Gelareh Pour is an Iranian born musician who plays the Persian Kamancheh and Qeychak Alto, a singer and song writer living and producing music in Melbourne Australia. She is currently in 5 collabarative projects: Garden Quartet, ZÖJ, Assembly, Minimum, a trio with Adam Simmons and an acoustic duo with Negar Rokhgar. Pour has released an album Tanin-e Melbourne, as part of MMMM on Minimum, with Mick Trembworth live at the B1 gallery in Ballarat, made scores for radio and appeared on a number of allbums.
Innerversitysound: Being Garden Quartet’s first album could you inform our readers about the beginnings of the group? How would you describe what Garden Quartet brings to the audience and how will this experience enrich their lives?
Gelareh Pour: Garden Quartet was formed in 2016 by myself and Brian O’Dwyer in 2016. We have been composing and performing for the past 3 years and finally we produced the album and decided to tour around Australia. The music you hear in this band is a combination of classical Persian music, modern Australian music, pop, folk, and experimental improvisation music. The composition starts form improvisation, bringing ideas together and the four people in the band develop it considering myself and Arman Habiibi the Santur player singing Persian as well. The Persian poems of modern Iranian poets have a big impact to our composition and music. Stories and feelings behind the composition of music in this band are very personal. We deliver music created in an environment we are living in with our cultural backgrounds, hearing backgrounds and life stories. Each of the songs have their own stories and feelings. All the band members contributed emotionally to the composition. I think what a listener can experience…, well the music is partly classical Persian and partly modern Australian, having two Iranian born musicians, one playing Kamancheh and the other playing Santur and singing in Persian and two other band members are from Melbourne, Mike and Brian playing drumkit and electric guitar. I suppose we can call this contemporary Iranian/Australian music or diasporic music. I can’t really fit it into a specific genre.
Innerversitysound: The band has three musical instruments that may be unfamiliar to our readers, the Kamancheh Saprano/Alto and the Qeychak Alto performed by yourself and the Santur performed by Arman Habibi. Could you give us a brief introduction to these instruments and how they sit in a band whose other instruments are a drumkit and electric guitar in performance?
Gelareh Pour: Kamancheh is one of the most ancient instruments. It is a violin ancestor. It is called Persian spiked fiddle. The reason is…, imagine violin and you play it upright and you have a spike underneath, the reason is we turn the instrument to change the string. Unlike violin where we move our right hand to change the string and the instrument itself is fixed on our shoulder. This instrument has four strings, before the development of violin this instrument had two silk strings. The bridge sits on animal skin and that is why the Kamancheh has a very earthy and nasal sound. Kamancheh, we have this in alto or Saprano nad it has the same meaning as we have in violin or viola, it has the same range of sounds. Qeychak is very similar to Kamancheh, you can find it mostly in regional areas of Iran being played so it is more of a folkloric music sort of instrument. There is a lot of it played in Afghanistan as well. Santur is a Persian hammer dulcimer, I know there is a lot of different dulcimers around that area of Persia. Persian dulcimer has travelled around the neighbouring countries a lot and has been developed to meet the criteria of classical Persian music in terms of tuning and strings. It has 72 strings which are matched to each other, 4 strings by 4 strings. It is a very interesting. The question about where do these instruments sit with regards to guitar and drum kit. It’s not just instruments sitting next to each other, how they can be as a solo instrument. Not considering if the drum kit hadn’t been here wouldn’t it have sounded the same. Instruments are impacting each other, they talk to each other. Electric guitar and drum kit are mostly the structure, the basement and the foundation of each song as we play the composition of the group’s songs. Santur plays a lot of melodies and a lot of times it is very supportive and rhythmic as well. And Kamancheh is basically most of the times melody based. It is the drone part of the sound as well because it is the only because it is the only bowed instrument. The classical Persian instruments, the Santur and the Kamancheh introduce the main melodies and they sort of dance around the basement of drumkit and electric guitar will hold.
Innerversitysound: When you performed at Memo Hall in St Kilda with Saray Illuminado people at my table were discussing how close at times Garden Quartet came to being a Heavy Metal Band, that with just a few tweaks you could cross the line and become Australia’s first Farsi metal outfit. This mostly comes from the drummer and guitarist and the sonic possibilities in the vocal styling. Has this genre possibility cropped up before and have you thought how to achieve a dialogue with a broader audience than the multicultural music listening community?
Gelareh Pour: Well we always hope we are not limited to the multi-cultural lovers. Because there are no borders. You just play the music the way that you want and at the end of the day if you are categorised, but this is not what we mean really, we don’t care where we are. About getting really heavy, basically metal guitar was my favourite music as a teenager. I love heavy music. My partner and I have duet called ZÖJ, meaning couple in Persian. That sound is metal, it is really heavy. It’s very stark, it’s so romantic and it’s really heavy. Garden Quartet I believe at the end of the songs sometimes gets there and becomes very big and I think it is some type of form that we shape together. There has been no sort of conversation thinking, ‘oh let’s make it heavy metal, or very like crazy at the end’. I think it is just the musician’s background and it having a drum kit and a guitar and my love of having a voice that’s a little bit intense and dark sometimes. And I am really happy here, because I love that and it is one of my dreams that I am in a heavy metal band one day.
Innerversitysound: In your Master’s thesis on “The Lives of Iranian Women Singers in Dispora” you identify that leaving Iran and moving elsewhere gives Iranian women musician greater freedom to perform and release release as well as greater social status through work and social possibilities. Can you talk a bit about this and the drawbacks of living and practicing art within an adopted culture?
