In terms of crucial behind-the-camera roles, it’s well known that you just cannot skimp when it comes to music and sound design. At their best, their enhance the visuals and the story of any given film, and at their worst, they can completely destroy the emotional tone of the work.
And with such high demand for experienced and innovative composers and sound designers, it’s no surprise that Keyhan Kamelian is being asked to work on so many different projects. Recently he handled sound design for the short film ‘Personal,’ which has made a big splash while touring prestigious film festivals. He’s also been awarded multiple titles by Indaba Music, for tracks that he composed and produced using a huge range of hardware and software to carve out sounds that combine the old and the new, the East and the West.
Below you’ll find our interview with Kamelian, which gives a unique look into a truly musical mind, and one that knows how to stand out in a viciously competitive field.
How would you describe the differences between your work and traditional musical production?
Although there are many different approaches and styles of music production, traditional music production mostly involves decisions on instrumentation, choice of sounds, song form, and providing guidance on performances during the recording session. I always try to take that one step further and include non-musical sound elements to my Electro-Pop musical productions. This process usually kicks in after decisions on synthesized sound textures and lyrics have been finalized. I believe involving non-musical aural elements in an Electronic-Pop music track is where the future of the Pop genre is headed.
You’re known for using various sound design and synthesis techniques to help create your music productions. Does this tend to involve software synthesizers or do you enjoy working with physical hardware, such as modular or analog synthesizers?
It’s definitely both. No software synthesizer could truly offer the warmth and the imperfections that come with the sound of an analog synthesizer. But at the same time, software synthesizers allow for far more unique texture creation as they are not limited in the ways that analog synths are. Sometimes I like to route the sound of an analog synthesizer into my work station and from there further combine it with layers of digitally synthesized sounds to keep the overall experience warmly authentic and, at the same time, completely fresh.
Can you tell us more about the awards you received through Indaba Music?
In July of 2017, I submitted my original track ‘Not Me’ for Indaba Music’s Future Soul competition where the winner gets their track placed in the IndabaSync catalogue. More recently, in February of 2018, I submitted my original production ‘Web’ featuring singer-songwriter Dora, for Indaba’s prestigious Featured Artist Series competition. It was great to have won both competitions as Indaba Music contests are internationally recognized and have strict track submission requirements set in place, meaning once your music submission is accepted, you are among some of the best musicians from around the globe, whose works are then judged by a panel of experts.
Tell us about how you first came up with the idea to change tuning of a track’s frequency to out of norm standards?
In addition to a song’s use of melody, harmony, and lyrics, there are many other factors that a music producer and arranger should consider while creating a musical piece, factors such as choice of instruments, digital sound textures, tempo, and groove, which are more conventional. And in the case of my track ‘Web,’ I decided to go one step further and play around with tweaking instruments’ tunings. ‘Web’ was shaping up to become a dark track. I remember when songwriter Dora and I were closing our eyes, listening back to demos, we both saw various dark shades of blue. At that point, I decided I wanted to lower the tuning from the standard 440 Hz to the naturally-occurring 432 Hz to reflect the numbness and dark nature of the track. Moreover, sounds and instruments’ frequencies and harmonics blend better when they are individually tuned at 432 Hz.
You’ve achieved great stature in the world of music production. Has this changed the way in which you go about finding new projects?
Definitely. After winning the Indaba Featured Artist Series contest and the successful release of my track ‘Web’ on various platforms, many singer-songwriters and artists based in the US and also from different countries got in touch for collaborations and production work. Some of these artists have established themselves within the genre and I’m looking forward to working with them! At the same time, with the credits and recognition I keep earning in the industry, it has become possible to get in touch and set up sessions with some of my favorite singers and writers I listen to daily. It’s really a dream come true.
What were some of the most exciting moments while working on the sound design for the short film ‘Personal’?
There are many moments and memories from the post-production period, working on the sound design of ‘Personal,’ but I remember the first time I heard how some of the organic sounds we had obtained from the location turned out after I transformed them using various software and techniques. It was so exciting for me and the director to manipulate the original sounds of the streets of Tehran and the hum of Iranian crowds in bazaars to get surreal textures and noises and use them in various parts of the film to connect the themes. Another exciting moment was when I was trying to record some sounds for a scene in which a turtle was flipped on its back and moving randomly. After trying with many objects in my studio, I was finally able to recreate the sound by playing around with a plastic coaster!
How did you first become involved with the short film ‘The Last Night’? How did you know that it was a project you wanted to become involved with?
I was referred to director Kaitlyn Jones by Grammy nominated re-recording mixer Demitrio Albano, based at the NYC studio Beatstreet. He believed I had the skills and expertise in sound design to bring the director’s vision to life for her short film ‘The Last Night.’ After reading the script and having a couple of Skype sessions with Kaitlyn where she described the mesmerizing themes and genius concepts and devices carrying and narrating the story, I fell in love with the project and could tell it was going to become a beloved and successful film, both nationally and internationally. Even though it’s been a short time since the film has been submitted for screening, it has already been selected for First Run Film Festival in New York.
How are you able to focus an initial creative idea in order to work on it further? Do you record demos of particular ideas?
I always have my phone with me so as soon as an idea arrives I can do a rough recording of it wherever I am. I personally have my best ideas when I’m not in a writing or composing mode, so being able to quickly grab them before they are gone is vital. Then there have even been cases where I would wake up humming a certain melody and later I would use it in a track. That’s actually where one of the melodies in ‘Web’ came from!
Which elements of your work have remained exciting and compelling, even after your years of experience in the area?
When I’m doing sound work for film and media, one thing I never get tired of is recording and doing foley. It’s always so exciting to use random objects to create sounds that work so naturally as the sounds of what appears on screen. Another aspect that never gets old is using synthesis to effectively create layers for specific moods, or to evoke certain emotions in the audience. When it comes to music production, that first session with a singer-songwriter who you don’t know very well, personally, is always very exciting and fresh. Moreover, I never get tired of recording interesting sounds I hear on the go with my field recorder and later processing them for use in a new track. Playing around with the knobs on my Moog synth to come up with yet another fresh and unheard texture is also something I could never stop doing.
How are you able to combine so many different cultural musical and sound influences into cohesive sound designs?
Transforming and fusing different forms of art, cultural characteristics, and concepts into one cohesive vision is one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever come across. It certainly feels like a great responsibility. The way I initiate the process is by finding a fair balance between the cultural and artistic aspects and needs of a project. At the same time that you would want to freely express your traditional and cultural elements and roots, you would also have to pay respect to the artistic needs and vision of the director, the themes of the project, and how those cultural elements will be perceived by the audience. It’s a thin line between blending the right quantity and quality of the expansive aural vocabulary you have gained over the years into something meaningful.
by Giorgio Chang