Take one grand piano, shrink it to a tenth the size, take off the top, lose the keys, and place it on your lap – you are about to play the Kanoun. But it won’t be easy to master this Caucasian/Middle Eastern zither instrument. Keeping your fingers moving quickly across about 70 strings, which you must tune with your left while playing the melody with the right, gives new meaning to the word multi-tasking. At times, you might have to tune your ear to quarter tones (that’s an even smaller degree of note than the Western musician is typically used to). Multi-tasking, tonal detail, and physical balance – women often cross their legs under the flat instrument – are the least demanded of you.
To listen and watch takes less effort, however, and easily dazzles eyes and ears. A vibrating metallic sound cascading in waves across a melody and filling in the lines of syncopated rhythms makes the music of one player match that of several. While watching the spectacle (if not engaged already in a desire to dance), one starts to imagine the relation to another renowned talent of the region – one of silence but with an equal outcome of mesmerizing color. The musician plays the Kanoun like a loom, as if the strings were threads creating beautiful patterns of sound – a tonal carpet of reds, greens, purples, and blues all intertwined in an intricate song of unique pleasure.
Click on the video below of a virtuosic Armenian Kanoun player performing in traditional dress to experience the music and instrument for yourself.