From DJing and promoting shows and parties in Jordan, where he was raised, to relocating to Montreal in 2009 on a whim to study sound engineering, Ohm Hourani seems to run on a high-voltage current of both science and emotion; spontaneity and careful planning. Known for his "jazzy, minimalistic" electronic music DJing, productions and live sets (such as his closing performance at MUTEK 2016, with Dominique Fils-Aimé, at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal), his first full-length album comes out February 2019 on his label Anoma Records. Created with the support of the Canada Council of the Arts and in collaboration with Phi, Jazz of the Machine was recorded and mixed at the Phi Centre, and juxtaposes the freedom of improvised live jazz instrument performances with unpredictable bass line sequences generated by modular synthesizers. Watermelons also make an appearance, both on the album and on Ohm’s T-shirt on this grey Montreal day, sipping espresso in the city he has made his home, with lots in his heart to share.

What was the process of recording Jazz of the Machine?
I’m an engineer so there’s always a technical aspect. I make music with a calculator; I crunch numbers sometimes to know how to tune stuff, I trust my ears now, but when you play a chord, there are numbers behind it, frequencies and algorithms, there’s a science behind it.

I have an obsession with drum machines, I love them. First, I would program the rhythm part of the song. Then I took my modular synthesizer. [Which is] something like, if you want to play guitar you buy a guitar, but some people would find a tree, carve the wood, make the strings… so instead of having a guitar you can have a guitar with five frets, or only two strings, because you just can. I was able to put all these components together and have basslines generated randomly. It stays on scale and it’s musically correct, but it can generate a sequence that would not repeat itself for three days! And using only five notes, but it’s the timing, the order, that is different. So I would record the drum performance by that machine, an unpredictable performance that was on key, but you don’t know what was coming.

How did the jazz part fit in?
I have a great admiration for jazz, jazz has a lot of influence on my music. The musicians would come in and listen, then they would record. Even in the longer songs, there was no looping process, so nothing was repeated, it was a full performance. And I recorded the first take, the innocence of the first take is always the best. The first take is a very common jazz technique. Miles Davis did that, a lot of my favourite jazz records are first take, just a jam in the studio.

Who are some of your other musical favourites?
Ricardo Villalobos, Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Pink Floyd, Jim Morrison, Nina Simone, can really make me cry. And, Dominique Fils-Aimé, the lovely lady I’m recording with, a close friend for eight years.

You mentioned every song has a story behind it, can you please share a few examples?
I have an obsession with watermelon, watermelon is probably one of my favourite things in life. In Arabic, watermelon is batikh. When I was an infant I would call it "bahé" because I couldn’t pronounce it well, and one of the songs is called Bahé. Another one is called Abusamir, which is my grandpa, who I’m named after. He passed away this year so I made a dedication for him. Another is called Happy Mutek, which is a greeting. When the festival is happening I greet everybody with happy Mutek, like happy Christmas.

Seems like the album really comes from your heart.
For the longest time, I was making music but I was not happy with my music… I was like, "I’m doing this and not even having fun, why?" Then I discovered vinyl. I hadn’t seen a record until I moved to Montreal. I decided to go to a record shop, asked a friend to lend me his turntable, I can’t tell you I’m a vinyl purist but I still have the joy; it‘s a lot of joy! After that, I started making music for me, music that makes me cry, music that makes me happy. And from that moment on, my music started reaching people.

Ohm Hourani will perform at the Phi Centre February 21, 2019, accompanied by musicians who participated in the recording process.

Photos: Bruno Destombes

À propos du Centre Phi
Le Centre Phi, c’est des salles qui se transforment au gré des activités: lancement, conférence, colloque, projection, exposition, concert, spectacle, installation interactive. C’est des studios de création et de production, avec la technologie la plus sophistiquée, mise au service des besoins artistiques. C’est un centre multifonctionnel où l’art peut s’exprimer dans tous ses états. Et c’est surtout un lieu d’échanges, d’apprentissage, de découverte, de lancement, de tournage, d’enregistrement, etc.

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