The art music manifesto in three words: Visceral. Ultra-local. Aware.
Manifesto Working Paper:
“Post Esoteric (Oriental) Art Music” is a process/project I have begun in an effort to clarify my own approach to music composition. The following are some of my studies and musings on the idea.
“موسيقى الما بعد الخفية (الاستشراقية)” هي عملية ومشروع بدأته في سبيل توضيح رؤيتي في تأليفاتي الموسيقية . المقتطفات التالية تمثل خلاصة بحوثى وتصوراتي .
Based on my observations of the sort of (visual) artwork that has come make up parts of canon of contemporary Arab art, past Arab artists’ themes and ideas (By ‘artists’, I am using the generic generalization of those involved in the ‘arts’ – i.e., in line with the Western definition of art, and not necessarily ‘traditional’ forms of crafts or arts. Please forgive this arbitrary differentiation between the two.) tend to be categorized into the following:
- Cities/Villages/Landscapes: Can be with or without people. Sometimes include candid action. Sometimes reflecting the troubles plaguing a particular society while in other times are suggestive of what makes a utopia.
- Identity/Individuality: Often in the form of portraits, particularly in the earlier works. The painting of portraits is one of the more controversial issues related to the arts in traditional Islamic doctrine.
- Family relations: Often idealistic, generic for the most part (with the exception of some of the later works).
- Relationships: Male/Female relationships – Very complex depictions and presentations, despite sex often being considered a taboo issue to tackle in many societies within the Arab world.
- Suffering: Wars and massacres are often addressed. Iraqi artists are especially known for tackling such themes.
- Iconography: based on the notion of heritage (sometimes even pre-Islamic traditions). Some examples would be the use of ancient Egyptian/Babylonian/Delmonite (from Bahrain) symbolism. In the earlier times of this form of art, the use of ‘ancient’/’historic’ icons is too brash and self-serving. I was practically offended after looking over ______’s (a Bahraini artist) series on the Epic of Gilgamesh; forging work about ‘heritage’ based on seemingly very little research in an effort to only seem authentic or in touch with the artist’s identity (whatever that means).
There then come some of the younger artists. Examples are ______ and _____ who address childhood and its innate innocence, often nostalgic. Under the same theme, video and even animation now makes up a significant portion of this.
Other artists such video artist _______ look at literature/text/history and question the present through addressing the past and its narration. The intellectual stimulants are not borne from the artist and are often just “popular” texts that are well-known for whatever reason. Obscure texts aren’t usually tackled by this artist. Considering how this artist is getting a lot of global attention (with so little intellectual original input), I find this turning into something potentially dangerous for the development of contemporary art practice in the Arab world as it evokes the same sentiment I have on _____’s works I discussed under the heading of iconography in the previous section. The reasons behind my alarm caused by ______’s videos is that they are (1) partially orientalist in their method of addressing the topic of identity at best, and (2) intellectually insulting in their pedantic ways. Regardless, both methods (iconography-based art and arts literally based on popular texts) are bound to show very little longevity as art forms for their inbuilt flaws.
Identity is not solely dependent on an ethnicity or an assumed historical or political birthright. Neither is it (identity, that is) all about the self.
In Arab art, this fascination or the urgency to represent elements of ‘Arab’ identity is overdone, in my opinion. By this need to ‘show’ the artists’ Arab identity, be it through visual cues (such as symbolic man-built structures, landscapes, objects, etc.), crafts (such as calligraphy or evoking arabesque patterns) and finally literal content (e.g., the overuse of the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, the Holy Quran, political graffiti from refugee camps, or Edward Said’s writings) – all this is still required to be reconsidered and questioned. The paradigm needs to be altered.
My approach needs to be a crystallization of pure aesthetic values (During my four years in Japan, I was particularly intrigued by learning of how several Japanese art forms make use of the nature of Japanese ‘culture’ and distilling its aesthetic into their own arts. Even contemporary music such as that of Toru Takemitsu, despite its heavy influence from the works of John Cage among others, is still “extremely Japanese” in its own right.) , and not the expected aesthetic elements based on the fact that I am from the Gulf/Arab World/Islamic world (or wherever for that matter).
