A Meeting of Yin and Yang: Reza Safinia

Reza Safinia is a soul at the bridge between two worlds: classical orchestration and contemporary electronic music. Influenced by his lifelong interest in eastern philosophies and martial arts, Reza’s music speaks to the listener on a deeper spiritual level, enveloping you in a cascade of cinematic and healing vibrations.

Enjoying a rich career as a multi-instrumental composer, producer and engineer flitting between the worlds of film, pop and hip hop, this year Reza released Yin, the first album under his own name, and promises to do the same with Yang in the coming months. It was a privilege to speak to Reza and delve into everything from his upbringing and musical career, to his affinity with yoga and eastern philosophies.

Many artists choose to consign themselves to one genre, yet your career so far has been one of change. How did you find yourself working with Britney Spears one minute, Akala the next, and then scoring for award winning films such as Filly Brown?

Britney was a total accident… she happened to be recording at the studio I got hired at. Akala was really a return to my roots. After I left the studio I became a pop songwriter/producer, though my heart was in underground hip hop. I met Akala and was blown away by his talent, intelligence and personality. We set up our own indie label, giving me the chance to produce music from my heart like his song ‘Shakespeare’, experimenting with fusing electronica and hip hop.

Multi-instrumentalist and composer, Reza Safinia, is now based in Los Angeles

Moving into film was a natural progression in my thirties. My taste in music had started to shift to classical music and instrumental electronica. My idols Prince and Bowie were always switching it up with each new album so I always had that as a model to emulate!

As a young child, you moved around quite a lot. Born in Texas and moving to Iran when you were one year old, your family then fled the revolution to London when you were five. Looking back, how do you think these early experiences shaped your values and attitudes in life?

Maybe my nomadic nature and interest in cross pollinating music genres and culture were created out of this circumstance. Because I was young, the impermanence and volatility of my environment was not traumatic, it was just my normality. It made me curious to just follow things I find interesting without hesitation.

I didn’t speak English when we moved to London and so my first few months were very interesting… I tried to speak to Farsi to the other kids haha! That’s when my love of music started – it was the only class I could really participate in like the other kids, and learning song lyrics helped me learn English. Maybe that’s why music is so deep rooted in my fundamental way of processing my thoughts now.

This year will see the release of two albums, Yin and Yang. These symbolise a sonic manifestation of the Taoist concept of dualism in the dynamic balance of opposing energies: post-classical and electronic. How did your experiences of composing and producing these two albums differ and complement one another?

Prior to Yin, I had been studying Schubert’s piano impromptus and the composition had always fascinated me. As I broke it down, I riffed on patterns that formed the basis of ‘Within’, ‘Kali’ and ‘Surya’. From there a sound developed, focused on piano and cello with pepperings of synthesisers, gongs and singing bowls. I started the album at the beginning of the first lockdown, so I had such a complex web of feelings ranging from survivalist, to existential and nostalgic. The pandemonium took me back to my childhood… 

As I progressed with the album I realised that the same riffs I was playing, presented in a different arrangement and with more emphasis on synthesisers, completely flipped the vibe from this heavy introspective feeling to a very active charged one. Definitely Yang energy, looking outward rather than looking in, and so then I ran with that.

“Yin is a passive meditation, perhaps lying on your back in isolation in a dark room, while Yang is a meditative dance in communion with thousands of others at an open air festival, feeling the connectivity of life.”

Production wise for Yang, I sampled sections of Yin and built beats around them in a melodic techno and progressive house style. It’s a very different workflow. With Yin, I just used the computer to press record – everything was done live, with minimal editing. With Yang, it was a lot of complex sequencing, arrangement, and delicate mixing.

The two albums are opposing complements… thematically they deal with similar themes, just looked at from different perspectives. There’s also a connective nod within each to the other. The way you have a white dot in the black paisley of Yin and black dot in the white paisley of Yang; the pepperings of electronic treatment in Yin is countered with pepperings of raw piano and strings in Yang.

