sound festival 2022 review: Zad Moultaka's 'Aber-Dîn'

Performed by Red Note Ensemble and Percussions Claviers de Lyon
Cowdray Hall, Aberdeen
Wednesday, 26th October 2022

As with the opening performance in the 2022 soundfestival, this second concert, a World Première of a new work by the Lebanese composer Zad Moultaka (b. 1967), encompassed many levels of interest. As well as being a gifted composer, Moultaka is also a visual artist of distinction.  

There was of course the music itself, a flawless fusion of a performance between the musicians of the Red Note Ensemble and the five percussionists of the Percussions Claviers de Lyon, a perfect musical marriage – it was as if they had been playing together for years. On a screen which was sometimes, but not always, split in two, we were taken on a dizzying journey across cityscapes or open country. In the after-concert discussion, sound’s director Fiona Robertson hit the nail square on the head when she used the word ‘whirlwind’. This was a perfect description of both the music and the visuals. Later on, the screen showed a series of porcelain miniatures, including a tiny toilet and wallpaper all apparently filmed in Zad Moultaka’s home. We moved on to pictures of small ‘toy’ wooden boats and stormy skies where the music painted a wild storm for us. There were also spoken dialogues between members of the percussion ensemble (in French) and musicians from Red Note (in English). Zad Moultaka had pre recorded sections in Lebanese Arabic. In the after performance discussion Professor Pete Stollery pointed out that much of the dialogue added a strong spicing of humour to the performance.

Even after the music had stopped, there was spoken dialogue suggesting that the whole thing had been a dream, a mirage, there had been no audience and no performers. Just before the lights went out and applause began, the opening words of the performance rang out again, as if this were the real beginning!

What an amazing event this had been. The music itself was absolutely entrancing, whether the bustling beginning, the slow panning across the miniatures in the bathroom or finally the threatening sea storm.

The whole work was about the adventure of travelling, whether excitement and fun, dreaming or danger. The music was so beautifully wedded to the visuals, often in tandem with them as in the opening of the work or later on adding atmosphere and meaning to the visuals, like the storm near the conclusion.

At the beginning of this year’s soundfestival, here were two works that encapsulate what the Festival is all about, not just new music, but music used in new and surprising ways. Zad Moultaka’s music was attractive, powerfully filmic and easily digestible but also very surprising. At one point musicians from Red Note added the sounds of crinkled cellophane or aluminium foil to the score. Wow! Amazing!

The Cowdray Hall was practically full for this performance. Everyone I spoke to afterwards said they had enjoyed the performance immensely. Great stuff!

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