Reza Safinia, composer

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

There are many at different stages… The first music that captivated me was Barry White at the age of 5, then I got really into Prince at the age of 8, that was an obsession that has continued til today! In my teenage years I became very interested in Quincy Jones and George Martin, and the idea of being a producer, as I got older I started getting into Marvin Gaye, John Lennon, Hendrix and Bowie, Curtis Mayfield, Gil Scott Heron, Jeff Buckley and also a few great Hip Hop artists. Those are probably the foundation of my musical sensibility outside of classical and electronic music, which is something I got into later in my 30’s. Now the music I listen to the most and is the most influential on my composition style is French romantic era music (and some music before like Beethoven and Schubert). I really love Satie, Debussy, Fauré, Saint Saens. I am also very inspired by electronic music these days, especially a lot of melodic techno and Downtempo coming out of Berlin.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?

The challenge for any professional artist is finding the balance between making money and making art. As far as frustration, I would say the way music has become sidelined as an art is bothersome. People used to listen to hours of music with their full attention focused on it, now our culture has turned music into content, and people “consume” it whilst distracted by something else. Of course some people still take music seriously, but not most.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

The challenge and pleasure are the same, to understand what the person commissioning wants, to find a way of giving that to them whilst still making it the composer’s own work, to align your wants with theirs, that’s a lot of the work of being a composer, and the pleasure is in hitting the target so everyone loves it and feels it’s just right.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles or orchestras?

People understand music differently, we all grew up with different references, and music isn’t easily described in words, so expressing what you want to someone who understands the words you are using differently to you can be a challenge however, I like to take a collaborative approach to working with musicians, and rather than telling them exactly what I want, I’ll present them with my ideas in an open way, and let them interpret it, sometimes I find magic in their interpretation, and sometimes it needs shaping, but nonetheless it’s the conversation that I enjoy.

Of which works are you most proud?

Right now I am the most proud of the two albums Yin, and Yang that I recorded over the pandemic. I put every essence of my being into both and they represent me as an artist more than any work I’ve ever done. Yin is a neoclassical album largely built around piano and cello arrangements, with very light speckles of electronica. Yang is an electronic reworking of many of the ideas in Yin. Together they are a body of work in which I am exploring my philosophical and spiritual feelings through music.

Here are some examples of how the songs from Yin were expressed in a different way for Yang.

This song Mantra:

became Yantra:

and this song Dhyana:

became Eddy:

This is the complete Yin album:

And the Yang album will be released July 16th.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

A visceral flow inspired by romantic classical music and modern electronica to journey through the human soul. I am as interested in sound itself as I am in composition, production, vibration, frequency, these are all factors that build texture that holds up the music. I record all my music at 432 Hz tuning, and I like to incorporate vibrations from bowls and gongs bouncing off the piano strings to bring dimensionality into the composition.

How do you work?

There’s no single method. Some days, I’ll just sit at the piano and write a stream of consciousness; others, I’ll be in more of an electronic construction mode with the computer.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To feel the magic of the universe and somehow express it.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

To keep your passion alive, to experiment, to play, to learn the rules then break them. To find your own voice.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

Honestly I don’t know. I remember going to a concert in Disney Hall, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, and in the programme, his bio mentioned a collaboration with Coldplay like it was the highlight of his career, and I was like, er… Don’t you mean working with Dudamel was the highlight of Coldplay’s career? Something is definitely not right with the way culture perceives classical music, and music in general.

It could help if orchestras tuned their A to 432 Hz not 440. 432 is a much warmer and emotionally resonant frequency upon which building harmony becomes exponentially more moving. If people heard the power of classical music played at this tuning they would feel something much deeper in their gut rather than perceiving it as intellectual music, that would probably help draw more people in.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Wherever life has taken me. I would love to be somewhere living a more sustainable life, growing my own food etc…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Dispensing with the idea of perfect happiness. Being cool with what is.

What is your most treasured possession?

A cat collar I wear as a wristband. It used to belong to my cat Eddy who passed away in January. I say my cat, but he was his own cat, who chose to live with me, and he was a spiritual brother to me.

What do you enjoy doing most?

It’ll be like that song, these are a few of my favourite things haha! I love music, yoga, cycling, hanging out with my closest family and friends, creating… I’ve recently got into making my own films, music videos etc and I can see this might become a growing passion… This is my favourite one so far:

What is your present state of mind?

Focused on releasing my album and working on how to perform it live.

Reza Safinia is a dynamic multi-instrumentalist composer. His album YANG, the companion piece to YIN, will be released on 16 July. 

Reza Safinia is a multi-instrumentalist composer and producer raised in London and living in Los Angeles. Prior to working in film he was a songwriter and record producer/engineer with work spanning from pop to underground. He has toured with Destiny’s Child and worked with artists as diverse as Dr. Dre, Britney Spears and underground UK rapper Akala.

His influences are a tapestry of romantic era classical music such as Debussy and Satie, Hip Hop, as well as a shifting spectrum of electronics and shamanistic music. His textured approach fuses orchestra with contemporary production, exploring soundscape as much as harmony and melding the two to serve the image in a tactile way.

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