Ash Koosha Talks Synaesthesia, Censorship in Iran and 'I AKA I'

Ash Koosha Talks Synaesthesia, Censorship in Iran and 'I AKA I'
Photo: Ozge Cone
Ninja Tune has a new secret weapon. His name is Ash Koosha and his talents are boundless. He's a sonic sculptor, decorator of sound, filmmaker, actor, innovator and all-around creative guru who on Friday (April 1) will launch his second LP, I AKA I, a glitched-out burst of colours and textures that take form into ultra-detailed, two-minute structures.

While Koosha's latest release is unlike most albums out there, it's still difficult not to draw certain clichéd comparisons — picture a lovechild of Arca and Flying Lotus raised by Prefuse 73.

Though apt, these references still fall short; when it comes to process, Koosha's approach is unique. Made up mostly of field recordings — "field" being inaccurate, since most of the samples are recorded around the house — I AKA I is a scrapbook of sounds that are manipulated into a living, breathing space. Koosha refers to this process as "finding geometry in sounds," something that makes all the more sense after spending time with the album.

"Let's say I punch a pillow from different angles or I drop an object like a bottle, or smack two of them against each other, I try to get the details of that sound with a vocal mic," Koosha tells Exclaim! "I then listen back to them and most of time I close my eyes and I see the sounds as geometry and physical objects in an empty room that I call my 'Audio Room.' So, imagine the empty project in Logic is an audio room that you can decorate with these physical objects and that's how I treat the sound. I try to shape them and stretch them and make them work against each other within that room."

Koosha is describing synaesthesia, a neurological phenomenon that affords certain people a merging of the senses. This often manifests in characters, such as letters and numbers, having their own colour scale, and most importantly — in the case of Koosha — the ability to see sound in terms of shape and colour. As a synaesthete, Koosha joins an elite group of musical maestro's like Mozart, Aphex Twin and Eddie Van Halen, but has only been aware of it for a few years. The realization came as an epiphany moment one day when his mother failed to grasp what he was saying.

"She was giving me a number that I had to memorize and I was like, 'Ah there's no problem,' but she was insisting that I had to write it down," Koosha says. "I said, 'It's fine, I'm going to memorize them with colours, right?' and she had no idea what I was talking about. That's when I realized that not everyone experiences it in this way. So I read more about it, and I was like 'Wow, this is why I've been trying to decorate sound as physical objects,' because I see sound, I feel the physical value of it, and how it can actually fit in somewhere."

Koosha is planning to translate this sensation, adapting I AKA I into a virtual reality experience where "music and sound objects are translated into 360 degree animation." Built out of a frustration with simply trying to animate sounds, Koosha is now hoping to allow people to observe the album as he does, through a fully-immersive sensory experience.

"I want people to put the headset on and live inside the music, for the length of the album," says Koosha. "It's great to have live shows and loud sound, but I think when you put on the headset and have the headphones on, your senses are 100 percent occupied; they're at work. So, you lose the meaning and feeling of space by being fully immersed."

Koosha is also embarking on his first feature film, a 68-minute experimental piece called Fermata, starring Colin Firth's son Will. Though this may be his first cinematic venture behind the camera, he's also spent some time in front of it. Koosha starred — under his real name Ashkan Koshanejad — in the 2009 movie No One Knows About Persian Cats, which focuses on a band's attempts to leave Tehran to play a concert in London and the visa issues that surround the journey.

The film is based on Koosha's real-life experiences and inadvertently ended up shaping his current musical pathway. After shooting — without a permit — in 2008, Koosha and company left Iran for Manchester with their lives on their back, expecting to do a tour of the UK before the film's release. Meanwhile, Iran held elections and the new shift in power, coupled with the band's checkered past, made it impossible for them to return.

This marked another notch in the life-long struggle that Koosha has had with Iran's censorship laws. The year before, Koosha's band tried to organize a show, which ended up getting cancelled at the last minute. Fuming at the government's myopic outlook and down a great deal of money, they decided proceed at a different location, but were scuppered by their own popularity.

"There were like 100 to 150 people invited to the gig, but 700 people showed up and things got out of control, so we got arrested. We were in prison for 21 days. It was totally unnecessary!"

It's now been seven years since Koosha's set foot in his country of birth. Iran has undoubtedly caused problems for the young producer, but in a weird way it's also pushed him forward. Koosha knows he can't fix Iran's problems, so instead of dwelling, he's filling his mind with endless media projects. Though his past might be marred, his future is immensely bright, colourful, and filled with musical geometry.

You can stream all of I AKA I below.