Mike's Oud Forums
Not logged in [Login - Register]
Go To Bottom

Printable Version  
Author: Subject: Are Old Recordings "Out of Tune", or did Musicians Actually Tune Differently, or Both?
MoH
Oud Addict
***




Posts: 42
Registered: 7-22-2018
Member Is Offline


[*] posted on 5-17-2020 at 10:54 PM
Are Old Recordings "Out of Tune", or did Musicians Actually Tune Differently, or Both?


I want to preface this discussion by saying I am still fairly new to music, so I may be misunderstanding many things about this topic.

I think this has been discussed before, but after reading a few discussions on the topic I've never been able to form a consistent idea of tuning in Arabic music. I know an absolute pitch of A = 440 is not really important, but it is frustrating to try to listen to a piece of music and copy a player (even a modern one) only to find that their tuning is completely different from what I have. I know that there are tools which easily shift the pitch of a video, but this never really sounds right, and I'm still unsure of the answer to my original question.

For example, in this recording of "Hob Eh"

https://youtu.be/MJ7K-rDuou0?t=370

you can see Qasabji in the background around 6:14, and from the fingerings he is playing, it's exactly the way one would play it today in Bayati on D. However, the pitch of the video makes it seem like the song is in C. Another recording on Youtube has it even lower, around B flat. In the above clip, you can also see the violinists around 2:49, and I believe they play an open string which comes out as an F, but it would seem impractical for all the violinists to tune down too, so this makes me think this particular clip has just fallen in pitch. Is this correct?

However, in other old recordings, such as Farid al Atrash's Taqsim al Rabee3, I've read that he actually tuned his oud down, maybe a half or whole step. Is this true, and if so, how did everyone around him adjust? Does everyone else play down to match him?

My main reason for asking this question is, as I mentioned above, my annoyance with the inconsistent tuning I find across recordings, even modern ones. This doesn't seem to bother other more experienced players as much, but the idea of people today tuning down to match old recordings which may themselves be out of tune, or just because it sounds more "tarabi", seems absolutely wrong to me. Sure, there is Baroque tuning in western music, but I don't think this is nearly as widespread as tuning down in ouds. And sure, the whole point is to enjoy yourself and make sounds that are pleasing to you, and honestly I don't have a good argument to that, but this all just feels incorrect to me in some way. For example, say your brother is a qanun player but you can never play together because you both just tune to whatever sounds good. Maybe an exaggeration.

It also seems so strange to me that many maqamat in Arabic music are tied to a specific naghama (e.g. rast's tonic is rast), but apparently these naghamat don't actually convey any information about their pitch, just where they are position-wise on the instrument. It instead seems to me that the characteristics of a maqam (on the oud at least) are defined by what strings are left open and what phrases are convenient to play given the notes in the maqam.

Sorry for my rambling. Any thoughts/correction/enlightenment?
View user's profile View All Posts By User
Jody Stecher
Oud Junkie
*****




Posts: 1170
Registered: 11-5-2011
Location: California
Member Is Offline


[*] posted on 5-18-2020 at 05:49 AM


1) Some ouds sound better tuned low
2) in an Arabic musical ensemble the absolute pitch is sometimes set by the range of the vocalist.
3) Non-Adherence to A440 does not mean the music is out-of-tune.

Is it possible you are basing your questions and frustrations on an assumption that A 440 has some absolute meaning in "western" music? The organs of the churches of Europe each have a different absolute pitch. Even the same organ has had a different pitch because of the effects of successive tunings. The big orchestras of Europe do not all adhere to A440. Some tune lower, some higher. Historically there has been no adherence to the arbitrary pitch of 440 until mid 20th century and that adherence is not universal. Here is a wiki article about the subject:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concert_pitch#History_of_pitch_standar...

Here is an excerpt from there:
Until the 19th century, there was no coordinated effort to standardize musical pitch, and the levels across Europe varied widely. Pitches did not just vary from place to place, or over time—pitch levels could vary even within the same city. The pitch used for an English cathedral organ in the 17th century, for example, could be as much as five semitones lower than that used for a domestic keyboard instrument in the same city.

Even within one church, the pitch used could vary over time because of the way organs were tuned. Generally, the end of an organ pipe would be hammered inwards to a cone, or flared outwards, to raise or lower the pitch. When the pipe ends became frayed by this constant process they were all trimmed down, thus raising the overall pitch of the organ.