“Our bodies consist largely of water which conducts vibration, so there are certain frequencies that harmonise vibrations on a cellular level and others that agitate them.”

Both albums were made with meditation in mind. Yin is a passive meditation, perhaps lying on your back in isolation in a dark room, while Yang is a meditative dance in communion with thousands of others at an open air festival, feeling the connectivity of life.

Yin, released on March 12th, takes the listener on a deeper emotional and meditative journey at 432 Hz, which resonates with the heart chakra. Can you tell us more about the use of healing vibrations and the effect it has on our mind and body?

Energy is vibration, sound is both so it affects the energy in all living things, from plants to us… Additionally our bodies consist largely of water which conducts vibration, so there are certain frequencies that harmonise vibrations on a cellular level and others that agitate them.

“When I listen to music at 432 Hz I feel it deep in my heart, it gives me butterflies, I feel deep empathy.”

There are some schools of thought that say the 440 Hz system of tuning, which has become standard in most forms of music, is an agitating frequency that separates us, whilst 432 Hz is a harmonising one that unites us. I can’t scientifically validate that theory myself, but I can anecdotally.

Yin, an album by Reza Safinia

When I listen to music at 432 Hz I feel it deep in my heart, it gives me butterflies, I feel deep empathy. When I hear music at 440 Hz, I hear it intellectually, in my head. I still enjoy it, but more for how clever it is. As far as healing is concerned, the idea is to induce a state of calm with this harmony so that your cellular function can be optimal and give your body’s own healing systems their best chance of functioning.

You have cited Yehudi Menuhin, the great violinist/conductor and student of B.K.S Iyengar, the founder of Iyengar Yoga, as an important inspiration for you and your work. How does your interest in yoga and eastern philosophy inform your connection to music and spirituality?

Before I had heard of any spiritual concepts, I felt them in my gut through music. Music transported me to something beyond what language and reason could explain… As I became older I found that eastern philosophy explained these feelings.

Music is a spiritual artform… if you think about what it is, it is a specific sequence of repetition with purpose that creates feeling. It’s not random, so it has the intelligence of other patterns of life we have noted like the golden mean, Fibonacci sequence etc. Studying the philosophy just anchors what I have already felt in a more rational context.

Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999), considered to be one of the great violinists of the 20th century

Yoga is a fascinating practice because it is a path to understanding that begins through the physical body and works its way to spiritual understanding, and music is another expression of that… using a physical medium (sound) to traverse into another realm. Seeing genius musicians like Menuhin who make that connection is entirely inspiring.

You have practiced yoga for 20 years alongside other chi and kundalini based energy practices. At what point did yoga first enter your life?

Another happy accident in life… literally. I had a bad fall and tore a ligament in my ankle, couldn’t walk for six months living on a 5th floor walk up in NYC. My physio suggested I do yoga at home, and I did it because it was about the only kind of exercise I could do. I was only thinking of it in physical therapy terms at first. But then over time I went deeper and deeper…

Yoga teacher training has often been described as not only physically, but psychologically and spiritually intense. What was your experience and what motivated you to teach?

I really enjoyed it. I had incredible teachers who taught me so many things about the different aspects of yoga and encouraged me to find my voice teaching. In my music career, I’ve always been comfortable in the background, being a composer on somebody else’s film. Public speaking or attention isn’t really my thing, but the teacher training actually helped me feel good about taking a lead to express what I feel is valuable, and to a great extent gave me the nerve to make these albums and put them out under my own name.

What do you have coming up across music and yoga, now that we are inching back to ‘normality’?

Throughout the pandemic I’ve been teaching a weekly class on Zoom on Thursday mornings, and passing any donations from that to LA Foodbank. It would be nice to teach a real life class, and also have meditation workshops. I recently bought a beautiful set of 432 Hz singing bowls that I’ve been experimenting with and incorporating my piano playing. I’d love to do some kind of hybrid between a show and a sound bath style experience… I’m also working on putting together a set between the Yin and Yang albums, part piano performance, part DJ style performance. I did a little proof of concept on Instagram Live with my song ‘Shushumna’…

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