Music in the Mediterranean is enriched with two main influences when it comes to organizing the sounds and their frequencies. On one hand, sounds can be organized in equal intervals, taking inspiration from the tempered music system which is rooted in the concept of harmony (typically found in Northern and Western parts of the Mediterranean), and on the other hand, music is sometimes based on modal systems, using the heritage of Maqams which organize sounds in non-equal intervals by using micro-intervals (typically found in Southern and Eastern parts of the Mediterranean). When it comes to composing collectively in an intercultural ensemble, we are often faced with the challenge of combining together these different ways of organizing sounds.
In this video recorded at the Festival d’Aix in France, Fabrizio Cassol is joined by the composer, trumpeter, santur player, and vocalist Amir ElSaffar, an American artist with Iraqi roots. Amir ElSaffar suggests exploring his idea of “harmonizing Maqams” which reflects his desire to find new creative processes to bring together modal and tempered expressions in a harmonic practice. He shares his experiences and approaches about finding ways to connect these two different musical heritages while preserving their authenticity, by embarking on a path that leads to the creation of a new common music language.

Fabrizio Cassol and Amir ElSaffar invite you to :
Explore these two systems in depth, while placing a special focus on Maqams in order to understand their historical meaning and to feel the emotions they can evoke.
Renew your listening standards, by considering and testing out new possibilities when tuning your instruments, taking various ways of organizing intervals into consideration.
Expand your own musical vocabulary by learning about these different systems, and about building melodies and musical phrases.
Question these systems collectively, the tempered one and the modal one, to move beyond the notions of styles and traditions in the creative process.

Fabrizio Cassol: Musical temperament is an evaluation of the quality of intervals between sounds. It is at the centre of musical creation today, especially in the Mediterranean region. Between the modality of Maqams and their subtle micro interval changes (commonly known as a quarter tone) from one region to another and the even temperament of western music with its theoretical division of the octave in 12 equal parts, several different methods have developed over time. Whether through juxtaposition or superimposition, the coming together of these styles often results in friction because of the very nature of the instruments used.

The oud and the piano are two well-known examples of instruments that symbolise this desire to come together but who must overcome their very nature to do so. The even temperament of J-S Bach’s piano pieces allowed for the emergence of a vast musical heritage anchored in musical scores as well as in improvisation. His creations gave us the necessary tools to modulate harmonies by transposition. The development of the counterpoint and the discovery of previously unheard of polyphonies also multiplied expressive possibilities. Uneven temperament, on the other hand, contains a variety of modes ranging from the countless melodic details in Arabic music from the Balkans or the Maghreb region, all the way to India, regions of Africa or of China. Since ancestral times, these styles are the carriers of memories that continue to produce new melodies, colours, and feelings. These creations carry stories that are constantly being renewed and transcended.

Reflecting on how to bring together these different temperaments is an important issue in the world of music in the 21st century. Uneven temperament is faced with the challenge of harmonisation just as temperate harmony is faced with the challenge of microtonality. The harmonisation of maqams offers a dynamic experience between the composer,  trumpet and santur player Amir ElSaffar, and Medinea musicians.

Through this module, we can follow the process of instant collective composition from its early stages right up to its official unveiling in concert. All along the journey, we will see aspects of the process of harmonising Maqams thanks to the unique experience of Amir ElSaffar. Far from being concerned with dogmatic theory, this module allows us to share the fruits of this unique experience.

Video subtitles available in Arabic, English, French to activate in parameters.