• Alireza Farhang

Modelling a gesture: Tak-Sīm for string quartet and live electronics

Keywords: Cultural values, Technology, Radif, Modelling, Gesture, New Technology, Expressivity, String quartet

Alireza Farhang

IRCAM The OM Composer's Book 3

Paris: Editions Delatour, 2016

This chapter offers a general outline of the processes of gesture modelling which were devised for, and applied to, Persian music in the composition of Tak-Sīm , written for The Kronos String Quartet. After a brief elucidation of the background to the work’s composition, the various strategies that allowed me to integrate elements from Persian musical culture will be presented, in an attempt to illustrate how conflicts between two ontologically opposed musical cultures become a source of enrichment. Using analyses of recordings by master setār player Ahmad Ebādi, I created models of ornamentations, melodic fluctuations, timbral evolutions, extended techniques, and other parameters of performance.

One cannot avoid the acquisitions of the past, except by regressing to a truly primitive state. [...] Far from adding constraints, these acquisitions, or in other words, our very culture, our mental functioning forms part of our musical material, just as much as known or imagined sounds, and can be integrated with every degree of freedom into a new musical discourse. Tristan Murail [7]


As a composer myself, this statement from Tristan Murail is significant to me. The sound universe of a composer is not born out of a vacuum; rather, it is a reverberation of the sounds with which that composer has lived. For a composer educated in both theWestern and Persian classical traditions, the process of composition takes on new proportions. The composer must deal with problems related to an ontological gap between these two, distant musical cultures. When it comes to rich and ancient cultures, the composer is torn between two different ways of thinking that are sometimes radically opposed, and that prevent him from seeking an original and personal language. On the one hand he/she weaves emotional ties with his or her culture of origin, which places him/her in the golden cage of eternal and timeless wonders, taking away all freedoms; on the other, the composer lives in a modern world where discourse is based on a questioning of the past.

As a composer who is familiar with the rationality of the music of Beethoven, Debussy and Ferneyhough, the heavenly serenity and spirituality of Persian music, as well as the noise of war and chaos of modern life, my career path reflects a perpetual challenge: how to address the gap between the content of a pre-Galilean conscience, and the form of a post Hegelian discourse.[1]  In this line of research, notions of expression and gesture begin to play an increasingly important role in my musical discourse, and have facilitated an informed reflection upon material which is endowed with strong cultural connotations. The modelling process is essential; the concept of gesture helps in dealing with problematic related to the analysis, representation, decomposition, and finally the composition of elements from the Persian musical culture that resist analysis with conventional methods.

Tak-Sīm[2] for string quartet and electronics was composed with pencil, paper, eraser, and of course computer. Most operations were performed in the OpenMusic environment. Using various tools of representation, the potential of Persian music to generate compositional material are presented. Problems I faced in rendering musical material malleable by negating its cultural connotations, and the morphology of the gesture as a model for composition and synthesis, are among the other subjects that are discussed in this chapter.

The Rudiments of Expressivity in Persian Music

In order betterto understand the æsthetic basis of the process of composition of Tak-Sīm, I will present here a brief introduction of Persian music.

The art of melody

Persian music is monodic , i.e. it does not contain superimposed lines. In contrast, polyphony , which emerged during the Middle Ages, set Western music on a contrasting historical trajectory. This distinction became all the more pronounced when the Western tendency for rationalism was applied to polyphonic composition. Rhythm and melody, within this context, lose their perceptual value and their original base functions. Rather, they co-exist in architected structures conceived by the composer; their salience ranges from explicit to subordinate to mere allusion. The need for such acoustic depth is absent from Persian music, which favours abstract and geometric melodic figures. Closely- related to its counterparts mythology and poetry, it is characterised by an excess of ornamentation, rich and subtle fluctuations on a grid of micro-intervals, and regular or complex rhythms. The absence of polyphony, which is the basis for its richness, might be compared to the absence of perspective in Persian miniatures. The latter, which are no less connected to mythology and poetry, are a complex art form built upon pure and simple geometry and traditionally painted in bright colours.

The radif

Persian music places great importance upon improvisation, but only according to a strict set of rules. The radif [3] is a “systematic, sequential organisation of all melodies, motifs and variations”[2]. This collection of types of melodies, organised according to a special logic, is the basis of musical material that is memorised and transmitted orally from master to student; its use implies a structured representation of pre-melodies which are freely connected by improvised ornamentations. The standard radif is the declension of 12 sequences of which 5 are called āvāaz (songs) and 7 are called gastgāh (which literally means position of the hand).[4] The abstract, succinct nature of these melodies gives considerable freedom to the musician, allowing him or her to improvise with ornaments that are characteristic of Persian music. In this way the performer may add his or her own personal touches to a performance whilst still respecting the tradition of the radif.

