Peyman Yazdanian playing the piano
Danial Haghighi sits down with composer and pianist, Peyman Yazdani to talk about the role of the unconsciousness in composing and the composer’s thought process.

Musical Policies

The Unconscious and Playing Politics in Composition; an Interview with Peyman Yazdanian

Danial Haghighi

He calls me up to see where I am; in between the hustle and bustle of Tajrish square, I assure him on my cell phone that I will be on time; he says “very good” and hangs up. From the very first phone call I notice his disciplined character, and so, unlike my usual self, try my best to be sharp on time for our interview. Once I enter his apartment the same discipline -which is rooted in his calm personality- attracts my attention in the arrangement of furniture. Outside, the city is sinking in twilight, as I begin my interview with Peyman Yazdanian about the stylistics of his work as a composer and the role of the unconscious in his creative work process. 

Mr. Yazdanian, you are one of the most prolific of the Iranian composers; various distinguished classic pieces can be seen in your oeuvre, along with a substantial body of film music. Please tell us, when can one call oneself a composer?

One seems to be able to compose once one learns harmony thoroughly, learns counterpoint, knows form, knows orchestration; basically knows the principles of composition well. However, this does not suffice for being a composer.  A composer needs a “presence”, a passion, for which no rule can be assumed. 

Being a true composer means not being content with what we have learned, means going one step further. Composing a musical piece might be an easy task for me; but I would wait; I would wait until my soul, body and mind becomes replete with the feeling under the influence of which I intend to compose. Then I shall begin writing.  

And this occurs in your unconscious?

Absolutely, of course, I could come up with a sketch at the beginning of the work. For instance, when I am composing film music, I begin my work with musical sketches; but instantaneously a frenzy flares up in my unconscious. A fire is kindled inside of me, and then what is meant to be created is created from the heart. 

Please explain more about this unconscious; at what stage does it enter the process of composition?

The unconscious of the composer is involved in the process of composition before he starts work.  

When one decides to compose a piece of music, one is under the influence of their surroundings. However, one usually begins work with an intention; whether in the case of literature, or music, there is always an intention in the first place. For instance, my intention as a composer is to make my audience happy. Then a concept is formed, like praising my audience. Such concepts are usually formed in the realm of aesthetics. At the third stage, one would choose the language or the tool for expression, for instance, Persian, Japanese or the language of music. And thus, I express my praise for my audience. My audience receives my message at this stage and at that moment perceives a sense, and with this the process of creation is complete. However, at the fourth stage, which is the stage of expression, the language is influenced by my unconscious intention and assumes a tone. This is how my audience can notice what is inside my unconscious. This means that an allusion is formed, which is perceived once the work is performed and the sound is produced. 

Therefore, the performer plays an important role in the transmission of this unconscious material.

Yes. It is the performer that transmits the Innuendoes/allusions and the unconsciousness. So long as a piece exists only on paper, it has no voice. It has progressed to the third stage waiting for the fourth stage. 

What if the performer does not recognise the unconscious Innuendoes/allusions of the composer?

The performer might or might not recognise them. 

So, the job of the performer seems to be to a great extent understanding the intentions of the composer and presenting their own reading of them.

Exactly, the job of the performer is to present personal readings and interpretations of musical pieces. 

It means bringing the unconscious of the composer to the conscious. 

Right, the job of the performer is to understand and to convey the language of music. However, apart from personal interpretations, which are crucial, it is also very important how an individual as a performer looks at a piece of music; which means that a performer needs to have a comprehensive knowledge of the principles of classical music. It is not enough to know notes and rhythm. There are principles and standards in music in which one needs to be trained. Principles like sound making, phrasing, balance of sounds, harmonic progressions and cadences, natural nuances, style and era of the piece, and etc. 

The question that troubles me is: how can we separate the unconscious moments from the conscious ones in the process of creating a piece? Is there a clear border between the two at all? 

From the moment we begin to plan and make decisions, we have distanced ourselves from the unconscious. For instance, when we consciously begin to manipulate the harmony, only to present a peculiar or novel work, we have distanced ourselves from the unconscious. 

You mean when we begin to play politics.

Exactly; the best term is this very term you just used. From the moment we begin to compose using our wit, we distance ourselves from true beauty and the unconscious. From this moment impurities enter the work, or as you have put it, it is contaminated with politics and wit; while the spirit of art is simple. It does not decide whether or not to be creative, it just happens. 

However, that a piece progresses through playing politics or following the unconscious of the composer is not reason enough for it being better or worse. An intention other than showing off might underlie the composer playing politics. 

That is true. Maybe it is better to say that both of these methods are one. Some prefer to work in accordance with the unconscious, some prefer to play politics. None of these methods are superior to the other; based on the intensions of the composer, of course they affect the audience differently. 

For instance, in your case, the music you have written for films is less unconscious and more playing politics, while your classical pieces proceed very much in accordance with your unconscious. 

It is true that film music needs to be much more thought out; however, I use the unconscious in their composition. To your ears, however, it might sound different.


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