It can probably happen only in Iran that a cashier will answer you with a poetry verse when you shop at the grocery store. Most probably, the Iranian customer will answer back with another verse. This bond of life and poetry in Iran, a fascinating filling itself space of connections, astonishes me until now.
Preoccupied with reading much Persian poetry during the summer period of 2020 - a balm for the soul during the hard times of the pandemic - I came up with the idea to use certain Persian poems recited in their original language and transform them into electroacoustic music work. It seemed natural to do so and quite intriguing to try to work with text in electroacoustic composition and find interesting ways to morph it into the fixed stereo sonic landscape.
Transformations with sound. Prelude
Stagṓn. Retunings and vibrations
Isorropía. In search of balance
Ruba’i. Transformations of Persian poetry
Passaggio III. Harmonics and harmonies
Hypertexture. The fight with tinnitus
Transformations with sound. Conclusion
Khayyam's Rubaiyat in Transformation
Rubaʿi is a quatrain, a type of short poem consisting of four lines, especially popular in classical Persian poetry of the historical medieval period, usually of a reflective-philosophical nature. Presumably, the most famous Rubaiyat author is Omar Khayyam, Persian mathematician, astronomer, philosopher, and poet (1048 – 1131). His writings reached extreme popularity thanks to the English translations by Edward Fitzgerald, gathered in "Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám" and published in 1859. Khayyam's Rubaiyat contain a few dosages of ultra-far yet cohesive views: pessimism and nihilism mixed with epicureanism or even agnosticism and fatalism blended together in a highly sophisticated manner. The meanings interweave each other, like "a suspension of time in the form of immediate moments of presence, where on one side there is the essence of being and on the other side there is nothingness and illusion". There could not be a more inspiring and adequate, for the times we live in, a combination of philosophical postulates hidden between the poems' lines, so naturally, I have decided to use Khayyam's writings as a timbrally and spiritually present material in my composition. Luckily, several years ago, while pursuing research on Khayyam's astronomical advancements and their possible artistic reflections through his quatrains, I have recorded a series of voices reciting his Rubaiyat in original. After a careful selection of gathered material, I have realized that I possess enough prerecorded sound material to work on my composition.
I have chosen to use four different voices (two female and two male), reciting Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam, and transform the original material into a certain musical odyssey of sounds. I worked on eleven quatrains that made the biggest impression: 7, 8, 10, 17, 19, 48, 111, 134, 149, 151, and 163, chosen from the numeric classification of the anthologies made by Sadegh Hedayat and Mohammad Ali Foroughi. However, the most inspiring and severely used in sonic material are these four poem recitations:
Thoughts on Abstraction in Arts
The need to think and imagine through art is, in my opinion, one of the most crucial elements of mind stimulation. Abstractive thinking that the interaction with art so generously provides, gives the ability to search for hidden marks, meanings, and depth of human nature. We particularly need it when the human mind urges its owner to get occupied with a mind crossword, a set of stimuli, and triggers that could activate the inner imagination and lead to active thinking. Art and interaction with it, especially with music, awakens my ears and mind to search for abstraction and receive it as it is (still an abstraction!) or attribute it with a certain shape that possesses additional meaning. My need for abstract thinking and abstractly perceiving art comes from the attitude towards active thinking and constant sound analysis. Maybe that is caused by the years of musical training I had since my childhood, or maybe my mind honestly finds pleasure in decyphering such sound crosswords and does not want to let them go.
With sadness, during the last decades of music development, I notice the overwhelming attitude towards simplifying art. The preference among the majority of listeners worldwide seems to be that they do not want to interact with high forms of art, do not find the need to live with it, and distill its endless treasures of knowledge. François Sarhan connects this attitude with the inevitable development of the world we live in, which results in a tendency towards simplification of things and international accessibility of the final product, no matter the message it brings with it:
"Music fades away, poetry fades away, art cinema fades away. They disappear because the evolution of the world has no place for these art forms. Music requires concentration, abstract thinking, which is very demanding. Rather, the world is evolving towards a different tendency - it makes everything accessible."
Even more drastically, he continues:
"The hermetic or abstractness of music is a matter of context and education. Music is considered hermetic and incomprehensible due to its inbreeding. People find it difficult for ten minutes to concentrate solely on Enno Poppe's music, but I think it will be just as difficult for them to listen to Beethoven's music in ten years. We have a similar correlation between the poetry of Shakespeare and, say, Allen Ginsberg. It is not the material of poetry that is difficult, but the poetry itself. Lots of surrounding stimuli make it impossible to concentrate on music or poetry itself."