Modes and micro-intervals

Many theoretical texts have been written describing the modal systems of Persian music. The problems associated with the elucidation of a theoretical framework have led scientists, musicians, and musicologists to propose different approaches. Owing to the folkloric manner in which the tradition is transmitted, each master typically intuitively formulates his or her own system based upon the characteristics of the instruments being used, and his or her personal experience.

The Daryush Talāī model

The model proposed by Daryush Talāī 5 may be seen as a synthesis of the aforementioned theoretical paradigms. Talāī crystallised, in a simple, succinct manner, the general modal systems which are used in the radif. The value of Talāī’s model lies in the fact that the modes in Persian music are determined through the superimposition of only four dāng (tetrachord, see Figure 1): shour, dashtī , tchargāh and māhour [9].

Figure 1. Intervals of the radif modes (dāng) in midicents.

Intervals and their relationships to one another constitute the basis for musicological/ theoretical research. In general, they are performed, checked, and analysed on string instruments, in particular the oud (lute). The strings on the oud are tuned in perfect fourths; thus in Persian music the fourth is the key interval which the performer may play without changing hand-position. The octave, the fifth, and the fourth correspond to the fixed frets on the instrument.

Two superimposed dāng are known as a māyeh[6] and create a certain modal colour . According to Talāī , a dastgāh or āavāz may contain several māyeh. The performer must be able to navigate between various māyeh in an appropriately idiomatic manner.

Circular Representation

Circular representation, originating from astronomy, is one means of visually analysing modal/tonal systems and their relationships to each other. In Iran and Greece, this type of representation, used for star-charts and music alike, has existed for many centuries (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Instances of circular representation used in ancient musicological treaties: internal divisions of intervals of a fourth (dāng), fifth, or octave, which Abd al-Qāder Gheybī al-Marāghī explains in his 15th century book Maqāsed al-alhān [1].

In OpenMusic the class n-cercle (circular representation) and the c2chord function (to convert the circular representation to a chord ), make it possible to create models of combinations of modal and tonal transposable systems; furthermore, they allow the user to analyse non-octavian scales which originate from the superimposition of two ore more modes. In order to facilitate the representation of intervals, an approximation to 1/8th tones was used. The superimposition of two dāng of shour and tchargāh is a means of constructing the māyeh of homāyun . Once the pitch approximation has been applied, intervals are organised by 1/8th -tone as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Intervals of the radif modes (dāng) in midicents and1/8th tone intervals.

Figure 4 shows an OpenMusic patch containing a circular representation of the māyeh of homāyun . In this example, the space between each point on the circle corresponds to 1/8th of a tone (the octave is therefore divided by 48). We may observe that the range of the māyeh of homāyun is limited to a minor seventh (in this case from D to C). Thus, in order to complete the circle (or octave ), a tone is added at the end of the māyeh. The patch superimposes the intervals of two dāng (in this case, shour and tchargāh ) specifying an interval (also in 1/8th tones) between them. It outputs the scale-degrees of the māyeh in the form of a chord.

Figure 4. Representation of the structure of the hom¯ayun using the class n-cercle.

Each combination of the four modes yields a different acoustical result. On occasion, the modes overlap to produce new modes with a greater range. In these cases, it is possible to round out micro-intervallic deviations in order to avoid discrepancies. The phenomenon of overlapping modes can give rise to flexible-interval modes which necessitate the use of accidentals. In Figure 5 we see the intervallic structure of āshour-āvand , a sub-division of the radif which results from superimposing the māhour and shour modes. In this example, the starting point of the māhour mode is C, and that of the shour mode is D, a difference of 200 cents. The result of superimposing these two modes is a new, third mode which spans C to G, in which E is inflected both an 1/8th -tone lower and a 1/4th -tone lower (Eb a 1/4th -tone higher).

Figure 5. The intervallic structure of ¯ashour-¯avand.

