Hookahs, caterpillars and mushrooms

The next section of music that I will be composing relates to the part in the story where Alice meets the hookah-smoking caterpillar.  I find it very difficult to be inspired musically by a caterpillar and his addictive personality, but I CAN seek ideas from what he is doing; smoking a hookah.

Hookah’s originate from Persia in the 16th century and are a single or multi-stemmed instrument used for vaporising and smoking flavoured tobacco called Shisha.

The habit spread quickly to India, Turkey, North and South America, Australia, S.E Asia, Tanzania, and South Africa, with many of the cafes in the Middle East offering them.

And so I thought as the prime source of inspiration for the moment when Alice meets this caterpillar, we should get a flavour of Middle Eastern/Persian music.

So this post concerns itself with research surrounding the instruments and the music of Persia.
Firstly, I have looked into the typical instrumentation used.

This is a vertical reed flute with 6 finger holes in the front and 1 in the back. It’s very distinctive in sound:

Published on YouTube on 14 Jul 2013
Nay Taqsim on Maqam Bayati – By: Michael Ibrahim

This is available for me to use on Sibelius.

The chief percussive instrument of the Middle East, this one-headed drum is carved from a single piece of wood and is open at the bottom.  The stretched sheepskin membrane is glued in place and cannot therefore be tuned:

Uploaded to YouTube on 10 Nov 2010
Tombak Master – Mohammad Reza Mortazavi – plays “Balal Balal” – live in the Berlin Philharmonie.

This is a plucked, fretted lute with 6 strings, 5 of which are made of steel, 1 is brass.  It has a long neck, a double-bellied sound box, stretched over which is a thin sheepskin membrane.  The tunings of the strings vary according to the ‘dastgah’/mode, and there are 26 movable frets.  Strings are plucked with a plectrum:

Uploaded to YouTube on 5 Aug 2007
Tar is An Iranian music instrument mainly used in Iranian traditional music, in this video played by an expert Jalil Shahnaz

This is another lute, but this one has 4 strings, 2 made of steel, 2 made of brass.  It is tuned to C, C-semi-sharp, G, C-semi-sharp in that order.  It is made of wood and doesn’t have sheepskin.  The strings are plucked with a fingernail instead of a plectrum:

Published on YouTube on 11 Mar 2012 by Ostad Simak Nasr

This is a struck zither in the form of a shallow, trapezoidal box.  There are several sound posts inside with 2 small rosettes on the top panel which help to amplify the sound.  It has 72 strings, arranged in groups of 4.  Each group of 4 strings are supported by small, movable bridges which are positioned so that the player can achieve a 3 octave range:

Uploaded on YouTube on 8 Oct 2011
UK hammered dulcimer player Tomos Brangwyn performs Chaharmezrab Nava by Iranian composer Faramarz Payvar (1933-2009). Performed on the Persian Santur.

This is available for me to use in Sibelius.

This is a bowed spike fiddle which has 4 metal strings and a wooden body covered in sheepskin. The bridge runs diagonally across the membrane and is the size of a viola.  It’s tone almost sounds like a flute. Tuning is dependent on the region of the country it is being played but in Tehran, it is tuned like a violin: G-D-A-E:

Published on YouTube on 2 Feb 2013

This is a 2 string lute which is pear shaped and made form two different woods: the body is carved from mulberry and the neck from apricot or walnut.  The strings are steel and tuned in 4th or 5ths:

Uploaded on YouTube on 7 Aug 2008, North of khorassan, province, Iran, dotar fests

A frame drum which is very ancient and widely used as a percussion instrument. The frame has metal ringlets attached which sound when the player shakes it up or down:

Published on YouTube on 13 Apr 2013

Given that this section of the composition will likely start the second movement (the first ending with the Caucus Race), there would be no problems in these specialist instrumentalists from joining the rest of the orchestra to play this piece. My concern, however, is the limited selection of instruments I have available to me in Sibelius.  I will seek guidance from the software’s support forum group to see if I can obtain any more.

Persian music is made up of modal scales and tunes, which traditionally have to be memorised.  Short melodic movements are called ‘gusheh’, which are classified into 7 ‘dastgah’ or modes.  Often, movements are composed in 10, 14, or 16 beats, which gives me something to consider when writing this section.

Some examples of Persian music that I have found on YouTube for reference:

Published on 13 Jul 2013
Beautiful Iranian Music from Rastak Band Sornaye Norooz Album.

Published on 21 Nov 2013
Amazing Persian Music by a group of female musicians 🙂

Published on 20 Jul 2014
Music of the Orient: Relax and Chillout Mix. Ottoman Style
Photo taken by Karim Taib
“Oud Direction” by Lilac Storm

Published on 18 Nov 2014
Traditional Music Channel
“Una pastora (Espagne, mélodie Séfarade)” by Jordi Savall, Hakan Güngör, Michaël Grébil, Dimitri Psonis, Pierre Hamon


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