From the early 18th century, pitch could be also controlled with the use of tuning forks (invented in 1711), although again there was variation. For example, a tuning fork associated with Handel, dating from 1740, is pitched at A = About this sound422.5 Hz, while a later one from 1780 is pitched at A = About this sound409 Hz, about a quarter-tone lower.[3] A tuning fork that belonged to Ludwig van Beethoven around 1800, now in the British Library, is pitched at A = About this sound455.4 Hz, well over a half-tone higher.[4]

Overall, there was a tendency towards the end of the 18th century for the frequency of the A above middle C to be in the range of About this sound400 to About this sound450 Hz.

View user's profile View All Posts By User
Brian Prunka
Oud Junkie
*****




Posts: 2584
Registered: 1-30-2004
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Member Is Offline

Mood: Stringish

[*] posted on 5-18-2020 at 06:21 AM


Quote: Originally posted by MoH  
I've never been able to form a consistent idea of tuning in Arabic music.


This isn't a flaw in your perception. If anything, it's just your unwillingess to accept this observation at face value that is causing your consternation!

There has, historically, not been any consistency in tuning Arabic music to any pitch standard. As Jody notes, even the idea of a "standard" pitch is a relatively new one. There are a lot of factors going into what pitch a recording might be.

Part of the confusion is that you're thinking of this as "tuning down" or "tuning up". In reality, there was no "normal" pitch to "tune down" from or "tune up" from. You just tuned where it made sense. So yes, when Farid is tuned down a step, the violins, qanuns, etc. are all tuned to him. The only exception is the nay, which is a bit flexible in pitch but relatively fixed. Pro nay players used to carry a whole bunch of nays so they could match the pitch of the orchestra.

In most cases, the old recordings are likely relatively near to the pitch recorded. The only pre-digital way to re-tune a recording was to speed it up or slow it down, and this produces a lot of strange effects in the sound of voices and instruments beyond the simple effect of pitch.
However, I suspect (but have no proof) that some recordings were slightly sped up in pre-1950s music. Older records were only about 3 minutes long, and this time limitation could be a problem for many pieces. If the piece was a little too long, it could be recorded at a slower speed, and consequently would be faster (and high pitched) when played back. This is just my hypothesis from listening to a bunch of old music and considering the way it sounds and the strictness of the time limitations.

Most Arabic music is vocal, and even the instrumental music would often be played in between vocal pieces, so the instruments would be tuned to the vocalist's range.

A vocalist might feel more comfortable higher or lower one day to the next, and many singers move a bit lower as they get older.

In addition, the evolution of microphone technology allowed singers to use more of their lower range starting in the 1950s. Low frequencies require much more energy to be heard than high frequencies, so pre-microphone singing styles had to emphasize the higher parts of one's range in order to be heard in a concert hall. This phenomenon has been observed in many styles of music over the time period from the 1920s to the 1960s.

The practice of tuning the oud to G concert didn't become widespread until fairly recently. For example, Sabah Fakhri's ensemble was always tuned up about a step, because he is a tenor and sings better in that range.

The ornamentation and intonation of Arabic maqamat are tied to their physical orientation on the instrument, so it makes more sense to tune the instruments to fit the maqam than the other way around (i.e., as you note, bayati and rast stay in the same finger positions rather than keeping the tuning the same).
Also, musicians tended to play with the same singer a lot for much of the "golden era". So you wouldn't be tuning down for Oum Kulthoum one day and then tuning up for Sabah Fakhri the next day.





View user's profile Visit user's homepage View All Posts By User
MoH
Oud Addict
***




Posts: 42
Registered: 7-22-2018
Member Is Offline


[*] posted on 5-18-2020 at 11:16 AM


Thanks for your replies, Jody and Brian. As I mentioned, I was aware A = 440 was arbitrary, but it still seems strange to me that there was no consistency, or even a concern for consistency until recently. But, I guess sounding good with a specific singer may be more important than versatility or consistency.

On the topic of singers, how did a singer maintain their pitch without some fixed reference? Before tuning forks or church organs, did singers just know by feel where they were in their range, so could be pretty sure they were on the right note?

And for Arabic singers specifically, does this mean that, for example, the maqam rast that Oum Kulthum learned and used was different than Sabah Fakhri's, Fairouz's, Asmahan's, etc.?
View user's profile View All Posts By User
Jody Stecher
Oud Junkie
*****




Posts: 1170
Registered: 11-5-2011
Location: California
Member Is Offline


[*] posted on 5-18-2020 at 12:02 PM


A singer accompanied by musicians or a single instrument *does* have a fixed reference. The reference is the reliable playing of the expert instrumentalist. Even without, it is not difficult for an able singer-musician to not stray. The same way an American child can sing Three Blind Mice without accompaniment or a person of any age in any country can sing whatever is popular on the radio or the melodies of any congregational worship music of any religion without any instrument or without any worries about whether they are tuned to C or D or A and no concern for whether the A is 440 or higher or lower, it's the same for a singer of Arabic music. The singer is well grounded in the tradition.

