SHIDA SHAHABI, who released the beautiful modern piano work Shifts for 130701 last year, has returned with a new digital EP, Lake On Fire, the soundtrack to the the short film of the same name.
Shida was born in Stockholm 31 years ago to parents who had fled war in the Gulf; she’s studied piano since she was 9, and began to pick up classical pieces by ear rather than learning them from sheet music.
Aside from being steeped in the classical tradition, she also grew up with 90s’ Persian pop, My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, The Cure and Yo La Tengo, leaving her with an open ear for the possibilities within musics.
Shida says: “I don’t know if the music is necessarily an influence for me, maybe some way unconsciously. But I get more inspired by a band’s or an artist’s artistic practice and learning how they work.
“It’s been inspiring to find curious composers who can write film scores or collaborate with other art forms whilst musically trying out material in very different constellations and other genres.”
She’s worked on short film commissions before; she played piano on and help arrange the score for Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s animation The Burden in 2017 – a film that played to warm reception at Sundance and Cannes; she also played on the soundtrack for Maria Eriksson’s Schoolyard Blues that year.
Director Jennifer Rainsford made four nature-based shorts to accompany Shida’s debut album, so it was always on the cards that they would collaborate again. Her film only runs to 15 minutes, so the accompanying EP matches in length.
Jennifer describes Lake On Fire as “a subtle science fiction short … about regret and an AI [artificial intelligence] only interested in humans for giving love advice”. In a distant future, two former lovers reunite in a virtual forest. Within this AI-created landscape, Jennifer details, “flowers talk, the forest is animated by subtly, yet continually shifting colors while fighting virtual wars and the former couple come to realise they can’t change the past”. It’s a film of unease, which Shida mirrors in her score.
For Lake On Fire Shida steps away from the piano to explore the tones and atmospheres offered by the organ and synths, which she plays on three quarters of the tracks – and does a stunning job.
“Prolog” has a slow grace, building on an organ with a sibilance, in step with an eerier counterpoint. The organ seems to wheeze, adding a little more unease. It’s a simple and gentle two chord atmosphere that almost – almost – blisses you. But there’s shadowy undertones that never quite let you settle.
Which is the correct instinct, as “Interlude + Main Theme” rises microtonally on a synth siren, leaving you in mind of an otherwordly awe; the sustain, the rise through the tones, make you sit up and swallow. It’s a soundscape suggesting something right at the edge of your – our – comprehension. It slides away like watching a cliff slowly lurch out and down, cracking, uncanny in the truest sense. The tension breaks in a distanced organ, all beautiful sustain and clicking tonal attack. You’re glad.
“Epilog” has an almost silent movie steel; big, complex organ chords ring in such a way that although you recognise the basic humanity of the music, you’re also somehow aware that the music is entirely other, detached and unconcerned with humanity in a way we were unconcerned with say, beetles. It towers over, looms, imposes, envelops. The closing “Main Theme (Piano Version)” brings us back in catharsis while remaining resolutely leftfield, the slaps and creaks of a prepared piano adding a woozy percussive texture.
It’s a fascinating short EP that certainly makes me want to know how it works alongside the film it was commissioned for; it also has integrity as a work in its own right.
It leaves you wondering where a talent such as Shida’s will head next, if she decides to keep exploring out on the more experimental boundaries of the keyboard family. That’s exciting.
Shida Shahabi’s The Lake Of Fire will be released by 130701 on digital format on October 16th, and may be pre-ordered at the FatCat shop, here.