Wordless Harmony

In 2008, 17-year-old Zuhal Sultan initiated the creation of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq in spite of the Iraqi war and language barriers. The NYOI now gathers Kurdish, Arabic and English speakers, most of whom only speak their own language.

While the orchestra uses interpreters, there are still times when the members need to communicate directly. Since words only account for 5% of communication, the young musicians have honed other skills to understand their peers, observing their body language, paying careful attention to voices and pitches and of course listening acutely to each other’s instruments. Training relies heavily on the students learning the core music vocabulary, then getting by through gestures, pointing and singing.

Many Kurds and Arabs within the group are now learning Arabic and Kurdish respectively as a result, when they had hardly any experience of each other before.

The success of the NYOI in bringing young talents together against all odds proves that sometimes all you need is a willingness to communicate.

Photos: nationalarchives.gov.uk, vimeo.com


Sounds of Mongolia

Anda Union, a band of musicians from Mongolian grassland, “are on a mission to stimulate their culture and reengage young Mongols, many of whom no longer speak their own language” (cf their website). They are also breath-taking performers.

The group plays its beautiful instruments with frantic energy, the coordination and synchronisation is flawless, the music catchy, the rhythms lively, and the costumes – albeit fairly plain – are stunning (amusingly combined with jeans and trainers in some cases). Throat singing is impressive to witness, with visible tension and concentration on the singer’s face, and surprisingly melodious. The range of sounds from whistling and other vocal effects as well as from their two-string instruments is also beyond expectations.

Similarly to Far East languages, Mongolian seems to require some constriction of the throat muscles, giving a nasal resonance to most sounds. At the end of the performance I attended, there were CDs for sale and the band was available to sign them. It is interesting to notice the striking individual movement in each signature that makes their personal handwriting identifiable even to the non-initiate’s eye.

If you have the opportunity to see them live, be sure to go and expect to be amazed!


Photo: CD cover with signatures

The Colours of Sounds, the Textures of Accents

Being synaesthetic, I find it difficult to decide whether I am more visual, auditory or tactile, as one sense often triggers another: colours move, have temperatures and sometimes smell, and sounds evoke all sorts of colours and textures.

La toilette

Goethe’s theory of colour introduced the notion that colours relate to temperatures and emotions. For me, colours can also suggest smells. For instance, ice blue has a medical smell, like surgical spirit or even vodka; soft dark red has the cosy smell of a wood fire; while pink can smell sickly sweet at best or just dirty, as in – ironically – Bonnard’s painting La toilette, in which a woman is seen washing. To me, this painting smells like the woman has not washed for a week!

When I listen to music, I see layers or waves of colours for each instrument on a black background, with warm colours at the bottom for the bass and the drums, and blue and purple at the top for the melody. High-pitch electro sounds add sparkles over the top lines. The rhythm creates the patterns of the waves, giving them texture too. Industrial music has no colours in my visual mind, however, due to the lack of melody. Instead, each line in the music shows metallic shapes, complex textures and some vague movement somehow flowing around these, keeping the whole together, giving coherence to the chaos and smoothness to the angles.

The BeanLanguages and accents offer all sorts of amazing sounds to our ears – and different textures to my inner eyes. For example, Arabic sounds like satin, fine sand paper and marbles; German is made of strong, perfectly polished steel (think of some of Anish Kapoor’s sculptures) and has amazing depth; Chinese, with its lack of clear consonants, feels like gooey jelly and melted marshmallows and is two-dimensional (no depth); the Glaswegian accent is like pine wood and wool; languages from India sound like a happy brook making loads of bubbles as it rushes over pebbles.

Do your senses talk to each other? What do sounds look like or how do colours feel to you? What accents do you like and why?