Part 1 – Dissonance – Neil van der Linden 

The red thread in my music meanderings is harmony, chord progress, modulation, tension, solution, new tension, dialectics. When I was approached to draw out of my research some further threads of meaning or categorisation, I re-engaged with the fact that Middle Eastern music is conceived as linear and not in chords, except paradoxically ISIS’ Nasheed songs, the ‘religious’ chants you hear when ISIS sends out one of their propaganda videos, where Western harmonies and chord progressions are used. The leading principle for my choice of music is often the tonal cliff hangers, the dissonance of two notes clashing, which when not resolved immediately, creates a tension, which in the end seems to be resolved, thus taking the ears and minds of the audience along. Dissonance requires a solution that then preferably creates another dissonance that in its turn needs to be resolved. For instance, definitely Wagner, but also Zeid Hamdan or Kayhan Kalhor work in this way. It exists in the ‘linear’ qualities of Middle-East music too, a striking example is Umm Kulthum with the song Zalamuni El Nass. Sometimes in presentations I start with the original, simple film song and then demonstrate what she did with such material when performing live, expanding the original 3 to 4 minute song into a symphonic structure with a lot of codas, climaxes, interludes, often using an unresolved chord to keep the tension, having all instrumentalists improvising in this realm at the tip of her fingers.

Sometimes the pace comes to a complete rest, seemingly, before building up to a next peak. This is called tarab. The principle dominates Middle-Eastern music, including of course notably Sufi music, and it is best translated as enchantment or rapture. I included a track called Tarab Dub by Hello Psychaleppo, a brilliant refugee electronic musician from Aleppo, living mostly in Beirut. In this track he uses an Umm Kulthum sample combined with electronic sounds to a haunting effect. But Wagner’s longer operas and Kayhan Kalhor’s longer pieces also use the enchantment or rapture climaxes widely and Zeid Hamdan often samples classical Arabic music.

Another particular track I thought was of relevance is 12 Septembre by Abdel Malik. A rapper from Congo Brazzaville, he found his way to France. I imagined this journey went through Africa and then by boat to Gibraltar, like so many other migrants to Europe, as his first album was named Gibraltar. In his phantasmagorical 12 Septembre he magnificently samples Fairuz’ Al Bosta, the funky track written and produced for her at the beginning of the eighties (mid-Lebanese-war) by her son Ziad Rahbani. The song is about the position of young Muslim immigrants in Europe in the light of ‘9/11’, also drawing on the murder of the Dutch post-impressionist painter, Van Gogh.

Apart from interesting harmonies and dissonance, the mood and the ambiance are also a part of music. Whilst still driven by harmonic principles, a lot of the music I chose is powerful in its intelligent painting of tones–ranging from for example, the music by Kamilya Jubran, Mahmoud Schricker and Zeid Hamdan to Debussy and Ravel.