Persepolis Revisited

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Writing about Fatah’s allegations concerning Iran’s involvement in Gaza this morning, I was reminded that today is something of an anniversary. It was five years ago (to the day) that I completed the pre-release work on one of my favorite musical projects of all time.

Serving as the label manager of Asphodel LTD, the electronic music imprint best known for its turntablist records (DJ Spooky, the Invisbl Skratch Piklz, etc,) I’d been given the responsibility for putting together a highly iconoclastic production: An unreleased mix of Greek composer Iannis XenakisPersepolis, together with an accompanying disc of remixes by noiseniks like Francisco Lopez and Merzbow.

Unlike any of the other records I worked on at Asphodel, this project was absolutely loaded with explicit political signifiers. Originally commissioned by the Shah of Iran to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of modern Iran’s founding by Cyrus the Great, Xenakis’ work was meant to be the defining cultural moment in the Shah’s campaign to secularize the historically devout, Muslim country.

Debuted at the 1971 Shiraz festival amidst the ruins of the ancient Persian capital of Persepolis, being reissued a year after September 11th,  this melodramatic, 59 minute composition took on an entirely new meaning. In context, Persepolis‘ noisy, dystopian mood anticipated the Shah’s defeat (and that of Xenakis’ own Communist-tutored vision of secularism) at the hands of Shi’ite revolutionaries seven years later.

Writing the liner notes-cum-press release, and directing the design of the CD’s packaging (together with my employer and memorably-named friend, Naut Humon,) I told the story of the work’s commissioning and its contemporary political significance, juxtaposed against the colorized image of a decaying palace, photographed in Persepolis by British archaeologists in the early 1920s.

For a double CD, the record actually sold quite well. Even more interesting was the fact that Persepolis received an unexpected level of interest from mainstream periodicals in the US and Europe. Needless to say, given the political circumstances of the time, I found it all incredibly encouraging. If you can get your hands on it, the February 2003 issue of UK mag The Wire ran what I still think is the best review copy.