Lost, maybe found in transcription
Violinist and composer, on communicating the strength and omnipresence of poetry in Arab culture through musical transliteration and esthetical experimentation.
(Debut UK-European tour of the project “Inner Rhyme” with Sarafand Ensemble, June 2017)
The trigger for “Inner Rhyme” came during the rehearsals of the premiere of Ramal by a composer I greatly admire, Kareem Roustom. We performed this piece back in 2015 in Buenos Aire’s Teatro Colon, the BBC Proms, Luzern Festival and Salzburg Festspiele. Kareem, himself inspired by Mikhail Allawirdi, had been working on ‘Arud, rhythmic structures of Classical Arabic poetry, as starting points for building his own structures and rhythmical cycles in his compositions. I was fascinated by the rhythmic and melodic capacity contained in Ramal, the meter chosen by Kareem out of the 12 classical meters ; and how the composition unveiled and unfolded out of the exploration of the meter.
These ideas around poetry, meter and rhythm lingered with me long after the tour was over.
They turned into new thoughts and questions when I found myself revisiting postmodern and modern Arab poetry works. In the writings of Badr Shakir el Sayyab, Nazek al Malaika, Taha Muhammad Ali, Al Maghout, Talal Haidar among others. True vanguardism in the structures of these poets broke every single rule of prosody and metric set by Farahidi, revealing incredible audacity and liberation. Epic testimonials on life, death, war and love as much in form as in content. As I could now compare and contrast, some verses sounded to me like irregular time signatures, polyrhythms, displaced accents, anticipated caesuras… I wondered how I could convey that musically. Beyond expression, I also wondered how to solve the gap of language, and how to abstract words into sound without losing their essence. It was not only about the beauty of the text, but also about the essence of its physical contour, the percussive potential of the words, their stressed syllables. The cadence of a phrase, the rhythmicity of a verse, some of various aspects that shape the phonetic particularity of Arabic language.
I found an unfailing source of material. My raw objects became colloquial idioms, alterated verse meters, lexical fields (or what my beloved literature professor, Emile Kaba, used to call inner rhyme and balance), alliterations, syncopas, and the delicate, subtle nuances of rhetorical figures.
I came to be completely obsessed by this idea…. A singular force of expression, a complete abstraction to the extent of bringing back a word to a mere sound, one that could maybe allow the expansion of a listener’s empathy beyond the ambiguity of human language.
 Allawirdi, Mikhael ; author of Falsafat al-Musīqa al-Sharqiya (“The philosophy of Eastern music”). Damascus: Maṭba‘at Zeydoun, 1949.