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Listening: The Fourth String

Multimedia Installation and Performance, 2022

Listening: The Fourth String is a series of interactive multimedia installations and public performances that re-imagine the silenced existence of the Iranian musician and Sufi, Moshtagh Ali Shah (18 century) and emphasizes his historic contributions to music. The project addresses the concept of sound, suggesting the act of listening can power community engagement, promote social change, and foster a better future. The exhibition has been set via various events between Feb. 21-March 25 in The New Gallery at Austin Peay State University. 


The Fourth String is a reference to the traditional Iranian instrument, the setar.  Literally translated from the Persian Farsi language, setar means three (se) strings (tar), and the Iranian setar is a three-stringed instrument. However, centuries ago, the Iranian Sufi musician, Moshtagh Ali Shah, added a fourth string. This dramatically changed the instrument from its original configuration, enhancing the sound and allowing musicians to explore more complex compositional and performance possibilities while retaining the traditional capabilities of the three-stringed instrument.

There are three components in this exhibition: 


1) Installation and Performance 


A Kermani rug that traditionally serves as a gathering place is transformed into a four-string instrument where artists and community members can experience sound and music together. In addition to community participation, local musicians have been invited to collaborate in an experimental performance with this instrument.


2) An Installation – Artists as Witnesses

In a multi-channel video, this installation provides an opportunity for underrepresented artists to collectively come together as witnesses and participants of social change in action. Close-ups of over 30 Middle Eastern musicians peer back at exhibition viewers.  


3) Installation as a Platform for Learning and Engagement


This is an educational and interactive installation that allows individuals to sit and play the setar. Three video monitors will provide step-by-step instruction on a few basic strumming and picking techniques.


The installations, performances, and artists’ lectures intend to broaden participants’ knowledge and understanding of Middle Eastern music and its ethos. It provides unique educational and performance opportunities for the community. The exhibit showcases the dynamic aspects of Middle Eastern music, its capacity to integrate with other musical genres, and the potency of its contribution to the soundscape of the United States.

Pictures by Amir Agharebparast

Video: Michael Dickins

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