integrated into the fabric of life. But there were new voices in poetry, an art form that has been as important in Persia/Iran as philosophers were in ancient Greece, and as popular as pop stars are in America.
And one of them was Forough Farrokhzad, a woman estranged from her society, after writing profoundly new poetry in the 1940s and 1950s, during a second generation of new poetry. Now a trio of Iranian-American musicians has created an album based on her poem I Pity the Garden (Green Memories). Electronic musician and composer Shahrokh Yadegari says the poem significantly pre-dates Al Gore and other world leaders messages of impending environmental devastation and has sweeping implications for the way humans relate to each other and their world.
Farrokhzads words became a path for Yadegari toward a new way of making music and expressing the planets current crisis. Green Memories, a suite of structured improvisations, uses collaborative creative techniques and an instrument called Lila, an electronic program Yadegari invented that transforms the input of acoustic instruments to create a complex weave of melodies and textures. Through Lila, he forges a musical environment with Western and Persian classical violinist Keyavash Nourai and vocalist Azam Ali. Both Nourai and Azam Ali share Yadegaris ability to move effortlessly between Western and Persian musical worlds.
Over a decade ago, musical inspiration came to Iranian-American musician Shahrokh Yadegari, Ph.D. '04, from a jasmine tree behind his Santa Monica home. In the tree, a mockingbird had built its nest, singing beautifully every night. Yadegari, an expert in computer music and traditional Persian music, recorded the bird's beautiful songs and played the sound back to the bird. The result was magical. "The bird was so excited to hear its own singing...it was like a totally new world," explains Yadegari. "Everything changed: his energy, his performance, his song."
Translating his experience into the world of music, Yadegari developed a software program called Lila to replicate the effect for acoustic musicians. Today, Yadegari-a professor of sound design at UC San Diego's top ranked Department of Theatre and Dance-uses Lila to sample and transform a musician's acoustic material. Just as with the mockingbird, Yadegari plays notes back to the musician for more improvisation, which can then be layered to make innovative and groundbreaking new music and sounds. This melding of technology and art has yielded remarkable results in the evolution of theatrical sound - from UC San Diego to Carnegie Hall.