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100 Objects

Object #7. Buzuk & Çifteli: Genetic Divergence on the Long-necked Lute Family Tree

5 June 2017
buzuk cifteli Albanian instruments

By Jeffrey P Charest, PhD student

For Object #7, PhD student Jeffrey Charest discusses the cifteli and the buzuk, which he presented at the Postgraduate Forum.

“At the Postgrad Forum I talked about two Albanian plucked string instruments, the çifteli and the buzuk. The former, played mostly in northern Albania, has two strings while the buzuk, more common in the southern regions, has two double courses. Otherwise the instruments appear very similar, with their small conical bodies and long, thin necks. As they are members of the tambura-family of long necked lutes, with many other members in the Balkans, the çifteli and buzuk share common genealogical roots as well; but to hear them without seeing them would not give such an impression of commonality.

I then played recorded examples of each instrument so my colleagues could hear how very different the tone, tuning, and musical techniques and styles of the two are. From this I posed the open-ended question of what social, geographical, cultural, historical factors might account for these differences? Or, alternately, do they simply result from musicians listening to the instruments to discover each instrument’s separate voice, whose properties then become embedded in the culture’s sound world? Furthermore, to what extent do an instrument’s characteristic sounds take on cultural meaning and associations apart from their simply musical functions?

The differences in sound and style especially struck many of the other students, and the buzuk’s deeper tone and calmer, more lyrical style seemed to be the more popular one over the çifteli’s brighter, thinner yet more dynamic sound. The buzuk’s ability to shift its fundamental ‘tonic’ bass note was, in the views of several colleagues, what lent it more interest musically.

No conclusions were reached on these questions, but we did have a lively discussion on, and gained a new appreciation for how far-reaching the effects of slight alterations in an instrument’s morphology and design could be.”

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