Essentially, it is as if I need to search for the spaces between arabesque lines that form patterns or the ornamentation used in traditional Arabic music rather than just depending on the signature oriental maqam (or modes) that make up the music.
It is a sort of (and forgive the expression) art-alchemy exercise: I need to find the purist of substances that eliminates man-made habits within art yet point out their own inherent aesthetics.
July 29, 2011
The following points are to be stressed (for musicians and sound artists):
Sound, as a medium, is certainly not monopolised within the domain of ‘music’. Music or sound (or both, assuming there is any difference between the two) are certainly among the finest of arts and deserve to be seen as such. For example, I was told by an ‘artist’ that one of my pieces of music (which explores the idea of an ambience that can afford improvisation) that my music seemed ‘incomplete’ (which is a form of critique I’ve despised since art class as a child in school). Said artist was completely ignorant of the fact that I deliberately chose to explore augmented and suspended chord structures: the absence of resolve at certain points is deliberately used in the piece; I intended it to be this way.
It is not the responsibility of a sound artist or musician or any artist for that matter to ‘justify’ the artistic worth of any of his or her works to others who do not have a background in music education.
Furthermore, and in times of collaboration between several art media, it is wrong to assume that the artist providing the ‘sound’ or ‘music’ is less than everyone else. ‘Accompanying musicians’ is a preposterous concept for any artist to even suggest. Collaborations need to be (true) collaborations.
At the present time, being a musician and/or sound artist could be something very exciting. Many paradigms are shifting surrounding the nature in which music or sound is distributed or shared or performed. It is fully acceptable for sound artists to cross into musicians’ territory (whether physically or conceptually) and vice versa. There are no qualms with musicians exploring new instruments (even if they are not virtuosos), and taking full advantage of available technology such as digital programming or relatively ‘unusual’ sources of sound.
It is the responsibility of the sound artist or musician (or any artist for that matter) to make an effort in educating him- or herself, preferably in various fields of knowledge in order to develop one’s own practice. Only through the development of an artist’s faculty in reasoning can art and its expressions be developed.
According to a famous Sufi saying, “The larger the idea, the shorter the expression for it”.
August 6, 2011
Improvisation Study 1:
Improvisation, in classical Arabic music at least, plays a very important role. There are, however, certain underlying structures that are accepted as common practice. These ‘underlying structures’ are key to deciding whether an imporivsation is successful or not. In this study, I attempt to stay away from typical maqam improvisation and focus on the structural arc of what is ‘acceptable’ and its inferred intonation.
دراسة في التقاسيم ١ :
للتقاسيم في الموسيقى العربية دور مهم . توجد هناك هياكل مخفية في هذه الارتجالات والتي هي متوقعة من العازف . هذه الهياكل المخفية هي التي تساعد المستمع المتمرس من الحكم على نجاح العازف في ارتجالاته . في هذه الدراسة ، أقوم بمحاولة الارتجال دون اللجوء تماما الى المقامات المشروطة بينما أركز على مفهوم تكوين التقسيم والترنيم المرتبط به .
Manama and Other Spices (2009 Concept EP):
“Manama and Other Spices” was my attempt at re-examining the presentation of solo oud albums in the Arab-speaking world. I essentially wanted to poke fun at how the solo oud is placed at the dead center of the album, with the producers adding a little too much ‘reverb’ on the instrument (essentially to create an artificial sense of mystique around the instrument and music). The album can also be seen as a sonic map of the old Souk in Manama, where I walk with my father and recount some memories along the way. Out of the 15 tracks of the album, only three actually have ‘oud’ being played (albeit a dry oud over street noise). Again, this is intentional. Musically, I stayed away from traditional maqam and approaches to improvisation. To download the entire album (for free), please click here.