The kanun (or 'qanun') is the psaltery of the Middle East. The instrument shown above was made in Egypt and has a total of 78 strings (in 26 courses of 3). It is a flat trapezoidal wooden box, 45 inches long and 18 inches wide, with the strings fastened at its rectangular side on one end (the right hand side in the photo above) and to tuning pegs on the oblique side. The player, in order to make slight changes in pitch, manipulates small levers (called “orab” in Arabic) lying below each course of strings. The strings are plucked with two horn picks, one on each index finger. The strings are stretched over a single bridge poised on fish or animal skins. In the photo above these skins are the five window-like rectangles at the right, and it is these which give the instrument its haunting, hollow resonance and surprising volume.

Although the instrument is considered to be of Persian origin, many examples of instruments of this family can be found in the art of the ancient Greeks and Mesopotamians.



Here is the kanun with the Ethervox theremin. I do not pretend to be able to play the kanun like a professional player but in many ways it is similar to another instrument which I do play - the harp. If you think about it, a kanun is a kind of harp except that rather than being played vertically, with the hands approaching the strings from both sides, it is layed flat and the hands pluck the strings from above. What I really wanted to capture in the mp3 below is the “flavor” of the kanun, in a kind of musical fusion.

Middle Eastern music uses modes called “maqamat” - one of them is called “hijaz-kar” (C, C#, E, F, G, G#, B, C). This composition is a little improvisation for kanun and theremin is based on it, so I called it by that name.

Hijaz-Kar For Theremin And Kanun


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