The patch shown in Figure 6 helps to understand the intervallic structure of the modes. Also it allows one to make new combinations of modes by superimposing two dāng while specifying respective starting points separately. The sub patch scale_maker-2 receives the intervals, the starting-point, a reference-pitch, the degree of approximation (25 midicents, or 1/8th tone, in this case) and the range of the scale (for instances to visualise it over several octaves). The combination of modes is calculated and subsequently displayed using a circular representation (n-cercle —visible here at the bottom of the patch).

Figure 6. OpenMusic patch to combine two d¯ang, specifying the starting point for each.

Timbre, or the spirituality of sound

For a performer of Iranian music, sound quality is not a secondary consideration; rather, it is at the very core of his or her notion of musical expressivity. Timbre allows the performer, through the use of abstract figures, to transcend the physical reality of sound itself; in this process the gestural ordering and evolution of these figures is essential. Therefore the performer is expected to be acutely conscious of the sonority of his or her instrument, and to choose from the available sonorities with virtuosity in the performance of a given melody. The French ethnomusicologist and musician Jean During makes reference to Henry Moore in order to elucidate this link: “Musical material presents a striking analogy with the characteristics of the other-worldly spissitudo-spiritualis [...], just as intangible, but nonetheless consisting of dimensions (high, low) and spacing (rhythm), musical sound is not judged in terms of frequencies, but rather, in terms of purity ”[4].

During also compares the connection between sound quality and gesture to architecture. Ornaments, arabesques, perforations in the wall which allow light to enter, and the use of colour (Persian blue, sky-blue) are material manifestations of the sacred. In music, “instruments produce ethereal sounds which shimmer like haloes around the fundamental”[4]. The timbre of the instrument, and the way in which it is controlled by the musician, is inherently connected to metaphysical thought.

In contrast to European instruments, whose timbres tend toward simpler spectra, Iranian instruments favour richer sounds.[7] To give one such example: air-sounds are an important component of the characteristic sound of the ney (wind instrument). This instrument, in spite of its simple, almost primitive construction, possesses a rich and varied palette: each register of has its own distinct colour.

“It is not the whistling of air in the ney, but the warm, solemn, human breath that brings the reed to life”[4]. In so saying, During implies that the competent musician must have absolute control over timbre, and be able to nuance it by varying the way in which he or she breathes into the instrument. Thus, the characteristics of the performance depend in no small part upon the ability of the musician to control timbre, both in a technical and musical sense.

In the following section, I will discuss the modeling operations used in the composition of Tak-Sīm. The work’s harmonic evolution is based upon spectral transformations of segmented samples of a performance on the setār. Each segmented sample constitutes a “gestural unit”; the totality of these units forms the basis of the compositional material of the work.


In Iran, the close relationship between poetry and music is considered self-evident. Music from the Persian radif tradition, which is learned through oral transmission, is from the first moment of its dissemination associated with poetry. It contains “melodies which originate from ancient sung-poems, often of sequences which commemorate the ta’zieh;[8] their quality is melancholic, even poignant, and their rhythm is free. In addition, instrumental demonstrations that highlight the technique have become an element of the radif in its own right”[3]. Instrumental music is based upon song; in order to learn the radif by heart, instrumentalists sing the poems which are associated with a given melody. Melodic/rhythmic figures, dynamics, pauses, the tahrir (a word describing the particular vibrations in the throat), etc. are all closely associated with poetry, which is itself considered to be a “perfect musical form”.

As for the notion of time in Persian culture, Jacques Le Goff suggests that Western culture, and by extension the Western musical-tradition has, since the middle-ages, become subordinate to the time of the marketplace, “measured, or in other words, clearly directed and predictable, [...] both eternally re-beginning and perpetually unpredictable from any natural perspective”[6]. For the Iranian musician, time is perceived in a fundamentally different manner: it is not chronometric and meters are not based on regular strong and weak beats.


Two anecdotes

Having heard the Arditti Quartet perform my second string quartet, Echo-Chaos (2007), David Harrington, the Kronos Quartet’s first violinist, professed to have detected sonorities that originated from a distant musical culture. Although Echo-Chaos belonged to of my own personal sonic-universe, of the identity of raw sound material and its role in works of music.

One year later, following a research trip to New York, a serendipitous event which reinforced my reflections upon musical identity convinced me to compose a work for Kronos, which emphasised the synthesis of my reflections upon my own musical identity. During a composition seminar at Columbia University in 2009, a young Turkish composer suggested that we listen to an instrumental work of Turkish classical music. Having played the work in question, he asked those present to identify the instrument that was featured. The general consensus was that it must be some traditional Turkish instrument. Some justified this hypothesis on grounds of the instrument’s timbre and intonation, but no one had realised that it was, in fact, a cello. Thus, I discovered the extent to which playing technique, intonation, intervallic content, articulation, ways of sustaining a note, etc. characterise an instrument, its sonic image, and its identity.

