Iran, Central Asia & Anatolia
Collection, Recording and accompanying notes:
Coll. Mahoor Institute of Culture and Art
“The Dotar as a musical system
The Dotar is a long necked lute of the tanbur family, generally with two strings (in Persian, do tar) widespread from Kurdistan to Xinjiang.
These two CDs, devoted to this instrument, show how by starting from the very simple concept of a lute with two strings struck or scraped by the fingers of the right hand, each relevant culture has created its own instrument, with its specific sonority, its style and its technique. According to an Iranian master, one of the differences between his music and that of the West is that the perfection of sophistication must concentrate on the subject or the agent – i.e. on the playing technique – and not on the object, i.e. the instrument. Thus the traditional instruments remain simple, while the manner of playing them is highly sophisticated. The case of the reed flute, ney, is well-known; that of the dotar is even more outstanding because of the complexity of its playing and the diversity of the approaches. From the organological point of view, many long necked lutes belong to the dotar family (Turkish saz, Greek buzuki, etc), but from the practical point of view, the dotars are distinguished radically from the other lutes by the playing technique of the right hand: the strings are struck (and sometimes plucked) with several fingers, and not with only one finger (Persian setar) or with a plectrum (Arabic tanbur) or a thimble-pick (new Afghan dotar, Uzbek tanbur). The various manners of striking the strings with fingers are especially developed on two-string lutes. On these lutes, it can be supposed that sometimes one string has been doubled later (Baluchi tanburag, Kurdish tanbur), or a third string has been added (Turkish Üteli, Kyrgyz komuz). With some exceptions, one can place in the same category the lutes with two strings and those whose three strings are generally struck together, by only one gesture.
This double CD takes into account only this family of instruments. If their sonority is often very close – and it would be still more if steel had not replaced the gut or silk – the way of playing and mainly the fingering of the right hand are as varied as the musical traditions these lutes belong to. Attentive observation reveals how a musical tradition is conditioned by the technique and the gesture that generate it. If the mind is able to conceive forms ad infinitum, the hand also – and sometimes it seems in an autonomous way – takes part fully in this noble activity.
By its system of fingering, the dotar allows infinite rhythmic effects, while the systematic striking of two strings at the same time makes it possible to diversify the weight and the color of each note, so that the airs grow rich on both rhythmic and melodic levels. Indeed, if the drone g remains stable, the notes of the first string generate a bi-phony on each fret: g-c, g-d, g-e, g-f, g-g, etc., with various nuances of consonance (octave, fifth, sixth, diminished fifth, etc). Moreover, in the Turkish playing style, the left thumb is used on the second string to vary the drone’s pitch, which lightens each note in various possible ways. Thus on the fret F, one can produce five different basses: g-F, a-F, b(flat)-F, c-F, d-F. This aesthetic feature is typical of the Turkmens, Qaraqalpaks, and also of the Kazakhs and (in another way) the Kyrgyzs. It can be found also in the dotar of Eastern Khorasan and that of Kurdistan, but seldom elsewhere”.
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