Felt Hammer Improvisations 1
Liner Notes: Felt Hammer Improvisations, Vol. 1 Music by Paul Astin (piano) and Peyman Hedarian (santur) Today I flew in from Greece to London. As we taxied to a standstill the musics on the inflight stereo were well-known songs by the famous Rebetiko composer Vassilis Tsitsanis. Delightfully attractive music, enough to lift the heart after a tiring journey. But problematic. It was played on a piano. The piano plays on tempered scales. On a piano you cannot play the microtonal intervals that originally sat at the heart of Tsitsanis' music. Myself, I play the diminutive Greek baglama, and my instrument (with tempered-scale frets) has exactly the same problem. This tension between the microtonal intervals of Anatolian music and the do-re-mi of the Western scales is the salt and pepper of Rebetiko. It happens that Peyman Heydarian and Paul Astin are good friends of mine. We share a fascination with modal music, and it is the research and practice of Greek Rebetiko that originally brought us together. So when I arrived home in the early hours with a head full of microtonal questions (I was reading al-Farabi and Safi al-Din al-Urmawi and their reworkings of the Pythagorean scale en route) it was a shock both delirious and delicious to find the 18 files of this improvisatory adventure sitting in my in-box. Not Rebetiko, not Anatolian, not Western, rather something new. Recorded in Los Angeles. Two musicians - an American and an Iranian. That in itself symbolic in our troubled times. But doubly symbolic in the meeting of their two musical cultures. Actually, no, it is more than that. The musical cultures of these two men extend through time and across spaces to a diversity of inspiration. My idea of heaven includes two special corners - Astin pumping out the angular rhythms of black bebop when he played Thelonious Monk tunes on a grand piano that I procured for him when we met in Greece... and Heydarian when we sit in a corner of a London venue on a dark November evening and rattle through the pulsing rhythms of Irish reels and jigs on both fiddle and santur. There is a sympathetic rapport between the musicians, both dynamically and rhythmically. Heydarian plays the 9-bridge (salari) and 11-bridge (baziar) santur, tuned closely to the Western keys of F and D respectively, while Astin plays a Yamaha C7 acoustic grand piano. Many of the tracks stay within the parameters of the santurs' tunings, though a few move beyond these confines, resulting in a mix of tonal and atonal improvisations. Astin, having a jazz background, uses bass tones such as the fa, creating a harmonic framework with a raised 11th (the Lydian scale). Heydarian is not generally put out by such explorations, which differ sharply from traditional Persian or maqam (modal) music. In addition to performing, Heydarian develops computer algorithms to identify musical modes in recorded music. Not surprisingly, many of his melodic ideas blend phrases from Persian, Kurdish, Greek, and Celtic songs. To preserve the integrity of this session, the pieces are presented in the order in which they were recorded. No tracks have been deleted and there were no second takes. This is the complete session. Towards the end of the recording, Astin reaches inside the piano, using his hands to strum, dampen, and strike the strings, while Heydarian uses the tail of his hammer and also plays sequences in the untuned fourth region of the Santur. In addition, Heydarian introduces novel tunings on his instrument. This collaboration is a daring step. The music made by our two musicians is not pre-notated. It is improvised. It is dangerous. It is a conversation between musical languages in which commonalities and differences are explored - sometimes tentatively, sometimes boldly - and a discourse is produced in which you and I can share. While the musicians possess a deep understanding of their unique genres, together they create something quite unlike what one usually hears from the santur or piano. Pythagoras and Euclid theorised their scales on the single string of a monochord. The ratios that they established were conceived as a harmony of the spheres, the elements, the humours and all things divine and mundane. The simple monochord then took a notion to elaborate itself. One string became two, and then four, and eventually multiplied to the point that gave us the santur in the East and the piano in the West. An astonishing world of art music was created through hitting these strings with small felt hammers. And that is the world that is explored in this collection of tunes. Ed Emery Institute of Rebetology London, England.