Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Definition: Oud

I decided it's time for some self edification, time to learn about some of the more unusual instruments in the music I love. Now when you see some of the "global roots" type touring bands on the Cedar stage this season, you, too can talk about instruments beyond the guitar and fiddle in an informed and worldly manner.

Because I can't get enough of the amped and effect-ed oud used on recordings like the Kasbah Rockers disc as well as fun stuff like Speed Caravan (just listen to "Galvanize", OK?) and Ping Kong (try "Genjiskan"), this week's instrument is the oud. If there can be bad-ass hurdy gurdies, there can SO be bad-ass ouds.

Picture the medieval bard strumming the lute and you're pretty close; they are basically the same thing. Arabs most likely brought the instrument to Spain with the Muslim expansions in the 8th century, and oud became lute.

I think I got turned on to alternative oud music via Vilddas, the Finnish / Sami group from a few years back. That was some of the madmen from Slobo Horo with Sami vocal and a non-traditional set of acoustic instruments including the lute. Wait! UPDATE - Vilddas are still together and are releasing a new disc sometime this year. The new singles on their Myspace sound darker and less atmospheric than their old stuff. This new material has got somebody playing what I thought was a cello, but turns out to be a bowed lyre. Cool.

Wish Slobo Horo were still together. Coolest Finnish-Turkish-Balkan bald rock freaks ever. Sigh.

Then there is the acoustic work by Jean-Pierre Smadja, better known as DJ Smadj. Loved what he did with the last two Burhan Ocal and the Trakya All-Stars recordings, adding tasteful electronics to full-on Bulgarian/Turkish brass band tunes. He's now half the oud power in Ping Kong, along with Medhi Habbad who rocked the Speed Caravan disc.

Here's the complete Wiki write up on the history and origins of the instrument.

For just the quick and dirty basics, I copied this section for you. (Their links probably don't work here, so go to the full article to follow them.)

Defining features

  • Lack of Frets: The oud, unlike many other plucked stringed instruments, does not have a fretted neck. This allows the player to be more expressive by using slides and vibrato. It also makes it possible to play the microtones of the Maqam System. This development is relatively recent, as ouds still had frets in AD 1100, and they gradually lost them by AD 1300, mirroring the general development of Near-Eastern music which abandoned harmony in favor of melismatics.
  • Strings: With some exceptions, the modern oud has eleven strings. Ten of these strings are paired together in courses of two. The eleventh, lowest string remains single. There are many different tuning systems for the oud which are outlined below. The ancient oud had only four courses - five by the 9th century. The strings are generally lighter to play than the modern classical guitar.
  • Pegbox: The pegbox of the oud is bent back at a 45-90° angle from the neck of the instrument. This provides the necessary tension that prevents the pegs from slipping.
  • Body: The oud's body has a staved, bowl-like back resembling the outside of half a watermelon, unlike the flat back of a guitar. This bowl allows the oud to resonate and have a more complex tone.
  • Sound-holes: The oud generally has one to three sound-holes, which may be either oval or circular, and often are decorated with a bone or wood carved rosette.
Feeling somewhat more oud-savy? Then my work here is done.

1 comment:

Mao said...

Great introduction to the Oud. We have a site if anyone is interested in learning more about the Oud. Lots of articles for Oud beginners :)
Oud for Guitarists