Terry Riley’s In C (Maqam Rast Remodel)
As part of my ongoing research into the potential to translate the fundamentals of Arabic music into contemporary compositional practices and vice-versa, I have been developing and performing a solo, electronic, rendition of Terry Riley's seminal minimalist composition, In C, retuned and remodelled in the Arabic Maqam Rast. This is done using a custom-coded microtuning software patch I have been developing with programmers Charles Matthews and John “Jhno” Eichenseer using Max for Live. Scroll down for more information.
6 April 2018, Irtijal Festival, Beirut, Lebanon (Premier)
3 Oct 2019, ORF Musikprotokoll, Graz, Austria
Short text written for ORF Musikprotokoll festival in Graz 2019
When we consider the development of music across the world throughout the 20th century, we can think of it as an exponential curve, the knee of which is linked directly to the development of technology. Electrical recording, magnetic tape, and developments in digital technologies, changed conceptions of music creation and music listening irreversibly.
Within that curve, musical innovation can often be traced to sonic references and influences - rarely is it born from theoretical or technical developments. Practice precedes theory, but it is listening which gives birth to ideas.
When I consider Arabic music, it often feels like this curve of change and development was stifled and constricted by incessant socio-political strife. Critically, it is hard to maintain a distance from ideas influenced by unconscious remnants of colonial power structures, but even when alert to such distortions, it still feels like there are links missing in the chain.
Additionally, computer-based music making tools have developed with an anglo-european-centric perspective, hampering any progressive drive within non-western music making that can be fuelled by technological development. In turn, this deprived non-western music makers of sonic references that help create a localised chain of influence.
Throughout my research and practice, I have come to understand that one of the fundamentals of musical identity across the world - aside from language and rhythm - is tuning (microtonality, intonation etc…). In my efforts to hatch out a creative path in this direction, whilst also employing computer-based tools, I designed a software patch in Max MSP to run in Ableton Live called Comma.
Comma was programmed in stages by Charles Matthews and John “Jhno” Eichenseer and is designed to allow the usage and manipulation of modal/scale-based microtonal tunings in real-time. When I had the first working prototype, the first thing I did - other than play freakout microtonal taqasīm on software modelled Minimoog and SH-101 synthesisers - was to create a digital rendition of Terry Riley’s classic ‘In C”, using Comma to remodel it in maqām rāst.
In C is based on the scale of C Major. The Arab-Ottoman maqām rāst has a close structure to the major scale, though instead of using the interval of a major third, it uses what is known as a neutral third, a microtonal interval that can be tuned to anything between -30 and -60 cents from an equal tempered third. It is a characteristic interval of music from North Africa and the Middle East.
Rather than try to re-invent the wheel, I decided to experiment by re-interpreting Riley’s composition, to create a sonic reference for a possibility of what maqām-based music could be. The result feels like an indication towards something of great potential, a sum of many parts.
In the words of Morton Feldman; “now that things are so simple, there's so much to do”.
© 2022 Khyam Allami