Dr John Morgan O’Connell
This REACT-funded project involves the development of ney replicas with breath sensors to facilitate online learning.
Tests: The God Article team met twice to test a digitally fabricated ney. They met first on 15 May and second on 29 May at two locations in the School of Music (Cardiff University). On a separate occasion, the team discussed the results of the first test in anticipation of the second test. Using a 3D Printer, an exact replica of a kız neyi was manufactured, the replica being fitted with sensors to measure touch (placed over the finger holes) and breath (placed beside the mouthpiece or başpare). The instrument was attached with cables to a computer where a number of parameters were displayed.
These were also projected onto a screen to facilitate analysis and feedback. The test on the instrument was conducted by the neyzen Kalia Baklitzanaki, an ethnomusicology graduate of SOAS who performed on the fabricated instrument and who reflected upon its qualities. Both tests were documented using audio-visual equipment. Sound recordings of each test were also made.
Breathing: The breath is central to the ney, both spiritually and musically. In terms of its mystical significance, the breath of God (nefes) passes through the body of man (the ney) to produce music. In terms of performance practice, the breath simultaneously results in tone and noise, the ‘breathy’ quality being a key aesthetic in ney performance. To measure this quality, the breath censor was used in two ways. First, it helped to assess a correct tone and an incorrect tone. This is especially useful for beginners. To represent this, the design team (consisting of Ant Mace and Stefan Goodchild) designed a pulsating sphere which represented tone (in terms of colour depth) and breath (in terms of radial consistency). Second, it helped to determine the ‘breathy’ quality of the tone. This is especially significant for performers. To represent this, the design team developed a breath line, where a smooth line represented breath focus and a jagged line indicated breath dissipation.
Fingering: Fingering is central to ney performance. To each of the 7 holes, copper pads were attached by the scientific team (consisting of Alex Kontogeorgakopoulos and Aris Bezas). The touch sensitive sensors were displayed on a virtual interface, where green indicated a hole covered and black indicated a hole uncovered. A darker green indicated a hole that was partly covered.
While the technology is ideally suited to measure performance practice (such as tuning and ornamentation), the sensors at present suffer from a number of flaws. The copper absorbed the finger moisture and the static electricity of the performer, thereby distorting the visual feedback. While the representation of trills was remarkably clear, the representation of other ornamental gestures was less satisfactory. This was especially problematic when documenting finger slides. That being said, the technology has considerable scientific potential. It could be used accurately to map performance gesture. It could also be employed to assist transcription. To this end, an indicator of time and pitch will be added to the design.
Variables: Other factors are also important in ney performance. Timbre is especially important since overtones above a fundamental represent in some traditions distinctive levels of mystical gnosis. Accordingly, a spectrogram was included not only to measure pitch but also to represent harmonics. While this was especially useful in indicating the instrument’s acoustical principles and timbral characteristics, the representation of pitch needs to be better calibrated, at present showing limited variation in the relevant image. Amplitude is also an important variable. Two indicators were developed. First, the pulsating sphere integrates breath expended and amplitude attained. Second, a separate graph represents amplitude in performance. This is especially important when measuring musical nuances in certain modes or makamlar. Embouchure is another important variable. However, in these tests, the configuration and the placement of lips was not measured.
Experiments: In both tests, a systematic series of experiments were conducted. First using the breath sensor, the breath was measured with reference to the pulsating sphere. Tone and breath were represented adequately. However, an additional variable representing pitch detracted from the visual display. This will be altered. Second using the touch sensor, each hole was tested sequentially with reference to the notes of a standard makam (in this instance makam Rast). Although the first three holes showed excellent results, the representation of the other holes was less consistent. When performing in another makam where half-holes are employed (in this instance makam Hicaz), the results were mixed. In both makamlar, Kalia performed a short improvisation or taksim for the record. In the first test, the display of results was distorted by incompatible programming. In the second test, this problem was rectified. However, a number of technical issues arose, sometimes disrupting the flow of the experiments.
Neyzen: The two tests represent a considerable achievement given the difficulties with respect to build, design and technology. Kalia’s feedback was especially important, commenting on the performance potential and the didactic utility of the fabricated ney. Significantly, she confirmed that the instrument had the musical (she used the word ‘synthetic’) character of a ‘practice’ ney. She noted that the instrument played well in the lowest range but not so well in the upper register. There is a morphological reason for this disparity. She also commented critically on the utility of certain parameters, viewing the pulsating spheres of use to beginners and the breath indicators of use to performers. She also noted that the playing position was somewhat unorthodox. This was especially noticeable with respect to lip placement. Concerning fingering, she made an important recommendation. The current representation of 7 holes should be redesigned to reflect traditional practice; fingering to be displayed as follows: 1+3+3.
Future: The God Article team agreed that the experiments had been successful from a scientific and an academic perspective. In a short time, the latest haptic sensors and electrical technologies have been employed to understand a musical artefact. Apart from the potential for publication, the test demonstrated that The God Article had a number of potential uses. First, students could learn to play The God Article in a virtual context. Second, performers could use The God Article to analyse stylistic nuance and ergonomic method. Third, academics could employ The God Article to study acoustical principles and to measure performance practices. Fourth, scientists could look to The God Article to examine the utility of breath and touch sensors in musical practice, amongst others. Fifth, artists could take from The God Article material for composition, especially in the area of electroacoustic composition. Clearly, The God Article has a number of other uses in the music business and beyond.
This project has been funded as part of REACT’s Objects Sandbox scheme.