“The Fear of Perdition” – Hafiz Shirazi

by: Hossein Hadisi

The Fear of Perdition is a representation of a few Persian music themes by applying compositional and recording techniques alien to the literature. These chosen themes share certain modal characteristics in the intervals they are made of (such as intervening augmented seconds and minor seconds) and these common factors are used to create a harmonic language, originally unknown to Persian music.

The work is an adaptation a love poem by Hafez (Persian poet, born c. 1310/1337 CE) and attempts to retain the lunatic, melancholic, dramatic state of the lover as it is expressed in the text. Although the ambience of the poem is reflected in the music, but the vocal melodies are deliberately not complying with the text and are not completely loyal to the words’ meanings, their traditional methods of expression and even declamation.

The vocal method used in this work gets its roots from the Persian tradition of Awaz in which the vocalist is the leader who improvises on a given theme which is usually known to the other players and the audience (although it is not always the case). It has been attempted to keep this tradition into account while composing the vocal lines and allow certain improvisatory freedom to the vocalist. The used techniques are mainly different types of “Tahrir”s, each of which is used to ornament vowels in different methods (ha-ha, aha-aha, mhm-mhm, etc.). Other ornamentations include glissandi, trills, very quick grace notes, irregular free rhythms and a few other traditionally defined methods of vocal embellishment. These methods are occasionally used in a non-conventional sense, on the unexpected vowels or words and have been combined with Western methods of singing in order to colour them in a way different from the traditional one.

The main melodic materials consist of three themes (“Goosheh”s) and their variations. Each of these themes is in a different mode and uses a different scale. Chahargah is used as the main mode. It is transposed onto other degrees on its own mode, creating a new tonic every time such as in Mokhalef (Contra) – Chahargah or is based on the same tonic using transposition-rotation technique.

Isfahan and Mokhalef (Contra) –Segah are also used simultaneously because of their similar intervals in the first tetrachord and their differences in tonal centres and cadential forms. These two modes resemble a harmonic minor scale (Mohammedan scale); although the similarities are only in the intervals they use and the treatments to degrees of mode are nothing alike. The primary shapes of these scales are:

*: only is Mokhalef (Contra) – Segah

**: in both Isfahan and Mokhalef (Contra) – Segah

N.B.: Notes in the parenthesis are commonly used alterations of the same pitch that occur in glissandi, upward or downward motions, as a trill or in many occasions simply replace the other pitch.

The vocal lines consist of some carefully selected, very old collections of themes and melodies (called “Goosheh”s), in each of these modes (called “Dastgah”s). Since originally these melodies overwhelmingly use step wise diatonic motion, the idea was to use some of the openings and cadential figures, where they are more likely to have leaps, in the “wrong” places. This process of cut-and-paste, however, was not done on the recorded material; but was initially composed with careful consideration of their relative shapes and relationship to the text. The whole vocal track, then, was performed in one take and was later processed through digital effects in order to emphasize the desired changes of timbre. In the middle section of the piece, the vocal track is also doubled with the use of detuner, equalizer, pitch shifter and noise reduction effects in order to create another version of the voice which is presented in the bass voice with a delay.

The main accompaniment for the vocal line is played by Tar (a long-necked, waisted Persian instrument, which is the ancestor of Sitar, Guitar, Lute, Oud and the rest of the “–tar” family). Here again, the traditional method of Tar playing in answering the vocal melodies with repetition and canonic or imitative methods have been abandoned in favour of a less monophonic, more juxtaposed progressive music.

The violin track is made of a clean acoustic recording, processed through compressor, equalizer, detuner, pitch shifter and noise reduction effects plus added reverb and chorus. 

Composed for the sake of harmony, a set of MIDI messages was written down with the help of a couple of software and the rest were played in real-time on a MIDI controller and were later processed through a synthesizer bank into a separate track to create chord-figures. These MIDI data, after being converted into sound events, are also processed through filters and equalizers and further noise reduction, reverb, delay and chorus effects to produce the final result. 

The electric / electronic guitar track uses fingered, as well as slider techniques on the fingerboard of an electric guitar, while the right hand plays a variety of picked, fingered and the Ibanez RG tremolo (“vibrato”) unit techniques. The sound is then captured through two different methods and redirected to their corresponding effects processing machines. There are five DiMarzio electric guitar pickups that send the electric line-out to a multi effects processor system, which uses a series of wah, delay, reverb, distortion, amp simulator, speaker simulator and noise reduction effects in order to produce half of the guitar sound. There are also six individual divided pickups used to convert the guitar sound into MIDI data which is passed in real-time to a synthesizer that uses a voice pad to support the electric guitar sound with a very different electronic synthesized version. Since the natures of the two sounds are very different, their combinations in different proportions make very different sounds otherwise impossible to create.

All the processed tracks were at the end bounced back into a pair of mono tracks through an internal recording process which again used compressors and equalizers to control the overall shape of the sound and normalize levels of the overall sound. These single mono tracks were then mastered into the final stereo track. The mastered version was finally converted into .WAVE using the 16 bit, 44.1 kHz (Compact Disc Digital Audio quality) settings.

Source: University of Huddersfield