For insight into a foreign culture, look no further than the Broward-based, music-and-dance duo Harmonic Motion. The performers are Joe Zeytoonian on oud, cajita, and vocals, and dancer Myriam Eli on riqq, zills, and darbuka. The duo specializes in bringing together the string- and percussion-driven sounds found in Armenian, Turkish, and Arab folk standards.
"The oud is five double strings and a single bass string tuned in unison -- not tuned like a guitar in octaves," Zeytoonian explains. "It's the tuning that gives it a bigger, more throaty, cavernous sound, which is bigger than classical guitar."
The instruments Eli plays have special characteristics, too. The riqq, which is often shrugged off as a close cousin of the tambourine, is something entirely different. "The riqq is refined fishskin stretched across a beveled top," Zeytoonian says. "The beveling allows an ensemble of eight different sounds when striking the head."
The zills and darbuka are just as handy as the riqq, because Eli can play any of the three while she dances. Zills are brass finger-cymbals, and the darbuka is an hourglass-shaped hand drum.
Thrown into the musical mix are Zeytoonian's vocals, which are not so much lyrics as they are sounds. "The approach to the vocal range [in our music] is elementary by Western standards, because it is rare to use octaves larger than a fifth," he says. "What makes it challenging is that many of the notes are not piano tones; they're in between. They're unlike anything [in] Western music. There's the yodel technique; there's also a use of microtones and sliding in the singing."
Harmonic Motion's latest CD, Southern Arrival, features five instrumental tracks, ranging in length from a standard two-and-a-half minutes ("Beach Debris") to almost eleven minutes ("Hovercraft #9"). Some songs were written beforehand, others improvised. And Eli and Zeytoonian had help putting the CD together. Kenny Millions plays clarinet and sax, and Abbey Rader plays ashikos, thumb piano, and other percussion instruments.
Harmonic Motion will perform at Borders in Boca Raton on Friday, and the duo will conduct a Middle Eastern workshop at the University Center for the Performing Arts in Davie on Sunday. For more information or to order the CD, call 954-755-5146.
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