Key points of the work

The string quartet is a relatively young instrumental formation but one which has nonetheless been much used by the leading figures of the classical tradition. Composed of four instruments but often seen as a single instrument, the string quartet, owing to its sonic colour and its propensity for virtuosity, is a rather particular entity. The potential for micro tonality coupled with the morphological proximity of Western string instruments to the Persian setār was a key in my decision to compose this work.

In simple terms, in Tak-Sīm I sought to recreate the expressive aspects of Persian classical music within the context of contemporary Western music. In order to achieve this without only imitating musical gestures from the Persian tradition, it was necessary to reflect at great length upon the cultural contexts associated with this sonic reservoir, and thereupon construct a new edifice whose dimensions and characteristics would fit my proposed work’s requirements. Once the work was complete it would be necessary for it to transcend the cultural context in which it was conceived, and to express its aesthetic identity in an independent, autonomous way.

In the book Le regard mutilé, Daryush Shayegan, Iranian writer and philosopher, says that in Persian culture “anything that taps into the individual, i.e. ‘me’, gives way to a collective whole, where the qualities of places and times remain extremely mobile”[8]. In contrast, modern Western culture is based on the cogito of Descartes, which places the subject in the centre of knowledge acquisition. In the Middle Ages the musical culture of the West was already beginning to submit to this worldview. Music, whatever it is, is the product of the human mind. If the the existence of “I” is certain because he thinks, the mind is the centre of the perception of the universe and our place in it. Unlike Persian music, this idea is reflected in Western music where aesthetics is based upon sensorial factors.

However, the musical universe of Tak-Sīm, is intimately associated with Iranian music. In order to render the raw, initial compositional material more neutral in nature, it was necessary to remove its overtly cultural connotations. It was therefore desirable to deconstruct this material. To this end, one must possess a sound understanding of the musical and aesthetic structure of Persian music.

Music for the Set¯ar

The set¯ar is a plucked-string instrument which is played with the fingernail of the righthand index-finger. The back and-forth motion of this finger causes the strings to vibrate. Direct contact between the player’s fingernail and the instrument allows a high-level of control over timbre and intensity. Up-strokes (r¯ast) and down-strokes (tchap) create

subtly different sounds. The r¯ız, or tremolo, created by a rapid to-and-fro motion of

the finger upon one or several strings does not imply a mere repetition of a given pitch;

on the contrary, the speed of this motion, its intensity and the timbre it yields are all

controlled by the performer. Techniques such as sul ponticello, ordinario and sul tasto

may also be used for further timbral variation. Changes in pitch are the result of small

glissandi, which may be achieved by varying the tension of the string in use through

vertical movement of the fingers of the left-hand, or by sliding the hand horizontally

along the length of the string, as with a vibrato, or finally by varying the pressure of the

right hand upon the bridge, thus increasing or decreasing the tension of the string.

The use of a pedal-tone, played with a drone string, is another characteristic of the

set¯ar. The drone is typically particularly rich in timbre. Ahmad Eb¯adi9 developed

a technique which consists of playing on a single string whilst avoiding the dronestring.

Thus, melody and ornament are more developed in his playing style. In this

way, the technique known as tak-s¯ım, or “mono-chord” has become the most important

characteristic of the Eb¯adi playing-style; it was for this reason that I chose this as the

title of my work.10

Samples and their semantic content

Persian music is a tradition in which each gesture, each melody reveals ideas which go

back many centuries. These ideas persist in the Iranian collective-consciousness; this

phenomenon is divided, sacred, and timeless, and must be respected if the music is to

remain authentic (even if, as an oral-tradition, it is subject to the imperfections of human

memory upon which it depends to survive). The question was, therefore, how does one

go about decontextualizing something which is so deeply engrained in the collective

consciousness of a musical tradition? Thus it was essential, as far as possible, to make all

melodic figures abstract in nature, and in doing so to lead the listener beyond a semantic

realm; the more abstract the material, the less apparent the culturally-connoted origins.

The composition of Tak-S¯ım was undertaken using a recording of the radif, performed

by Ahmad Eb¯adi. Samples were first segmented into simple musical phrases by ear.

