Faramarz Payvar

[Faramarz Payvar]

An Iranian filmmaker friend tells me that one of her favorite santur players, Faramarz Payvar, has just passed away. He played the santur (le grand maître du santûr moderne!), a kind of Persian hammered dulcimer whose name means one hundred strains. Tiny hammers like the heart.



Faramarz Payvar – Dastgah E Nava XIII (from Improvisations on Santur)


A fitting companion to this song would be one from Ivan Tcherepnin’s Flores Musicales / Five Songs / Santur Live! album, which I like a lot but don’t have. (Do you?) On it the Russian-Chinese composer (another santur wizard) mixes the instrument with impressive live electronics from the Serge modular synthesizer, named after his brother, who built it.

For more experimentally-minded Persian music, try Dariush Dolat Shahi, two fantastic albums of his are hosted on UbuWeb.

And of course, my recent piece for The National on Ata Abtekar and Alireza Mashayekhi.



Kurdish Iranian musician Kayhan Kalhor teamed up with local string quartet Brooklyn Rider to record an album called Silent City. Like a good science-fiction book, Silent City has a terrible cover and fascinating contents. Placid, contemplative, not-entirely-Western classical. (Would have worked well on my recent ambient radio show.)

The 29-minute title song employs soft drones, cycling melodies, and gentle volume swells to great effect. One of the under-appreciated powers of acoustic classical music is dB dynamics, sheer AMPLITUDE RANGE; a concert hall can soar from whisper to rumble, and pieces can be written which exploit this, this walking alongside silence when necessary. Go from loud to quiet in a club, and not only will you hear everyone talking over the music, somebody will start shouting. At you. To turn the music back up. (Not necessarily a bad thing; perhaps classical music would be more interesting if the audience members shouted like drunk ravers from time to time.)

I would love to see Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider perform live (we played on the same night last week in Copenhagen, I did not catch them). Here’s one of the shorter songs from the album:


Kayhan Kalhor and Brooklyn Rider – Parvaz [buyable]



The first Iranian national radio program to feature a female vocalist in 27 years happened last month, on the occasion of Elaheh’s death. For this sound – cabaret music, opium music, the ‘provocation’ of a woman’s voice unaccompanied by a male or a choir – has long been illegal in public. Silence is a kind of death but suppression doesn’t equal forgetting & when the right song enters you it will not soon leave.


Elaheh – title unknown, pre Islamic Revolution radio recording

Bani gave me this. She writes:

It’s all from this old program Golha, from before the revolution. The songs are unfortunately not titled, just by singer names… Elaheh was one of the most important.
well, they were all very important…. And very famous. Still are, especially among the older generations and Iranians in the diaspora. But these (women) are the voice of Iran for so many…
Elaheh sadly died just a few weeks ago, and in July Mahasti died… another pillar in this kind of music,
There are few of their generation left, but some of them still give concerts from time to time in LA.
You ask about the lyrics. They are usually amazingly beautiful… and sad. Lost love. Love not reciprocated.