When a movie needs to suggest the exotic with a dash of suspense, you’ll often hear Arabesque music cues used to convey a sense of mystery. The finale of this year’s X Avant Festival sees North African and Middle Eastern music re-examined in ways which go far beyond obvious popular associations.
Pianist John Kameel Farah’s CD release Unfolding (2009) was a complete novelty in the Canadian music landscape, if not the world. Farah has long worked in baroque music and in drum and bass but this ambitious CD fused the two with remarkable success while drawing additionally from Arabic scales and Persian maqam-based improvising structures. From Carthage To Rome is the true follow up to Unfolding. Even more associated with Arabic song structures and sounds, the title refers to the ancient Punic Wars which saw Carthaginian culture literally rammed into Europe before the city-state was ultimately destroyed. Expect intense breakbeats, unconventional tunings and the kind of brilliant playing that has made Farah’s name throughout the world.
John Kameel Farah is a Toronto–based composer, pianist and visual artist. He studied composition and piano performance at the University of Toronto, where he received the Glenn Gould Composition Award twice during his studies. In 1999 he had private lessons with Terry Riley in California, and later studies at the Arabic Music Retreat in Hartford. Recently John received the 2011 K.M. Hunter Artist Award for Music from the Ontario Arts Council. Farah uses piano, synthesizer, computer and, at times, harpsichord simultaneously. His solo performances exist somewhere between the concert hall and an experimental DJ set, mixing free improvisation, jazz, electroacoustics, middle-eastern modes, and ambient minimalism and distilling them into cohesive yet surrealistic structures. Farah’s work combines the formal and structural with the fantastical and other-worldly.
By the same token, Matt Miller’s Laptopolist project reanimates Miller’s field recordings from Morocco through Ableton software. In this way, the complexity of the nation’s cultures such as the Gnawa, Berber and Jilala to name a few is rendered even more diffuse without losing the essence and meaning of the source material.
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