Each phrase, or neume, may be considered as a large gesture, or a combination of

micro-gestures. After transcription of the samples (Figure 7), further dissection into

smaller fragments was necessary in order to isolate individual, single, “pure” gestures

(see Figure 8); this was the basis for the creation of a catalogue of gestures used as a

“reservoir” from which the work’s key material is derived.

Figure 7. Transcription of melodic fragments from set¯ar recordings. Although rhythm is not accurately represented, gestures are illustrated meticulously by note heads and graphical symbols.

Figure 9 shows a neume, a transcription of a fragment from a melody in mode of

seg¯ah ,11 which is used in the modelling process of Section III of Tak-S¯ım . This fragment

was selected, analysed by ear, and transcribed onto paper. I will describe the processes

applied to this neume, from the moment of its selection to its ultimate representation

by the quartet. As the reader may see, the complexity of this music that is expressed

though timbre, microtones, fluctuation of pitch and dynamics, strokes of the fingernails,

tapping etc. gives rise to particular readings of the fragment. The upward-stemmed notes represent the primary notes played with the fingernail. The lower voice represents

ornaments that the performer plays by changing pressure in the right hand on the bridge

and/or vertical movement of the left hand finger.

Figure 8. Typology of gestures represented by graphical symbols.

In order to create the work’s harmonic texture, it was necessary that these gestures/

samples respond to various forms of analysis, particularly melodic transcription and

analyses of spectral-content. Furthermore, it was necessary to select the most interesting

and useful neumes and disregard the rest.

Figure 9. A neume can be seen as a gesture or a combination of microgestures. This fragment is an excerpt from the first volume of the CD Set¯ar solo par Ahmad Eb¯adi, in the mode of seg¯ah.

Melodic and spectral analyses

In order to observe the behaviour of the energy envelope of a neume we must analyse it

from different points of view. Of course the boundary between timbre variations, pitches

and dynamics are often not well defined; in this sense timbre and melody are interrelated

and variation of one parameter often alters the perception of another.

In the transcription in Figure 9, the pitch range of the neume is limited to a tritone

diminished by a quarter-tone, and it contains micro-glissandi or pitch-bends. The neume

has been transposed using the software AudioSculpt in order to suit the harmonic

structure of the quartet determined beforehand. In Figure 10 we see the dynamic

evolution (amplitude of the waveform) of the neume.

Figure 10. Dynamic profile of the neume seg¯ah.

As mentioned previously, it is important to consider that melody and timbre are

interdependent. Thus the neume was then subject to two analyses, one melodic and one

spectral. Using AudioSculpt , I first analysed the segment’s fundamental frequency.

With harmonic sounds, our perception of melody depends largely upon evolution of the

fundamental frequency, whether real or virtual12 . The output of this analysis is imported

(as a text file) into OpenMusic where it is subjected to treatments and transformations,

then turned into an editable envelope (Figure 12).

Figure 11. The extract’s melodic contour is rendered visually using a BPF. Subtle variations in pitch may therefore be tracked here.

In order to extract spectral information from the sound, it was necessary to determine

the precise moments which were—from a spectral point of view—of most interest.

Once again using AudioSculpt , in this case the chord-sequence analysis and transient

detection functions, I generated a series of markers that identified moments of spectral

contrast. This process requires considerable fine-tuning (in terms of setting the variables

appropriately for the sample in question) in order to avoid an analysis containing digital


In Figure 13 we see the sonogram or spectral-content and intensity of the aforementioned

neume. A series of “chords” corresponding to the number of transient markers

was then generated by AudioSculpt and the results of this analysis (describing the

frequencies of partials present within each marker interval, as well as onsets between

them) were exported as an SDIF file. Using OpenMusic , this file was then interpreted

and plotted onto a musical staff (see the chord-seq in Figure 14), thus allowing me freely

to manipulate the analysis before any further treatments.

Figure 12. Sonogram of the neume (above) and its intensity (below).

Figure 13. The spectral content of the neume represented as a series of chords.

