Alireza Mashayekhi, Photo by ©

Mehrdad Amini

Alireza Mashayekhi is regarded as a pioneer Iranian avant-garde composer whose ideas and works have greatly influenced the contemporary music in Iran. Goli Saba introduces us to Mashayekhi's music and philosophy.

Goli Saba


In studying Alireza Mashayekhi's ouvre, especially with regard to his speeches and what he has said in various interviews, some key points attract the attention, which are of utmost importance in understanding his style and his music. The most important of these points pose themselves in the guise of such terms as ‘Expanded Concentration’, ‘Relative Music’, and ‘Meta-X’. In the present text, first these concepts are introduced; afterwards, after looking at Mashayekhi's works in different styles and genres, they will be readdressed in more depth.  

Meta-X is definitely the umbrella that encompasses the entirety of Mashayekhi's works. This term comprises one of Mashayekhi's theories in his philosophy of art as well. In Meta-X music, he seeks a superior logic with which he would be able to explain all aspects of music, both technically and with regard to cultural identity. 

The root of the formation of such thoughts in Mashayekhi's works is his multi-cultural upbringing, on the one hand, and his tendencies towards philosophy, on the other. The other two main styles, which have developed under the umbrella of Meta-X, can be addressed with regard to this explanation. These two styles are designated as Expanded Concentration and Relative Music. In some of Mashayekhi's early works, a tendency can be observed towards utmost brevity in artistic expression. First and foremost, this tendency of the composer seeks an absolutely concentrated musical expression, and the element of concentration can be seen in all levels of the music; in other words, in this style the artist takes advantage of a diverse palette of sound and contrasting and dynamic sound planes within a short span of time. To become familiar with this form of expression in Mashayekhi's composition, his audience is required to persevere in listening to his works. 

In Relative Music style, which develops upon surpassing Expanded Concentration, a dimension, or one of the music's parameters from a technical or philosophical viewpoint, becomes the main subject in composing and all dimensions of music are determined and defined regarding their relation to it. 

For instance, if in a Relative Music piece, the author intends speed [to be the main subject], the instruments would be at the service of the dimension of speed –to the extent that their capabilities allow. If timbre is the intention, speed would become the background for the timbre pattern. In simpler terms, the intended dimensions assume a role similar to that which melody did in the music of the past; just as several voices progressed alongside one another, in Relative Music various dimensions develop simultaneously. Thus, in fact music is gradually freed from the hegemony of linear view, and in its turn paves the way for Meta-X. (Mashayekhi's non-Iranian works after 1974 have been composed under the influence of this style.)

Another main characteristic in Mahsayekhi's music is his simultaneous affinity for Iranian and non-Iranian music. This characteristic is, on the one hand, in line with the diversity of his thought, and with his insatiable desire in seeking out the “Novel” in music, on the other. These tendencies are readily traceable in his thoughts and, gradually, over the course of his practice, lead into an inclination to pitch Iranian and non-Iranian music against one another. This shift of attention and interest towards the application of cultural differences eventually results in the development of Meta-X.        

Meta-X is a symbolic signifier. X points to the unknown in the realm of thought, which is the incentive for artistic thought and expression. In Mashayekhi's opinion, up until the twentieth century, composition was some sort of quest at the service of defining an unknown. When one looks at the history of polyphony, it seems as if music has had a slow and steady progress towards some sort of individuality. As an example, in comparison to the approach of classic and romantic composers towards the form of symphony, we can see how their expression inclines towards specific expression. Only upon considering the number of symphonies by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, it becomes clear that the concentration on expression of specific issues has resulted in limiting the number of works. 

This tendency peaks in the romantic era and gradually a work's being exceptional is not only consolidated, but also profoundly paid attention to. This is a phase in which the unknown that the composer is in search of is shifted from the milieu of stylistics of composing to the milieu of stylistics of a single composition.  At the dawn of the 20th Century, we witnessed extensive changes in styles and modes of expression of thought; for instance in Beethoven's work, a line signifying change of style can be drawn between his second symphony and the succeeding symphonies. In works of composers like Schoenberg, we witness extensive quantitative changes in the building blocks of music, which in turn pave the way for qualitative changes within a single piece. 

Almost simultaneously, another approach, too, becomes evident in music, which Mashayekhi presents under the term ‘Look to the Past’. The most radiant character in this era of music is Igor Stravinsky, whose approach towards the music of the past was diverse. Events, revolutions and new conditions which were prepared for dialogues between musical cultures led us to an era in which composers would experience stylistic diversity with more agility within the span of their artistic life. For instance, a composer like Hanns Jelinek would compose such stylistically diverse works within his lifetime that would have been inconceivable in the nineteenth century. For instance, his “Bubi Caligula” operetta is a tonal political satire, while his “Rai Buba” is some sort of a clash between dodecaphonic music and an African theme and his “Sonatina a tre op 15/7” is a jazz piece in the form of a sonata. Here, we are explicitly faced with the diversity of the unknowns that pave the way for the Meta-X mode of thinking.  If we can go one step further and express this diversity in one single piece, we have symbolically surpassed X, and this is what Mashayekhi calls Meta-X.

Meta-X is a mode of thought that encompasses the entirety of Mashayekhi's works. He follows this line of thought quite early in the fields of electronic and computer music (East-West; opus 45). But in the case of instrumental music, more time is needed for his thoughts to become theoretically consistent. He is supposed to reach the superior logic in Meta-X music; a logic that surpasses the horizontal order of causation and can find several Xs simultaneously. Mashayekhi calls this process ‘the concurrent flow of music in time’. 


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