Friday, Oct. 13 | 7:30 p.m. | Carlson Theatre
The BC guitar faculty, Naeim Rahmani, along with the Seattle-Isfahan Project (SIP) Ensemble will perform works by Iranian and UW School of Music faculty composers. The pieces in this program were commissioned as part of the Seattle-Isfahan Project: 33. The project and the commissioned pieces address the water crisis that is happening now in Iran, particularly the drought that is affecting the Zayandeh-Roud, the river that gave birth to the city of Isfahan. The project title “33” refers to the 33 arches that make up the most famous bridge, Sio-Se-Pol, across the river. This project is intended to both pay homage to the river and to raise people’s awareness about the drought and its impact.
Farzia Fallah: Thirty-Three Drops of Water
Yiğit Kolat: The Oasis of Now
Joël-François Durand: In a weightless quiet
Jeff Bowen: Weir
Huck Hodge: The Simple and Unvarying Geometry of Breaths
Thirty-Three Drops of Water (2020)
In this piece I work with individual sounds, some of them very dry, some of them microtonal and
some very fragile. I shape them to drops of sounds. Each and every sound is celebrated, as
each drop means a piece of life. Water is life.
The Oasis of Now (2020)
This piece can be considered in two distinct ways:
- A meditation on the following lines from Sohrab Sepehri’s poem ” The Oasis of Now”:
“If you are coming to me
approach gently, softly, lest you crack
the fragile china of my solitude.”
- A meditation on this “situation”:
“The musicians have departed to build new lives, leaving their instruments behind. The doctors
have done the same, as have the teachers, engineers, artists… After drying up all the life-giving
flows in this land, what remains to us are the distant echoes of their streams.”
In a weightless quiet, for solo violin (2020)
In a weightless quiet belongs to a group of works that I started to write in 2019, in which I
explore the formal and structural potentials of an acoustic phenomenon known to all musicians
when they tune their instruments: the beats that occur when two tones of very close frequencies
are played at the same time. The first work in this group is for viola and ensemble (Geister,
schwebende Geister, for viola and ensemble 2019-20); the second is this violin piece and the
third to date is my second string quartet Canto de amigo written in 2020. In each of these works,
the beats are generated by playing one of the open strings of the instruments at the same time
as a similar pitch with a microtonal deviation, on another string.
What I find fascinating in this use of controlled beat patterns is that they actually permit to
directly experience what is usually considered a physical/mathematical concept. In sensory
experience (auditory perception), we cannot be aware of the mathematical ratio between the
frequencies of two notes played at the same time; it’s an abstract concept (we don’t hear a 3:2
ratio when we hear a fifth; we hear a fifth). But when the pitches are very close, the
phenomenon of “first-order beat” becomes an actual experience. How this works is fairly simple
to explain: if for example, the two frequencies are 3 Hz apart—say, 443 Hz and 440 Hz—we
hear two things: first, the two original frequencies become one single tone (mathematically, it’s
the median value of the two); additionally, we hear a pulsation of three beats animating this
single tone. The “median value” in this case is 441.5 Hz; and the pulsation that accompanies
it—the difference between the two original frequencies—is three beats per second which, when
we hear them, is the audible manifestation of an arithmetic equation, in this case, the
subtraction 443 – 440 = 3!
The form of In a weightless quiet is based on a series of sections that explore the tonal regions
of the three open strings of the violin A, D and E, and their extensions through microtones that
generate 3, 5, 7 and 11 beats per second. After an introduction centered on A, the sections that
follow tend to begin with the low D and ascend from to A and E in several successive waves.
The focus on these three tonal regions and their interactions with each other give each section a
particular color and character. The phenomenon of beats itself can be presented in gestures
that are sometimes too fast for the pulsations to be clearly audible (as in the very beginning for
example). At other times, longer held notes make them clearer and the beatings are then clearly
perceived as regular rhythmic subdivisions of the basic pulse. So, when they are not clearly
heard, one cannot be sure whether it’s because the pitches are “out of tune” or whether they
express something else. When the line slows down, the beats are revealed without ambiguity. In
between these two extremes, there is a whole vocabulary of gestures that can evoke these
subdivisions in different ways: repeated notes, slow or rapid alternance between two strings,
tremolos etc. I find it fascinating how these beats have a sort of extra-worldly character,
appearing seemingly out of nowhere since they are not directly produced by the performer, who
is playing two pitches but not the rhythmic beating itself.
“There are rumors that the Bridge of 33 Arches will collapse if it stays dry much longer. They
used a material that must not dry out.”
-Resident of Isfahan, in conversation with Thomas Erdbrink
Whether or not the collapse of this iconic bridge is imminent, this image—of a structure whose
integrity is dependent on the river that courses through its arches—resonated strongly for me,
as it points to the inescapable dependence of human activity and ingenuity on the presence and
movement of essential natural sources. This piece begins with (and is built upon) processed
sounds periodically emanating from the piano, which are treated as such a source, and consist
of recordings of the Tolt and Cedar rivers colored by fragments extracted from Naeim Rahmani’s
recitation of Sohrab Sepheri’s poem, The Fishes’ Message.
The harmonics played inside the piano introduce pitches quite close to specific frequencies of
this sound source, creating acoustic beating patterns that provide the rhythmic basis of the
sections that follow. The rest of the piece explores the possibility of building and extending
musical structures from this interaction with a source outside the ensemble, as well as how this
musical activity adapts in the source’s absence.
The Simple and Unvarying Geometry of Breaths (2020)
The composer’s notes are simply the words to a passage from Sohrab Sepheri’s poem “Water’s
Life is a lovely ritual.
Life has wings as vast as death,
It is a leap the size of love.
Life is not something to be forgotten on the windowsill of habit,
Life is the rapture of a hand that reaps.
Life is the first black fig in the acrid mouth of summer.
Life is the dimensions of a tree from the eyes of an insect.
Life is the experience that a bat has in the dark.
Life is the homesickness that a migrating bird feels.
Life is the whistle of a train that turns through the dream of a bridge.
Life is observing a garden from the obstructed windows of an airplane.
It is the news of the launch of a rocket into space,
Touching the loneliness of the Moon,
The notion of smelling a flower on another planet.
Life is the washing of a plate.
Life is the square root of a mirror.
Life is a blossom to the power of eternity.
Life is the Earth multiplied by our heartbeats.
Life is the simple and unvarying geometry of breaths.
Adapted from Sohrab Sepehri, & Karim Emami (trans.).
(1982). Water’s Footsteps: A Poem. Iranian Studies, 15(1/4), 97-116.
*The Fishes’ Message
I’d gone to the fountain in the garden
maybe to see my loneliness look back at me,
but the basin was empty.
The fish inside said,
Don’t blame the trees—
it was a hot summer afternoon.
Water’s bright child lounged here
when the sun-eagle swooped down
and seized him, carrying him off into the sky.
Our scales lost all their brilliance compared with that fiery carnation reflected
on the surface. Wind blew across the water and crenelated its petals and in those folds we lost
all our knowledge of air’s wily ways.
But that flower was our periscope—
between its ridges and folds, we caught a glimpse
of the garden of Paradise!
Listen, should you see God wandering the paths of the garden
will you make sure to tell Him the fountain has no water…
So the wind goes visiting the sycamore
and I go looking for God
Marcin Pączkowski – Conductor
Naeim Rahmani – Guitars
Neil Welch – Saxophone
Kelsey Mines -Bass
Luke Fitzpatrick – Violin/Viola
Laure Struber – Piano
Jeff Bowen – Guitars
This concert is made possible through the support of the City of Bellevue’s Arts Program.
Last Updated December 28, 2023