20 June, 2014
Only Sound Remains is a five movement piece drawing on Iranian and Western music styles and written as part of Stay Close, a 10-month project exploring contemporary music as a means of exchange between Iran and the UK. Scroll to the bottom of the page for a sample score pdf download.
Only Sounds Remains
i. I am a Mountain Plant
ii. The Coldness of the Rough Rocks
iii. My Birthplace is the Mountain
iv. I am but the Fury of Heartache
v. Do not make me Weep
Duration: c. 30 minutes
The audience at V&A for the first performance of Only Sound Remains
The Stay Close ensemble conducted by Gregory Rose
Only Sound Remains is inspired by the works of two contemporary Iranian female poets. It takes its title from the 1966 poem It is Only Sound that Remains by Forough Farrokhzad (1935-1967). The lyrical content of the second movement is also derived from the following section of Farrokhzad’s poem:
Sound, sound, only sound,
the sound of the limpid wish of water to flow,
the sound of the falling of starlight
on the layer of earth’s femininity,
the sound of the binding of meaning’s sperm
and the expansion of the shared mind of love.
Sound, sound, sound, only sound remains.
Moreover, the title of each of the five movements of Only Sound Remains is taken from the 1967 poem Wild Mountain Plant by Jaleh Esfahani (1921-2007).
I am a wild mountain plant,
not a tulip in a vase.
Do not take me to senseless festivities.
I am used to the coldness of the rough rocks.
Do not take me home.
My birthplace is the mountain.
Once I grew under a rock.
Once I will be buried under a rock.
My rough nature is the nest of grief.
I am separated from compatriots and home.
My heart does not shed happiness.
There is no jubilation in me.
Do not expect me to be fresh, scented and colourful.
I am but the fury of heartache.
I am a wild mountain plant waiting for spring.
Stroking me with affection makes me weep.
Do not make me weep.
Only Sound Remains combines elements of both Iranian and Western classical music in order to explore new musical territory for both traditions. The tonal basis of the piece is derived from two Iranian dastgah – often described as modes but functioning more as melody types – called Homayoun and Segah. These melody types require all musicians to play fluctuating microtones, referred to as koron, which are unused in Western musics. Similarly, the piece uses as source material two gousheh – established melodic fragments within a particular dastgah that are used as the basis for extemporization. A dance-like melody called Reng-e Farah features in the 5th movement, initially as a tar solo, while Jamedaran provides the source material for the fast moving tutti passage in the same section.
The piece also makes use of structural conventions, techniques and textures more common to Western classical music styles. Only Sound Remains is a work in five movements, freely combining notated, semi-notated and improvised sections. It makes use of a wide variety of instrumental timbres, thus expanding beyond the notion of melody and decoration which is the focus of Iranian music, and employs a range of ensemble textures, disrupting the established solo and accompaniment form in much traditional Iranian work.
Beyond the technical aspects of the piece, Only Sound Remains is a very personal reflection on both my experiences over the past 10 months of Stay Close and my own British-Iranian heritage. I have been deeply inspired by my work with musicians in Iran and members of the Farsi-speaking community in the UK. Through these two research phases I have discovered a form of Iranian creativity in both Iran and the UK that freely combines Iranian and Western musical ideas as well as taking traditional forms and updating them in the context of a contemporary work.
On a personal level, Stay Close was born as part of a wider process of rebuilding my relationship with Iran through which the composing process stands as a tool for asking and answering questions about my Iranian identity. This practice-as-self-exploration process has been enlightening and will no doubt extend far beyond the culmination of this project.