How can we rescue the art from losing its depth and loosing the people that interact with art? Is it too late to do that, or do we still have a chance to change the matter of things? I believe that there are still many, who want to understand music, poetry, painting, and other art disciplines, who desire to discover the hidden messages of artworks, plotted inside them by their creators. In terms of music, I always strongly invite others to inquire about listening more, listening more accurately, and not be afraid to accept and challenge ourselves in the sounds we are not familiar with or not aware of musically. After all, an open ear and mind are the key to the world of music. Ruba'i still possesses the musical secrets to discover, and its sound can be a mind treasure map in the world of poetry plotted to music. It is up to you how you perceive and decipher this abstraction...
Although the four poetry declamations differ drastically in the performance style, I heard them create a coherent similarity to the AABA rhyme-scheme of the ruba'i's most popular rhythmic construction. Considering that most of the recitations were quite harsh and fast-spoken, and only one reciter was able to maintain a highly melodic fluctuation of voice, I have found a perfect representative material for arranging the contrasting hemistich in the poem/composition's formal shape. The other ones, harsh, explosive, barking-like timbral qualities, could perfectly serve for the remaining hemistich imaging. However, I did not intend to strictly interpret the metric line of each line, although this idea has crossed my mind, and I have even attempted to prepare the metric divisions in the DAW "score" of my composition. I quickly backed up from this concept, noticing that the amount of work to arrange the metric structure of a highly nonmetrical electroacoustic music material was disproportionate towards the sonic result it could provide.
Four Voices. Four Beings. The whole.
Each hemistich representation in my musical form lasts circa two minutes, which gives plenty of time for timbral explorations and experimenting in shading particular words. Another fascinating matter to consider is that each musical fragment of my Ruba'i is somehow constructed of the whole autonomous Khayyam's recitation of chosen rubaiyat. The poems are then independently imprinted into the newly reconstructed formal structure of another ruba'i formation, built up upon their ancestors' bones and tissues - the poet's original writings. This musical palimpsest of poetry hidden within the sound creates a discussion on the belonging and presence of one type of art within the other. Is the poetry dependent on the sonic material? Is the music dependent on the poetry line? In my opinion, none. However, they become the whole symbiotic organism, one feeding on the other and the other contributing to the other. The same phenomenon happens with using four different voices in the creation of one ruba'i. The sonic components become entangled into one, arise from each other finally, create a whole of understanding, no matter what the text is bringing semantically, no matter if the used voice comes from female or male declaimer - the unity of sources produces one independent world. Words and sounds are inseparable in a higher instance semantic and musical meaning. This makes the music composition of Ruba'i to resemble abstraction. Various voice particles travel freely inside the acoustic space and modify the timbral shapes with every new clash of words and melodies. Again, if we looked at a woman's video speaking and unexpectedly heard the male voice (and vice versa), certain consternation would arise, followed by the curiosity to find out the rewritten meaning attached to the picture. The singularity of this action draws exact conclusions; however, it can be treated in the category of abstraction, as the connection between sound and picture reshapes the meaning. Noticing two bodies overlaying each other that speak female and male voices spices up the abstraction. The recreation of meaning and semantic signals differs again. We could go on and on with mixing sources and replace their components, and each time the message would lead towards the abstract notion.
- a confident female voice, very sharp in the pronunciation and underlining of voiced and plosive consonants, kept in the rather monotonous pitch line organization. It contains a lot of breath in reciting the verses of the poems and brings up the feeling of "gossiping", the quality of sharing the hidden and well-kept secret far from the knowledge of trespassers;
- a mantric-like male voice, very confident, again kept in rather the same intonation levels. The male reciter speaks slower, with a tiny bit of pause between each hemistich, but keeps the strong and persistent tone in reciting the poetry lines;
- a dreamy-like, highly melodic female voice of intense low timbre. It recites the poetry majestically, performing huge oscillations in the intonation line, from high up surprised-like question marks, towards the calming and soothing low and warm statements;
- finally, a bit harsh, but still highly melodic male voice, reciting the poetry in a fast and quite bored manner, keeping at the same time a confident and engaging atmosphere of speech line.
Although the meaning of the texts is very close to my heart, I do not approach the material of Khayyam's poetry strictly semantically; I want to treat it purely sonically and create a specific color narrative, a sort of experimental phrasing by manipulating the arrangement of the particles of the musical material, in a sense dreamed-up, imaginary and rewritten poetry verses.
The very form of the piece also refers to the quatrain, with the usually contrasting third hemistich of rubaiyat, which in this composition is a kind of dreamlike suspension of the musical action.