Harmonic texture

Harmonic texture in Tak-S¯ım is also derived

from chord-sequence analyses. Both the

instrumental and electronic content of the

piece were based upon a harmonic grid created

from a sequence of chords obtained using this

method. As the degree of inharmonicity of

the set¯ar is considerable, the chords obtained

were accordingly inharmonic (in a psychoacoustic

sense). Nonetheless, the inharmonicity

alone was not enough to yield a harmonic

progression.13 To this end, it was necessary

to “enrich” the spectral-content of the chords

using a simple algorithm which added a series

of notes to those already present in the

analyses (see Figure 15). In order to facilitate

the composition of the instrumental material,

the aforementioned chords were arpeggiated

and printed. Figure 16 illustrates the chords

in their original form, and Figure 17 represents

them after application of the process of harmonic

enrichment; the latter was ultimately

used for the Section V of the work.

Figure 14. In this patch a simple algorithm adds a series of notes to those already present in the analyses.

Figure 15. A harmonic grid created from sequences of original chords.

Figure 16. A harmonic grid with an increased rate of inharmonicity.

Beyond manipulating the degree of harmonicity of the chords obtained in the process

just described, other procedures were used to obtain the harmonic texture of the piece:

inversion, change of range or density, interpolation between two or more chords, and

transposition. Figure 18 shows a patch used to invert a chord while applying an algorithm

that increases the spacing between the components (while keeping adjacent pitches less

than or equal to one octave apart). Through this process, although the new chord is

wider, the texture remains close to that of the original chord but increases its range. The

pivot note represents the centre of inversion (here F), and all other components of the

chord are inverted around it. Note that in the inverted chord, the intensity of each note

is identical to that of the corresponding original note.

Figure 17. Inversion of a chord around a pivot note.

Harmonic interpolation is another process employed in the piece as a means to

gradually transform harmonic textures. In Figure 19 we see a starting and ending chord

and an interpolation process taking pitches from a “grid” derived from the harmonic

texture of the piece. In the work interpolation often occurs in the form of a long tremolo ,

and the whole process of interpolation can be considered to be a single tremolo gesture

(see mm. 12-18 of the score in Figures 20 and 21).

Figure 18. Patch for harmonic interpolation.

Figure 19. Harmonic interpolation (1): Tak-S¯ım mm. 12-14.

Figure 20. Harmonic interpolation (2): Tak-S¯ım mm. 15-18.

Sound Synthesis

Except for some real-time processes, almost all of the electronic sounds used in Tak-S¯ım

are made with additive synthesis. In order to build a dialog between the electronic sound

and the expressive instrumental sound of the string quartet, all the materials generated

by computer must be sculpted carefully. Although sinusoidal waves, as the most basic

component of sound, offer a large palette of possibilities for creating new colours, the

lack of the human musical expression in synthesised sounds is a major concern for many

composers. In Tak-S¯ım, modeling an expressive gesture generated by a human performer

is an efficient method to make the electronic sound more expressive.

Figure 22 shows the patch designed to control the electronic synthesis in Tak-S¯ım.

This patch incorporates of five types of control: a harmonic grid (1 and 2), tremolo-like

gestures (3), and melodic gestures (4 and 5). It integrates most of the processes for material

generation and transformation described in the previous sections, and constitutes

the first level of synthesis control (generation of pitches, amplitudes, and onsets of the

oscillators of the additive synthesizer).

Figure 21. Control-patch for sound synthesis.

In Figure 22 an inverted chord derived from the analysis of the neume seg¯ah provides

material for the synthesis process. Sections 1 and 2 of the patch are similar; however, they

generate two different types of sound. The parameters in the corresponding synthesis

processes are set in order to produce a sound with more vibrato and beating for the first,

and a dry and steady sound for the second. The global dynamic envelope of the sounds

is drawn in a BPF (labeled “wave shape”).

Along with melodic gestures, tremolo , vibrato , and beating are the gestures that

are most often used in the quartet. Section 3 generates a tremolo -like gesture via an

algorithm. A global pitch (freq ), dynamic (amp ) and tempo can be controlled using three

BPFs . The patch tremolo produces a series of repeated chords, which may be plotted

visually with a chord-seq (see Figure 23). The precise content of this data may then be

manipulated by hand where deemed necessary by the composer.

Figure 22. Tremolo-like gesture generated by an algorithm implemented in section 3 of the patch for synthesis control.

The melodic contour of the neume seg¯ah , imported from AudioSculpt , is edited

and modeled in the section 4 of the patch. It is “coloured” with a group of pitches

derived from the aforementioned harmonic grid. The proximity of timbres between this

group of pitches—represented here as a chord—and the harmonic grid, as well as the

morphologic similarity between instrumental gestures and modeled gestures—all derived

from the neume seg¯ah , make the emergence of the electronic part sound natural.

