I am honoured to have been invited to join Kirill Gerstein in the distinguished online forum for leading thinkers hosted by Kronberg Academy on 20 May, 5pm BST (6pm CET).

“Sound journeys with the oriental lute”.

What can Europeans learn from listening to the oud? Something about difference and cross-cultural experience? Or, could they listen to the oud as an integral part of the whole European project of musicking and listening? I will pursue the latter idea, drawing on an archive of visual, audio and literary sources I have developed over a decade of research.

Variously termed barbat, oud (or al ‘ūd), ut, cuud, or some European variation such as lute, laud, Laute, liut, liuto, or luth, this pear-shaped short-necked chordophone is deeply integrated into histories of conquest, whether military, scholarly or sexual. When in 1798 Napoleon invaded Egypt with a team of researchers, the artefacts they brought home to France included an oud. Centuries earlier, Abd al-Rahman I and his successors in the Emirate of Córdoba in the 8th – 9th centuries had brought ouds and oud-playing to Europeans. In 16th-century Venice, lute-playing was a core skill for a high-class courtesan, while in England this expertise was a resource for winning a husband. Looking back again we realise that the one of the earliest theoretical treatise on the Arab oud, by 8th-century Baghdad philosopher Abu Yusuf Ya‘qub ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi, draws fundamentally on ancient Greek writings by Plato and Pythagoras.

What do these entangled histories sound like? What could they sound like? In my presentation I will explore the documentary use of my archive of knowledge, but also consider how it might help us listen, and create understanding in fresh ways.

If you missed it you can watch here!


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