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Rivers of Sound by Amir El Saffar is a new work for a 17-musician ensemble featuring traditional instruments from across North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, including the oud (lute), qanun (plucked zither), santur (hammered-dulcimer), nay (reed flute), as well as Western instruments, such as saxophone, trumpet, drum set, bass, retuned piano, vibraphone, guitar, and vocalists from corresponding traditions. Rivers of Sound consists of composed melodies, forms, and rhythmic formulas but is performed in an improvisational fashion, fostering variations on the musical material and spontaneous interaction between musicians. The large ensemble's combination of instruments, each with distinct timbral properties, allows for the emergence of new sonic textures and nuanced interaction between musicians, completely unique to each performance. Individual sounds disappear into the larger sound of the whole ensemble, forming a collective, "human" voice.
In the framework of a large ensemble of improvising musicians, this opens new channels for spontaneous communication, based entirely on the music and sound, rather than the rules or idiosyncrasies of a given genre. Melodies are not confined to the single-tonic system of the Middle East, nor are they bound by equal temperament. By freeing the pitches from fixed positions, traditional constructs/constraints/functions are allowed to fall away. As pitches become fluid so do cultural boundaries, de-emphasizing elements that traditionally divide musicians from different backgrounds such as ethnically-specific modes or scales.
Audiences will experience a 75-minute performance that is highly dynamic and varied, with dense, ecstatic climaxes contrasted by meditative solo passages, tightly interlocking rhythms followed by unmetered melismatic lines, previously unheard harmonies and rich sonorities created by the unique combination of instruments, and a wide range of musical styles and philosophies interacting with one another. In some cases, the sounds blend together in consonant accord, and at other times they form tension and dissonance.
This will be the Philadelphia Premiere of Rivers of Sound.
Rivers of Sounds is generously supported by PECO.