I decided to treat the composition's overall structure in the form of a quatrain - divided into four hemistichs, creating the piece's whole construction resembling the shape of this poetry itself. Keeping in mind that the most popular rhyme-scheme for ruba'i is AABA, less often AAAA, I tried to represent the most known shape for ruba'i's construction through my compositional arrangement. I have used four different timbral voice tonalities in order to carry out the electronic transformation of sound elements, underline the change of hemistich in musical structure, and commence a further discourse in the possible functioning of timbre in music mirroring of poetry. Composition Ruba'i uses the fragments of Persian poetry as sound material for purely timbral treatment and metaphorical dialogue within music and poetry. It contains four souls and moods trapped in one music structure:
Persian Poetry. A Balm for the Soul
Since childhood, I have always found solace in poetry. Imaginary worlds of words and thoughts of abstruse nature dragged me and provided stimuli in creating music. I treat each poem as a gate to the poet's ideal vision, a possibility to find yourself outside of the here-and-now we live in and dive into the alternative reality of mind through the clash with words. Surprisingly or maybe not, electroacoustic music seems to me to be extremely close to poetry. It provides endless possibilities for transforming sound, like the vowels and consonants of languages of the world can create endless connections in building new syllables and words. While working on electroacoustic composition, there are no real limitations on the instruments' technical possibilities to consider or no actual limit on the number of voices to create. However, other challenges appear of a rather technical nature. Creating electroacoustic work requires certain technical skills and acquaintance with computer programs, studio sound techniques, mixing, and mastering knowledge. The only limitation for the composer's freely wandering imagination lies in the ability to learn fast, develop technical skills with engagement, and be eager to update your knowledge in creating electroacoustic music with the speedy technological progress and scientific advances of the XXI century. The same discourse applies to the skilled poet. To swiftly play with words and hide important clues in between the verses, one needs to investigate the nature of meanings, absorb the intricacies of words and their timbral shapes, and always listen and write, with no time for rest.
My admiration for Persian poetry started during my undergraduate studies at the Department of Iranian Studies of Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland, in 2014. I had a chance to study Persian literature in original and immerse the secrets of its quite often complicated sense. In addition, the time spent living in Tehran even more deepened my understanding of the powerful role of poetry in Iran's everyday life. It is visible that Iranians breathe and think through poetry, speak it, absorb it, tell it to each other on the first possible occasion, and think differently from people who have not connected this much to the literature. Their philosophical compass is shaped through the wisdom of five poets that Iranians consider as the ideal representatives for their code of thinking: Ferdowsi, Omar Khayyam, Mowlana Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, Saadi, and finally Hafez. A specific relation of Iranians towards the poetic legacy of their nation is probably best described by Dariush Shayegan:
"For Iranians, these poets do not belong to a foregone era; they are ever-present. They each reflect an aspect of the Persian soul, and together they cover the entirety of Persian life and cosmology, creating a mysterious connection between individual Iranians and the realms of being created by each poet."
Ruba'i's opening part contains many highly contrasting consonant sounds, many hissing, sharp entering sound clusters, or quite unpleasantly for the human ear extracted timbral clashes. Like most of this composition construction, the material barely possesses non-vocal sound components. Elementary but effective sound tools transform all of the prerecorded materials: stretching, shrinking, delay, reverb, rate changes, and pitch shifting procedures. The only highlighted word of this fragment - repeated several times construction "Ku-Ku-Ku-Ku", meaning in Persian "Where", might be interpreted as a reference to the word's sense. Still, its highly melodic fluctuation also has a significant role in compositional construction.
The second hemistich possesses a lot of timbral micro-polyphonic settings crowding into the acoustic space. The harsh voice becomes a heavy, darkened cloud of monotonously repeated polyphonic structures, some slightly augmented, some diminished in time development. The only highlighted word structure in this part - "Yek Chand" - meaning "A Bit" in Persian, reappears several times in the piece's sonic construction, with changing speed rates, but still containing the original melodic line coming from the declamation of the poetry.
The third, contrasting part of Ruba'i structure, uses the harmonized material of a female speaker, put under the heavy reverberation. It sounds like the celestial beings, voices of another universe, performing a calming ritual over the listener. The only highlighted word of this section - "Aram", which means "Peaceful" in Persian, contrasted with delicate analog counterpoint, drop-like arranged, gentle and warm sounds is a certain silence before the storm.
Finally, the harshly selected vowels, consonants, and their modifications through different recording speed rates interrupt the atmosphere of calmness. Here, no words are given significance; rather, the fragments, syllables, or exceptionally timbrally interesting sound clusters are drawn from the original recording by male voice. The composition's character returns towards sections one and two of Ruba'i, concluding the poem's overall structure within the form.