Finally, section 5 of the patch generates vibrati that are used to extend the neume.

Figure 24 represents different methods for generating these vibrati in OpenMusic . Duration

and frequency deviations are among the parameters which allow one to design a

whole new gesture from the data extracted from the previous analyses. Depending upon

the context, beating and vibrato may be considered gestures in and of themselves.

Figure 23. Implementation of vibrato effects in OpenMusic.

All of the control data are then transferred to a synthesis patch that generates five

sounds (see Figures 25 and 26). For each of the five sounds it is possible to define a

global shape using BPF objects (see Figure 26). For instance, a sound can start quickly

and fade out slowly, which is suitable where a short attack with a long release is necessary.

When a sound has a long attack it is more suitable for a harmonic nap or grid. At the

top of the figure, the sub-patch titled sounds defines the actual timbre of the sound by

controlling the components of the sound synthesis process (see Figure 27). In fact this

patch instantiates OMChroma library synthesis classes: the choice of a particular class

determines the contents of the Csound instrument that will be used for synthesis.

Figure 24. Sound synthesis (1): this patch takes the data from the first-level control patch (Figure 22) and outputs five different sounds (see Figure 26).

Figure 25. Sound synthesis (2): the sub-patch om-composers_synthesis, shown in Figure 25. In this patch the global shape of the sound is editable.

Figure 26. High-level control of synthesis using the OMChroma library.


As a composer who is cognisant of the centuries-old tradition in which he is situated,

I feel that the act of composing is one of projecting, onto paper, personal and unique

musical thought. A composer’s originality comes from the fact that he or she may be

affected by the sensorial and spiritual stimulus of an external event. On one hand,

as Hegel maintains, “a work of art is superior to anything which exists in nature” [5];

conversely, Persian musical thought dictates that the highest form of art is nature itself,

and all works of art are merely incomplete imitations of nature. In the West, composition

is purely an intellectual pursuit. What makes it, in Hegel’s view, superior to nature is

the spiritual content the composer instils within his or her musical world in order that

the work might demonstrate originality. Such a notion is incompatible with the process

by which a musician playing in an Eastern tradition sets out to create music. For the

traditional Iranian musician, a supreme work of music exists only beyond the capacities

for human perception. It belongs to an eternal and immutable centre which is indifferent to conditions in the material world. The role of the performer is therefore that of

intermediary, albeit one who is by necessity equipped with ability and knowledge, between

the metaphysical and the real worlds. It is therefore necessary to draw a distinction

between composer (in the Western sense) and musician (in the Eastern sense); the latter

is understood to be a composer, improviser, and performer. The Western composer is

charged with the appropriation of his or her own musical universe, in order that he or

she may derive some new melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic figuration from it.

The technical challenge of confrontation, between an ancient non-European musical

tradition and an opposite domain of thought—i.e. musical composition, makes Tak-S¯ım

a key point in my artistic path. Paradoxically the process of composition of the piece

would not have been possible without new technologies.


[1] Abd al-Q¯ader Mohamadtaghi Binesh b. Ghayb¯ı Mar¯aghi. Maq¯ased al-alh¯an. Bong¯ahe

tardjomeh va nashr-e ket¯ab, 1978.

[2] Joël Bastenaire. Panorama des musiques savants et populaires d’iran. Écouter Voir,

130, 2002.


Modelling a gesture: Tak-S¯ım for string quartet and live electronics

[3] Nelly Caron and Daryush Safvat. Iran. Les tradition musicales. Buchet/Chastel,


[4] Jean During. The ‘Imaginal’ Dimension and Art of Iran. The world of music, 19(3-4),


[5] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Aesthetics – Lectures on Fine Arts. 1831.

[6] Jacques Le Goff. Au Moyen Age : temps de l’Eglise et temps du marchand. Annales

– Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations, 15(3), 1960.

[7] Tristan Murail. Questions de cible. In Pierre Michel, editor, Modèles et artifices.

Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 2004.

[8] Daryush Shayegan. Le regard mutilé. Albin Michel, 1989.

[9] Daryush Tal¯a¯ı. A new approach to the theory of Persian art music. Mahour Cultural

Foundation, 1993. Translated from Persian Negareshi no be teori-e mousighi-e ir¯ani.

Acknowledgements: I thank Paul Clift for his translation of this text. Without his generous help this

chapter could not have been published.

51 views1 comment