Yara Asmar (Interview)
Good morning. The new Flow State five-year anniversary tee, which lists all the artists featured to date, is available here.
Today we’re listening to Yara Asmar, a Lebanese composer based in Beirut. Growing up, she was fascinated the glass harmonica (invented by Benjamin Franklin) and the cristal baschet, she told Beirut Today. These resonant instruments echo in the drone ambient music she makes today. In October she released synth waltzes and accordion laments, which blends synths and lofi recordings, including of her grandmother’s Hohner Marchesa accordion. We’re also playing home recordings 2018-2021, which in addition to her synths, pianos, and accordion records modified toy pianos and music boxes. An interview with Asmar follows the streaming links.
Your use of found instruments and field recordings bring a strong sense of place to your music. Tell us about how your surroundings inspire you, and how you channel them into your music.
Beirut is tough and heavy and small. It is also radiant and warm. There is a darkness to it but there is also something fundamentally good about it, about the people who live here and stay here, about the people who fight the crumbling system everyday to make sure there is still light in spite of the corruption. To live here is to choose to fight every single day, it is about community, and about small acts of rebellion, about caring for your neighbors, about never being alone even if you feel like you are sometimes. I admire a lot of the art that emerges from this city – and there is so much of it: Music, dance, theater, films, poetry, literature.
From my window I can hear the city: cars, people shouting, church bells, school bells, sirens, ambulances. It is against this backdrop that I work, often incorporating it, sometimes drowning it out.
What was the first weird music you liked?
I’m not sure how one can define what music is weird, but in 2001 I played a game called Jet Set Radio Future. It was one of my favorite games, all about rollerskating, graffiti, fighting cops and fighting the capitalistic machine. The soundtrack was composed by Hideki Naganuma whose work I absolutely adored. It also features some gems like Cibo Matto’s “Birthday Cake” and The Latch Brothers remix of The Prunes’ “Rockin the Mic.” This was some of the first music I was exposed to in my life which didn’t come from my direct surroundings. And I absolutely loved it.
What musical influences do you personally trace on your synth waltzes and home recordings LPs?
The waltz has always had a special place in my heart; it can be light and playful but also mischievous, dark. Some of my favorite waltzes are composed by Satie, Saint-Saëns, Tchaikovsky, and Bartok. I think I also had in the back of my head Bartok’s collection of short piano pieces “Für Kinder.” I’ve also always had a lot of appreciation for video game music and I’m sure some of these influences have seeped into my work. Some of my favorite soundtracks include Toby Fox’s music for Undertale and Deltarune, Austin Jorgensen’s OST for Lisa the Painful, Archie Pelago (Hirshi, Kroba, and Cosmo D)’s compositions for Off-Peak, The Norwood Suite and Tales from Off-Peak City.
What music do you work to, if any – like when answering emails or reading, etc.?
I usually listen to hip-hop, ambient or classical when I’m working. Sometimes I click on these YouTube playlists with very elaborate titles like “A Playlist to Feel Like a 19th Century Villain Who Won the Game.” Lately I’ve been listening to Pudding Club’s Songs Before Bed. Helps with my anxiety a lot.
Name an underrated musician from the past 50 years.
Yseulde. One of my favorite ambient musicians. Please Don't Move to Sacramento is a beautiful album, and one that I relate to Beirut very much. He also has a way with song titles.
What non-musical artist(s) inspire you these days?
Naji Mirar, Mirella Salame, Sara Chaar. Wonderful painters and artists. Naji's work is poignant and has a striking way of depicting pain in a manner that stays with you long after you've seen the painting. There is something quite radical about it. Mirella's work radiates tenderness and strength. I now associate very specific colors with her – she makes her own pigments. Sara's work is both other-wordly and deeply familiar.
What are you working on next?
A series of recordings using the mechanical music instruments at the Deutsches Phonomuseum in St. Georgen in the Black Forest. Really looking forward to that!