Ehsan Gelsi has spent the last 20 years immersed in the world of synthesizers, as a performer, educator and product specialist. Crossing genres from techno and experimental to hip hop and electronica, Ehsan’s musical scope is super diverse and has made him a valuable addition to many projects – having toured the world and Australia several times. Ehsan has performed alongside Snoop Dogg, Pendulum, Calvin Harris, Carl Cox, Danny Tenaglia and many other global acts, and has performed at Glastonbury, Big Day Out and numerous festivals.
Gelsi’s latest work Ephemera is a ground-breaking hybrid work showcasing the mammoth grandeur of the ten thousand pipe acoustic organ installed at the Melbourne Town Hall, while exploring the full extent of the instrument’s electronic sequencing capabilities alongside Gelsi’s own formidable collection of synthesisers. The result is a spectacular mix of grand organ fetishism, progressive soundtrack exploration and ecstatic analogue electronica, a majestic treat for organ aficionados, vintage synth heads and soundtrack enthusiasts alike. We got a little more insight to his sound and approach.
What do you attribute to your sound, how has it evolved?
It’s a big question, but if I really distil it, I think my sound is defined by the chordal movements, a sense of challenge and triumph, big emotions, and a broad dynamic. I’ve always gravitated toward these types of feelings musically, but my background informs the subtle repetitions and evolutions in my music. Where I was once really all about dance music, these days that sensibility is carried into my broader body of work and combines with my earlier and later influences.
What gear is essential to your sound?
I don’t think I’m particularly wedded to a particular set of instruments, but I do steer toward the timbres of classic synthesis like Moog, the sonic purity and pseudo-acoustic timbres really resonate with me – but the combination of those classic sounds with the incredible palette available today with instruments like my Novation Summit add a bright, modern contrast that really excites me. I feel like there’s an infinity of sound still to be explored, especially with the combination of the old and the new.
How does your live rig differ from your what you use in the studio?
This is highly dependent on the gig! I always have my Sequential OB6 by my side, the tactile feel is so familiar and comfortable, and I can drive it comfortably in the dark – and while the studio is home base synth wonderland, I always make rational decisions about the live rig which serve the sometimes competing priorities of the music, the performance, and the stagecraft. For this reason I don’t have a static live rig, but it’s hard to not take a laptop to keep things on the tracks – plus we often have requirements for multiple click and cue tracks. For my latest show I’m not holding anything back and taking the large format Moog and Buchla modular, alongside a collection of other synths and modules.
Do you hoard gear, is there an emotional connection to your synths and hardware?
I may have a small problem, yes. I’m deeply emotionally connected to my instruments – they’re the conduit to my deepest form of expression and creativity, so I don’t see them as just tools but instead as a type of collaborators. I often joke that my process is often half me programming the gear, and half the gear programming me – but there’s a kernel of truth in that – and when you commune very deeply with instruments over a period of years, they exhibit a type of personality that I can consult with and be guided by, often unveiling new ideas and directions for me to explore. More than just an emotional connection, there’s a type of symbiosis – real or imagined – that has become central to my practise.
If you could create your ultimate instrument what would it be, what would it do, how would it work?
I don’t think there is an ultimate piece of gear to be designed. I think that what would constitute such a thing would inherently only be so for a short period of time, and the idea would be an illusion. The instrument can only adapt so much to the artist’s static proclivity at a moment in time. Instead, it’s the mastery of an instrument that compels me.
I wouldn’t want my howling mono-synth to also be my drum machine because that would wall my creativity into a single paradigm – instead the adventurism and risk that emerges from interacting with different instruments, and the co-related level of comfort I have with an instrument can be fuel for the creative fire in itself. Connecting disparate equipment to each other is the field of dreams, and happy accidents are again a core part of my creative propulsion. Composition and sound design are both branches of the same tree for me, and each element has strong influence over the other.
But of course, I’m always excited about the gear, and I love the direction we’re heading in in 2021 and onward – and I know that there are major quantum leaps for us musicians yet to reveal themselves as the technology develops which I’m excited to incorporate into my music in the future!
Who would be one artist/producer you haven’t worked with (alive or dead) that you’d love to work with?
Oh to have been a fly on the wall in Beethoven’s music room, or a chance collaboration with Mozart. Though I would have loved to have been a dedicated student of Carlo Gesualdo (after he was done with his murderous phase). But perhaps I’m best served only interacting with my heroes from a historical distance, so that their influence is muddled by the sands of time, and instead when I try to speak with their tongue what comes out is distinctly mine, with a tip of the hat to the road that got me here.
Ephemera world premier performance takes place Friday March 12 at the Melbourne Town Hall on the grand organ with a live drummer, Moog and Buchla modular synthesizers. (sorry sold out show!)
Ephemera record release on coloured vinyl and digital, available through Heavy Machinery Records from March 13.
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