The release of her début LP Homes in 2018 established Stockholm-based Swedish Iranian musician Shida Shahabi as a modern classical pianist. Recorded with an “old school craftsmanship” approach in mind, the stripped-down opus was an exercise in acoustic experimentation and microphone placement around the warm sound of a vintage upright piano. Her follow-up EP Shifts in November 2019 already signalled a move away from melody as well the broadening of her sound with the addition of a cello. The following two years saw the pianist venture into the realm of ambient and drone music by scoring two short films – namely Lake on Fire in 2020 and Alvaret in 2021. The process involved a compositional shift towards organ and analogue synthesiser.

Equally informed by her studies of fine arts, all the musical ideas developed hitherto slowly matured over the following months into the writing and composition of her sophomore LP Living Circle released via FatCat Records’ 130701 imprint on 23 June 2023 last.

Shida Shahabi - Living Circle (2023)
Shida Shahabi – Living Circle (2023)

Featuring seven extended, slow moving and immersive pieces, Living Circle marks a radical departure for the composer. The quasi-orchestral opus witnesses the return of cellist Linnea Olsson as well as the inclusion of Gus Loxbo on double bass. Hampus Norén, who also co-produced the record, contributes to three tracks on the Moog synthesiser and additional field recordings.

Both “Kinsei” and “Deep Violet of Gold” intertwine slowly moving cello lines with textured layers of decaying drones. The piano is only heard for the first time on the third and haunting title track which also features a choral element with the voices of Julia Ringdahl, Nina Kinert, Sara Parkman alongside Shida Shahabi’s.

The continuous cello glissandi in conversation with the female voices lend the piece an undeniable dystopian feel, all the more so when the choir reaches a high-pitch siren-like cry. Are these fictional sirens from the classical western mythology or the piercing sound of an alarm anticipating an emergency? The sharp and decaying synthesiser motifs against broken-down static and noise on “Tecum” cast a similar ominous aura, somewhat framing the music as the unlikely soundtrack to the current global climate breakdown.

With its loitering piano chords pitched against strings, the sub-bass droning cello lines and the choral element, Shida Shahabi’s music occupies a similar space as artists like A Winged Victory for the Sullen, Hildur Guðnadóttir or Jóhann Jóhannsson respectively. Common to all these musicians is producer is Francesco Donadello who also mixed and mastered Living Circle.

Some of these pieces started to take form three years ago and the process since then has been slow and at times more undefined compared to previous works. I didn’t want to push or force things early on in the process, and I was hoping that this would give more space for what happens spontaneously; the things that appear naturally when recording in a creative course.

Back in 2019, drone metal band Sun O))) deliberately turned the “doom” concept of the genre on its head by naming their current opus Life Metal. To a similar extent, for all the eerie sense of foreboding permeating the record, Living Circle ultimately stems from a patient and uplifting creative process.