Gelareh Pour: Iranian women cannot solo on a stage in a mixed audience. They can only appear as a singer on stage if they are accompanied with two or more male or female singers or if they are in a choir. At the same time you get a lot of education, professional help and information about music. You will be educated for years professionally living in Iran. But you won’t be able to express yourself unfortunately if you’re a women and a singer and you want to be a soloist. For myself I wanted to play an instrument so I could go on a stage a lot since I was 7 and appear in choirs even though I was going to be a singer. But yes, coming out of Iran has allowed women singers to do what they like, to go on the stage and sing, and to produce the music the way they like. Singing in Australia for me not only allows me to go on stage and sing as a soloist but it also lets me develop individually to know what exactly I like to do with my music. When you are allowed to do the basics, which is singing as a soloist, then you start looking into your options. What can I do? How can I compose? Who can I sing with? Who can I sit next to? What sort of music do I like to play as an individual? It doesn’t matter what my background or education has been. But now that I can see what I am, what I want to become, and this is very important when you get to that stage. And in a country with freedom for Women, and we call it sort of, ethnic women soloists, but then you can think of different options, develop yourself musically.
Innerversitysound: You see options here by leaving Iran, but are there also limitations here that are different than the limitations you experienced in Iran
Gelareh Pour: Iran is a very heavily artistic and cultural country. The level of art and music is very high there. Although there is a lot of limitations to publish the music and what you do. But there is a lot of production and really high quality. When I moved out of Iran and to Melbourne I was really scared and shocked by the lack of art and music and the reason why was because I didn’t know where to go. To me everything is hidden in Melbourne, it is hidden in lanes and behind doorways. You know I always think there is a doorway and you might open it and there is another world behind it. The drawbacks can be not having so many Iranian music and support for it. So that actually affects the way that you play the music and the way that you develop the music. Because you may have might have 1 or 2 musicians to pick while in Tehran you have hundreds of them to pick from and with different styles of playing. This can be a drawback for someone who wants to stay in a classical Persian style genre and play exactly that genre. I think it is language as well. I love that I sing in Persian as well, I love that it is something different that I can bring to the culture, language and art in this country. But it might not become that popular and let me sing as much those that sing in English and have their audience to understand all that they say. I can call it a limitation, but it is a bit of a challenge. I think there is a lot of positive things in moving to Australia for me. At the beginning you might not be able to…, this is an immigration problem, when you move to a new city or town you have a problem with everything. You don’t know where to go, you lose your whole sense that you had for years in your home country, you lose your network, the only thing is that you have to start from the beginning. From Zero, even minus sometimes. But if you go on the right path it takes years but I think it is a very positive thing, immigration is great as long as you appreciate it.
Innerversitysound: You have been supported by and worked with the organisation The Boite, which is well known in Victoria for championing multicultural music. Can you tell us a bit about your experience of the necessity of belonging to community and the support and opportunities that a strong base of support has lent to you since you arrived in 2012.
Gelareh Pour: Everything is about community I think. It is the most important thing for me. As long as you have community you can develop, you can be supported. The Boite itself developed me since I arrived, 9 months after my arrival they launched my first album. After a few years I became a committee member of the Boite’s board, I have tried to give back a little back of what they have given me: introducing me to radio, teaching me what media is here… I have been very lucky to get to know the experimental community here as well through my partner Brian O’Dwyer and get to know Adam Simmonds and go to the ‘Make it Up Club’ on a Tuesday night. That is a very strong community as well and it has given me a very different point of view about improvisation and how to listen to music and to develop it next too someone else. Even though it seems the main component of classical Persian music is to improvise but I never understood it well enough before entering an experimental music community in Melbourne. It has all been really great
Innerversitysound: In your current band you are accompanied by your partner Bryan O’Dwyer on drumkit and the album is released on Bleemo which has released O’Dwyer’s earlier work. How do you negotiate having a close creative partnership combined with a personal relationship?
Gelareh Pour: I think that’s the best part of our relationship, playing music together. It might be hard to know someone first and then start working with them, to be in a relationship with someone and then start working with them or work with someone and then go into a relationship with them. Because both working as musicians and being in a relationship happened together it has been something that has been part of our relationship for the whole time. We have always had our barriers when we worked together and we always had them separate from our personal relationship. It hasn’t clashed yet, I hope it never does, and I really enjoy it. I learn a lot from him and I really enjoy developing ideas and experiencing different things musically and personally from him. So I think it is amazing.
Innerversitysound: The band is about to launch the album and go on a national tour, do you have further plans beyond this period of performance? What other projects are demanding attention?
Gelareh Pour: I have been accepted to go to the Art’s Orchestra creative intensive, it’s a 10 day program in Tasmania. So that is something that I really look forward to but I don’t think I have to do anything before that. I look at that as a creative and learning opportunity that I am really excited about. The other thing is the ZÖJ project, that I am going to work on with Brian. It is a duet that we have, we are hoping that we can launch our album next year and travel to some other cities with it. I am actually working a night at Nexus Arts next year in Adelaide. There are a few things happening but there are other things that I never stop. Garden has to start music after this tour, we will probably have a little break but we have another thing happening in Melbourne after that. So yeah a lot exciting things happening.
Garden Quartet’s debut self titled album is available through Bandcamp