An Interview with Trend Spotter, +Aziz who talks about his new Sound Art Project


By: Hyacinth Mascarenhas

Combining elements of an art gallery reception and a musical experience, Uncollectable promises to highlight the importance of sound art and songwriting through a unique multicultural performance. This performance will kick off a month-long art exhibit hosted at Soho’s Hotel Particulier and is being curated by Murtaza Vali, an independent Art critic, historian and curator.

Uncollectable is the brain child of +Aziz, a Kuwaiti songwriter based in New York who aims to deepen the conversation about the future of indie music, especially in the Middle East. We got a chance to speak with him.

Elan: Tell us a little bit about your upcoming project, UNCOLLECTABLE. How and when did you develop an interest in music and sound art?

+Aziz: I developed an interest in music long before my interest in art. I started off playing classical piano then moved to guitar after I discovered 90’s alternative rock (the Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana…etc.). I discovered art majoring in philosophy and focusing on aesthetics.

I came to focus on Middle Eastern sound art in particular, late last year when ArteEast approached me. In my proposal, I described UNCOLLECTABLE to have literary and performance components.

For the writing, ArteEast put me in touch with Bahraini sound artist Hasan Hujairi and ethnomusicologist Ghazi Al-Mulaifi, who wrote an ethnographic essay on Kuwaiti pearl diving music. For the performance, I am running things in partnership with Hotel Particulier, an art salon in NYC where my event will be held on June 21 and 22.

Elan: In your promotional video you mention the importance of exploring Middle Eastern culture in a new light beyond entertainment and “plastic surgery pop.” Why do you think it’s important to move beyond entertainment?

+Aziz: As a trend spotter, I study cultural trends that span retail, health, food, and various other industries. Looking beyond entertainment into these thriving fields provides audiences with more robust live music experiences; not only are audiences eager for more, but we, as musicians, can do more. A musician’s live performance can be shaped to be more cutting-edge by knowing what current trends are brands and the media are yearning to.

At the end of the day, plastic surgery pop has its place and audience. However, it should not be a hegemonic force where musicians have to play by the rules that Rotana and their competitors set up. By thinking expansively beyond entertainment, indie musicians can be more nimble and culturally nuanced than the media conglomerates.

Elan: How will UNCOLLECTABLE reflect how sound and music comes together?

+Aziz: I’m working with a sound artist who will be using tracks from my recordings and manipulating them using spectral processors and various filters. The program itself is broken into four movements (it’s not just a bunch of songs).

The first is an exploration of voice, hands, and body. Then we have a falafel break. The third movement is our ‘playlist’ where each song will have integrated sound elements, and the fourth is making a music video with the attendees.

This collaboration creates a dance between calmness and discomfort. Delicate acoustic songs will be contrasted with bizarre manipulations of vocal tracks from my debut EP, which is titled Soho Spirit and will be released later this summer. During the songs, I’m considering actions like having someone vacuum money off the floor and using a Typewriter as a percussive instrument. Working in sound art means having that opportunity to make music that works with sound in new and interesting ways.

Elan: How would you describe the current music scene in the Middle East? Is Indie music very big in the region or is it an up-and-coming genre?

+Aziz: The Middle East’s ‘indie scene’ existed before the Arab Spring. As you probably know, hip-hop has had a much deeper impact on Middle Eastern musicians and audiences than rock music. Both these genres can be considered ‘indie’ in their own right, but the cultural drivers have unfolded in a way that demonstrates.

Arabs and Muslims feel a deeper, more emotional relationship to hip-hop culture than they do to something like punk or goth. This basically means that urban arts (rapping, beat boxing, DJing) are in a more mature condition than rock music.

On a broader level, the conversations I’ve had and research I’ve done revealed that places like Egypt and Lebanon have the most prominent indie music scenes and DIY cultures. Economically speaking, I’m under the impression that Morocco and Turkey have robust infrastructures to support musical work comprehensively, but the rest of the Middle East is behind Morocco and Turkey in this regard. So yes, I know that the indie scenes in Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Turkey, and Morocco have a deep history.

The Gulf region is behind the rest of the region in more ways than I can mention in this interview. 

Elan: UNCOLLECTABLE is developing in collaboration with ArteEast and NYC’s Hotel Particulier. Why did you decide to go the art exhibition route to explore your concept?

+Aziz: The art exhibit is the venue’s idea (I just wanted to do the edit essays for ArteEast and do the performance). When I approached the hotel with my concept, they were so enthusiastic about it that they decided to bring the concept to life through an art exhibit; I was happy to accommodate for this extension, particularly because the individuals I met from the art world were lukewarm in their support.

The exhibit does not focus on Middle Eastern artists, nor does it focus on sound art.

Instead, it is focused on showcasing artwork that cannot be collected. For example, site specific work and installations that are highly integrated into the venue’s space.

Supporters who pay $500 or more will get a personal tour of the exhibit, either in-person or over videoconference. They will also be the first to know which artists we are showcasing.

Elan: Is there a particular message you want them to take away from the exhibition?

+Aziz: The message is and always will be open-ended; I’m ultimately fishing for new ideas and less interested in delivering a particular message.

Elan: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about that your project?

+Aziz: Indie musicians shouldn’t settle on cover songs and open-mics or playing at restaurants; craft experiences where original music is celebrated and the limits of music craftsmanship are explored. Don’t compromise your vision.

*Image Provided by Ghada Khunji


Follow +Aziz on Twitter:  @plusaziz



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