The maqam Rast of the singers you mentioned would be the same Rast within the local culture as other singers in that culture, some who sang higher or lower. What I mean is that the Rast of Sabah Fakri is the Rast of Alleppo which is microtonally different from the Rast of Cairo.

To answer your question a different way, when Oum Kulthum learned Rast she learned a set of relationships, not a set of fixed pitches. She could sing the same maqam or the same song at one pitch on Tuesday and higher or lower on Wednesday.
And so can you.
View user's profile View All Posts By User
Brian Prunka
Oud Junkie
*****




Posts: 2584
Registered: 1-30-2004
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Member Is Offline

Mood: Stringish

[*] posted on 5-19-2020 at 07:32 AM


Well said, Jody.

MoH, I'd suggest you reconsider what you mean by "versatility" and "consistency".
Every singer's voice is different, and they should sing where they sound best.
A musician who can accomodate that is versatile, in my opinion. More so than insisting on playing in the "reference" key.

What is "consistency"? Musical pitch standards are entirely arbitrary. As Jody noted, even if you want to have a standard, who gets to decide and how does everyone agree? Why would musicians as far apart as Tunisia and Aleppo agree on a pitch standard even if it was practical or desirable to do so?

Perhaps what is hanging you up, that Jody alluded to is that musical pitch is relational, not absolute.
The important thing, for example is that your Nawa vibrates 3 times for every 2 times your Rast vibrates. So if Rast is 120Hz, then Nawa is 180Hz (1 1/2 times as fast). If Rast is 140, then Nawa is 210. As long as those relationships are preserved, that's what makes it sound like music and in-tune. It doesn't matter at all what the reference pitch is, which is why you can recognize a song if it's played higher or lower. It sounds like you mostly understand this from your comments about Qasabgi: "you can see Qasabji in the background around 6:14, and from the fingerings he is playing, it's exactly the way one would play it today in Bayati on D."

The only reason that we say that Bayati is on D now is because in 1932 at the Cairo Congress they decided that that would be the easiest way to write it when using Western notation. Once people started studying music in conservatories more commonly, they started tuning their instruments to the way the music was written. Musicians trained earlier would have no reason to do so because they learned by ear, not from sheet music.





View user's profile Visit user's homepage View All Posts By User
MoH
Oud Addict
***




Posts: 42
Registered: 7-22-2018
Member Is Offline


[*] posted on 5-19-2020 at 07:40 PM


To Jody's point: I don't doubt Oum Kulthum sing Rast (or any maqam) at any pitch on any day of the week. What I'm wondering is, without some fixed standard, how could she be sure she was singing Rast at the same pitch every day or every year if she wanted to? Or perhaps a better question would be, how did singers before things like tuning forks existed know they were singing at the same pitch every day if they wanted to? This is more of a question of curiosity more than trying to make an argument

To Brian's point: What I meant by versatility was the ability to take your skillset and apply it to any situation and still have it work, (i.e. you could play Hob Eh for any singer or with any ensemble and it would sound right). But, as you mentioned, players typically stuck with their singer or group, so maybe this isn't that big of a deal.

I guess my perspective is that, if you are running a factory or a lab or a hospital, there are many instruments in these types of places which also measure relative amounts of things, and need some reference to spit out an absolute value. Many different instruments may function better with different standards, but what is most important is that if you go to any location which measure whatever you are interested in, you get the same reading. What the standard is and who decides it isn't important; all that matters is that everyone uses the same one so that different measurements can be compared meaningfully. Obviously music is different, so maybe this is just a flawed way of thinking about it.

In any case, my original question had more to do with whether or not old recordings had degraded over time in pitch, and I think that has been answered. I really appreciate you guys taking the time to answer my base-level questions.
View user's profile View All Posts By User
majnuunNavid
Oud Junkie
*****




Posts: 540
Registered: 7-22-2013
Member Is Offline

Mood: Dude, where's my Oud?

[*] posted on 5-20-2020 at 01:04 AM


Quote: Originally posted by MoH  
To Jody's point: I don't doubt Oum Kulthum sing Rast (or any maqam) at any pitch on any day of the week. What I'm wondering is, without some fixed standard, how could she be sure she was singing Rast at the same pitch every day or every year if she wanted to? Or perhaps a better question would be, how did singers before things like tuning forks existed know they were singing at the same pitch every day if they wanted to?


