The radif in contemporary Iranian musical creation. Musical and contextual perspectives

Start - End 
2014 - 2016 (ongoing)
Department of Art, music and theatre sciences
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Research Methodology 



Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Iran has been engaged in shaping its cultural identity and negotiating its position in the international cultural context. Notwithstanding its rather isolated position, the country has taken part in global developments, and its cultural production has experienced strong globalising tendencies. Two largely conflicting forces have impacted on late twentieth-century and early twenty-first-century Iranian culture: the official cultural policy of the conservative religious-political establishment on the one hand, and bottom-up agency of the Iranian people, often incorporating Euro-American cultural trends, on the other hand. This tense and complex cultural context has thoroughly affected the musical landscape, which has witnessed the rise and decline of a wide variety of musical genres, performing equally diverse roles and functions for different interests.

Popular music has been discussed in musicological studies addressing recent developments in Iran (and the diaspora), predominantly involving a sociological viewpoint. The main body of recent scholarly publications investigating Iranian music applies a sociological, institutional, discursive-ideological, or pedagogical perspective (Fayyaz, 1998; Hemmasi, 2011; Lucas, 2006; Maghazei, 2014; Nooshin, 2004, 2005, 2008; Samin, Ghasemi, & Fatemi, 2012; Shay, 2000; Youssefzadeh, 2000). Other studies engage either in systematic explanations of the nature and structure of the Iranian classical melodic-modal repertoire (the radif) in relation to musical performance (Caton, 2001; Nooshin, 2015; Talai, 2001; Wright, 2009), or in discussions of historical aspects of Iranian classical music (Asadi, Safvat, & Tavousi, 2007; Fatemi, 2005; Lucas, 2006; Pourjavady, 2005) or – more rarely – popular music (Fatemi, 2005). Jean During offers an inclusive glance at Iran’s highly heterogeneous and often hybrid contemporary musical production (1995, 2005; 1991).

The interconnections and interrelations between the various fields and genres of the Iranian (and diasporic) musical landscape however, emerge as a topic untouched by musicological scholarship. Moreover, detailed musical analysis of concrete musical expressions situated outside the classical domain has not yet been performed. The existing literature largely maintains a prescriptive-theoretical perspective and an analytical focus on the classical repertoire. My research applies a descriptive-inductive approach aimed at investigating to which extent, how, and why interconnections exist between the diverse musical fields and genres of the Iranian musical landscape.

The first, preparatory phase of the research involves the structuring of the contemporary (post-1997) musical landscape by establishing genre categories in which the existing musical production can be accommodated. I propose the following clusters of musical genres, emerging from the study of written sources and musical production: traditional classical music; light or semi-classical musics (including Western-influenced classical music and traditional urban popular music); commercial-hybrid popular musics; regionally or ethnic-culturally defined ‘folk’ music; religious, ritual, and ceremonial musics; ‘contemporary’ ‘Western’ classical music; fusion musics (including ‘world music’); and music for children. Starting from this classification, correspondences will be identified in the musical material of musical expressions belonging to the different categories. The classical melodic-modal repertoire (radif) occupies a central, nuclear position in this emerging web of interconnected musics. Musical analysis of samples of musical expressions belonging to the different genre categories will elucidate the varying modalities of correspondence with the radif. In a next research phase, the specific instances will be abstracted by means of inductive analysis, resulting in a general matrix of musical correspondences. As a complement to the music-theoretical analysis, interviews and further literature study will pursue the determination of contextual factors and human motivations underlying the identified specific and general relationships.

The research will advance and deepen the understanding of the idiosyncrasies and general tendencies proper to the present-day Iranian musical landscape, interacting with the changing internal and international cultural context, and shaped by human agency. A new, integrated picture of Iranian music in the twenty-first century will emerge, rich in musical detail, illustrating its flexibility, and acknowledging its unity in diversity.