A Single Tune

A Unison in music –

– “is the simultaneous sounding of the same note by two or more singers or players. Unison songs are not in different parts: all singers sing the tune together.“ [Naxos]

So a musical unison, is an ultimate collaboration between voices and sounds. It is also a situation, where very little information is given – only one single tune to listen to; only one voice to pull us into a composition. In a Western, capitalist world, such a situation is barely imaginable, hardly understandable. Because while constantly being flooded with information and content (here I am, adding my own share), when endlessly having to divide our concentration in all possible directions – is it even an option, to be able to listen to one single melody?

Among all those million choices we are given to choose from, does the option to experience (not to mention enjoy!) a unison – does this choice exist? Unlike a crafted fugue, the polyphony of our days can be more than just confusing, because it is the exact opposite of a unison: dialects, cars, symphonies, gene manipulated foods, people, phones… blog posts… We are composing the music of our times using an extended tonal-language, yet to be heard of.

A musical unison forces us to stop the polyphony for a moment of fierce concentration.
How much can be said in one melodic line? Which secrets are hidden within a bare phrase, naked from harmony, exposed to a thousand imperfections? Surrounded by one-million melodies, I am thinking about unison. Some key-words come to mind:

Accurate. Only that particular, absolutely necessary piece of information.

Direct. A straight-forward expression, free from manipulations.

Controlled. Attentive and concentrated; all distractions are kept away and under control.

Humanistic. While unison are hard to find in a natural, wild environment (where different elements might exist in perfect harmony, but usually not in unison), the creativity of humans allows a single melody to become a work of art.

One of my favourite sounds in the world is the sound of an Arab string orchestra playing in unison, especially when accompanying a singer – united with the vocals as well. A massive energy comes from a group of individuals who are gathering all their many skills, for the mutual cause of playing one line together. There is something meditative in the singularity of that one line, allowing the ears, for once, to concentrate on one thing – that one particular thing of great importance. As if for once, we are allowed a reversed experience: instead of facing all of the choices of the universe, having to extract the little that is actually relevant to us, we are given one simple, accurate fact.

Our super-polyphonic times send me on a search for a perfect unison – I’m sharing here a few of my findings.

In a week or two, I’ll be publishing a mixtape of more unison, (on MOUNT DELA Sunday Mixtape – subscribe to the newsletter to be notified!):

• Umm Kulthum with her classic Inta Omri, composed by Mohammed Abdel Wahab and
written by Ahmad Sahafiq Kamel:
• The Adagio from Mahler’s Symphony no. 10.
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Rafael Kubelik”:
• The famous recitative from the finale of Beethoven’s Symphony no.9. Vienna Philharmonic
Conducted by Leonard Bernstein:
• The 6th movement from Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la Fin du Temps. Vera Beths, violin;
George Pieterson, clarinet; Anner Bijlsma, cello; Reinbert de Leeuw, piano:

Stay tuned for more unison: next on MOUNT DELA Sunday Mixtape!

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