Singers generally know where their ideal range is by feeling the comfort zones of their voices. They would know their highest range and lowest range. If they just randomly started singing a tune too high for their voice, they would feel the discomfort, then they would stop and start the melody on a lower note. So they would never be precise without a pitch of reference. They would just know what comfort zone they would be singing from.

When they get together with a musician, they would have to make a decision. Usually the musician would start off in a particular key, and the singer would try the melody out, and decide, "yes, this works for my voice" or "no, let's do it higher" or lower. Then the musician would adapt. So there was no precision involved.

Now another question I have.... what do people with "absolute pitch" do with all of this non-equal temperament stuff... and how do they experience non-equal temperament music?

Because clearly there is absolutely no such thing as absolute pitch. (hehehe)

A friend shared a video of The Tea Party playing a concert from the 90's (brought back memories), and Jeff Martin starts the show off with Oud, and he plays a taqsim and starts going into a tune by Hamza El Din... but he neglects to perform the tune with the half-flat 2nd degree (the original tune is rooted in Bayati on G). And apparently Jeff Martin has absolute pitch!!!




View user's profile Visit user's homepage View All Posts By User
Jody Stecher
Oud Junkie
*****




Posts: 1170
Registered: 11-5-2011
Location: California
Member Is Offline


[*] posted on 5-20-2020 at 07:25 AM


Quote: Originally posted by MoH  
To Jody's point: I don't doubt Oum Kulthum sing Rast (or any maqam) at any pitch on any day of the week. What I'm wondering is, without some fixed standard, how could she be sure she was singing Rast at the same pitch every day or every year if she wanted to? Or perhaps a better question would be, how did singers before things like tuning forks existed know they were singing at the same pitch every day if they wanted to?


I'm not sure what you mean by "at the same pitch". You might mean how did singers know all their pitches were in tune with each other or you might mean how was it known that the note Rast was at the same pitch (or not) at subsequent occasions of singing. The answer to the first is that musicians have musical memory. We can tell when a musical sound is the culturally agreed upon pitch we call "in tune", when it is slightly out of tune and when it is very much out of tune. The answer to the second is that the accompanying instruments would still be in tune. If there was a flute, a particular one would have been used. But a better answer is that the singer would be unlikely to know if it was exactly the same as yesterday but would have no reason to want to know. Navid has answered this in detail.
View user's profile View All Posts By User
Eric Stern Music
Oud Maniac
****




Posts: 61
Registered: 7-15-2013
Member Is Offline


[*] posted on 5-21-2020 at 07:04 PM


As we know the human ear is capable of discerning many gradations of pitch values. A well trained singer (or a singer who really knows their voice) will know, by feel (not hearing, or not just) where their voice is. I remember reading a story by the opera singer Jussi Bjoerling's piano accompanist. They had been on a long tour and played the same program every night. The pianist had heard that a good singer would notice if a song was off even by a half step, but he didn't quite believe that and so one night he tested it and played La Donne Mobile in the key of C, instead of B without telling Jussi. The last note in the song is a ringing high B, but given that the pianist had modulated, that note became a high C, a note that Jussi was perfectly capable of singing, and did. However after the concert was over Jussi chastised his pianist. Jussi knew; he felt it in his voice. And so I imagine, any singer of Arabic music, especially someone like Oum Kulthum would feel specific songs and maqamat in a specific place in their voice. And yes, as the voice changed over the years, the pitch would lower slightly. I'm a singer and can attest to at least feeling the difference of a half step if not less. With all of that said, a singer can choose to start in a higher or lower place, see how it feels in their voice and proceed from there. However I doubt that the starting point of rast on Tuesday would be radically different from rast on Wednesday, etc.
View user's profile View All Posts By User
Jody Stecher
Oud Junkie
*****




Posts: 1170
Registered: 11-5-2011
Location: California
Member Is Offline


[*] posted on 5-21-2020 at 07:26 PM


Quote: Originally posted by Eric Stern Music  
However I doubt that the starting point of rast on Tuesday would be radically different from rast on Wednesday, etc.


Unless they had seasonal pollen allergies like I do. Also the time of day makes a difference. I have access to lower notes when I first wake up in the morning that vanish later in the day when my upper range opens up. And it depends on how much water the singer has drunk and how recently. It also depends on how recently the singer has eaten. So there are a number of factors. Rast on Tuesday morning might be one place and higher on Tuesday afternoon. Or not.
View user's profile View All Posts By User

  Go To Top

Powered by XMB
XMB Forum Software © 2001-2011 The XMB Group