Middle East Musical History
From the Persian vocal in Money That's What I Want to Bulgarian chants in Rebellious Youth, Long Day Sin's music is heavily influenced by Mediterranean elements. These influences extend to the use of instruments such as the oud in the song River Run Water Fall or the duduk in Me Generation as well as atonal scales so typical of Middle Eastern music. The next set of paragraphs are dedicated to the history and sound of Middle Eastern music.
Introduction to Middle East Musical History
The Middle East was one of the initial sources of musical instruments, music documentation, and written songs. Middle Eastern music differs from Western music in that it relies the use of microtones which extend the twelve tones of a scale. Microtones are smaller than the Western half step and could technically be referred to as a quarter step. Middle Eastern music is also based on rhythmic modes more complex than the common meter of Western music. Music from the Middle East has Arabic, Turkish, and Persian influences, spanning regions from Iran to Egypt to Northern Africa.
There are four distinct phases of Middle Eastern music: Prehistoric, Development, Conservation, and Modern. Very little is known about the Prehistoric phase because no documents have been found to provide insight into the musical style at that time. The Development phase spans the period 622 BC until 1300 AD and consists primarily of Arabic and Persian music influenced by Greek musical forms. This Greek influence suggested early Middle Eastern music shared some of the tonality of Western music. Later in the Development period, the music evolved into microtonal systems and rhythmic modes. More about this evolution in subsequent sections.
From the 1300 to 1800, the Middle East experienced significant historical changes which included extensive migration from Spain and the rise of the Ottoman Empire. The music during this Conservation phase remained unchanged and what existed in the 1300s persisted in the 1800s.
The Modern phase of Middle Eastern music has incorporated more Western and other non-Arab influences at the cost of traditional instruments. However, traditional Middle Eastern instruments are getting some exposure in Western music, particularly in pop as well as other commercial genres.
The Sound of Middle Eastern Music
The tonal structure of Middle Eastern music differentiates it from its Western counterpart. One of the main differences between these two styles is tonality. Middle Eastern music has more than the twelve tones that define a scale. In fact, Middle Eastern music builds through microtones, intervals much smaller than a Western half tone which for the sake of this discussion will denote as a quarter-tone.
Safi al_Din al-Urmawi introduced a system of tuning during the thirteenth century that divided the octave into 17 microtones. Each microtone was categorized as either a Limma or Comma with the former being larger (L) and the latter smaller (C). Safi used this nomenclature--L or C--to depict the Middlle Eastern scale. Unfortunately, Western instruments like the piano are unable to reproduce microtones. Piano are developed using half tones so that the microtones would fall somewhere between the black and white keys. However, this is less of an issue for Western stringed instruments without frets such as the violin. A microtone can be achieved just by manipulating the finger enough on the fingerboard to create a quarter step.
The most common Middle Eastern stringed instrument is the Oud. The Oud has no frets on the neck, enabling the player to generate any combination of microtones on it. In Long Day Sin's River Run Water Fall, you can hear the strum of an oud playing a combination of microtones to introduce the song.
Middle Eastern Rhythms
Unlike the common 4/4 meter of Western music, Mediterranean rhythms are much more complex and incorporate rhythmic modes very similar to the Indian tala. These modes are complex patterns that occur repeatedly throughout a performance on a percussion instrument such as the doumbek or djembe. Safi al_Din al-Urmawi developed eight rhythmic modes that are very characteristic of Middle Eastern rhythms that use sophisticated time signatures such as 6/8, 3/4, and to a lesser extent 2/4.
Long Day Sin's White Pride illustrates the use of complex time signature. The Middle Eastern rhythm in the verse uses a 6/4 time signature which resolves to the Western common meter for the chorus. In the song Middle Class, the first half of the verses are played in 7/4 and the second half in 4/4. It is interesting to note that Long Day Sin's use of these complex time signatures is quite transparent--it is unlikely you'll notice the use of odd time signatures unless a conscious effort is made.
Middle Eastern Music by Region
There are four main regions that characterize Middle Eastern music: Israeli, Arabic, Persian, and Turkish regions. The music of Israel doesn't share the same roots as music from the other regions. Nevertheless, it has its own set of traditions that are briefly mentioned here. While the majority of Israeli music stems from the traditional Hebrew religion, it does incorporate Russian folk music, Eastern European klezmer music, and Arabic music to create a musical style. Minor keys are often used in Israeli music as well as many instruments typical of the Middle East region, including the doumbek, and tambourine. One fundamental aspect of Israeli music is its lyrical content which focus on either ancient Jewish texts or modern experiences.
One of the main aspects of Arabic music is the singing of poetry by accomplished female vocalists. These vocalists, usually accompanied by stringed instruments, percussion, and wind instruments, performed highly ornamented melodies using the technique of melisma to manipulate pitch without any change in syllables. In Persian music, vocalists are responsible for selecting which compositions to perform. These compositions are typically improvisational, providing the singers with a great deal of freedom as to the notes sung and mood expressed. Like Arabic music, vocalists are often accompanied by stringed instruments, percussion, and wind instruments.
There are two significant movements associated with Turkish music: folklore and military. Turkish folk music was often performed in rural areas by religious types who roamed the country. This folklore music often employed odd time signatures such as 5/4 and 7/8, was highly atonal, and used complex rhythms in its compositions. Military music emerged from the royal courts of the Ottoman Empire. The music was classically based and the military band that played this music defined contemporary Western brass bands.
Long Day Sin - Rhythm & Tonality
All the music by Long Day Sin fuses rock with Middle Eastern rhythms and tonalities. For instance, the guitar solos in White Pride and Money That's What I want Westernize Arabic scales often played in traditional folklore music by an oud. The solo in the song Me Generation is played by a traditional Middle Eastern double-reed instrument known as a duduk. Other traditional Middle Eastern elements presented in Long Day Sin's music include the kemencheh in the solo for American Made and the religious Islamic vocal in America Owns America Wins. Hearing these traditional elements outside of their comfort zones reminds us of the power music has in uniting cultures around the globe in new and unexpected ways.
Music History 102
Check out this site if you'd like to learn about the history of Western music.