Discover the objects in our Music and Sound Rotation. Use this Trail to take a closer look and listen to the art on display.

Locate the featured objects on the trail by finding icons with music notes. Explore these highlighted objects further through videos, sound clips, and performances that will immerse you in the sounds that surrounded these objects while being created or used over their hundreds of years of existence.

Use the "Map It" feature to help locate the objects in the gallery.

Supporting Rhythm of Tanpura

Listen to the sound of a tanpura, shown being played in this 18th century painting from India.

When a musician plucks the tanpura, the instrument creates a continuous droning sound that supplies a supporting rhythm to other instruments and vocals.

Look for this painting and an example of a tanpura from the 19th century in the second section of the gallery or online.

Image: A Musician Plays the tanpura for the Governor of Bengal, India, ca. 1760, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, AKM208

Audio: © Matt Rahaim, courtesy of Sameer Gupta 

Music and the Emotions

The Hindola Raga is a musical mode associated with the early morning hours from midnight to 3 am. The raga is distinguished by its “swinging” nature and slow melody. This painting, from a Ragamala series, evokes what a person would feel when hearing this musical mode. Listen to this raga performed by Azalea Ray, a Toronto-based artist who was inspired by this painting.

How do you feel listening to this piece? Does it evoke a sense of swinging?

Image: Hindola Raga (detail), a painting from a Ragamala series, Deccan, India, ca.1725, opaque watercolour and gold on paper, AKM923

Video: This performance by Azalea Ray was commissioned and recorded by the Aga Khan Museum.

Water and Architectural Soundscape

What sounds bring you comfort?

The sound of water creates a unique sensory experience in both the interior and exterior spaces of Islamic architecture, including mosques and shrines, gardens, bath houses, and private residences. 

Listen to the sound of a fountain flowing in the Ismaili Centre Roof Garden in London, UK. This garden is inspired by the traditional Persian and Mughal chahar-bagh, a four-part- garden designed around a central fountain and channels of water.

Image: Fountain, Egypt, 16th century and later, marble and sandstone mosaic, AKM960 

Video: © Ismaili Centre, London, United Kingdom

Blowing Signal of Ivory Horns

Imagine blowing into this ivory horn. What do you think it would sound like?

Listen to the sound created by an oliphant from the collection of the Museum of Islamic Art, Berlin, performed in 2004 by musicians from the Berlin State Opera.

Oliphants (ivory horns), made between the mid-eleventh and the thirteenth centuries, are mostly associated with hunting and were blown as a signal during a hunt.

Image: Oliphant, Sicily, Italy, 12th century, ivory, carved (Mount: England, 17th century, silver, moulded and engraved), AKM809

Audio: This performance was recorded in 2004 with permission of the director of the museum and by musicians from the Berlin State Opera Unter den Lindedn, Mr. Hans-Jürgen (solo horn player) and Mr. Felix Wilde (trumpet player). 

© Museum für Islamische Kunst

Sounds of Creating

Throughout history, repetitive sounds filled arts and crafts workshops with rapid strikes of hammers in metalworking workshops, weaving combs in carpet workshops, and the back-and-forth movement of the shafts of textile looms.

Listen to the sounds of a metal workshop in this recording.

Can you think of repetitive sounds that you encounter in your living or working space today? How about the sound of typing on a keyboard?

Image: Candlestick, Eastern Iran or Afghanistan, 12th–13th centuries, bronze, embossed, and repousséd, AKM884

Audio: Recording from a coppersmith workshop in the bazaar of Kerman, Iran. © Saeedeh Niktab Etaati and Mohammad Haddad Zaddeh, August 2021

Rhythmic Patterns

Rhythm and rhythmic patterns can be heard or seen in various forms of art. Many music and dance forms are based on repetitive rhythmic patterns, such as flamenco, a style of Spanish performance of guitar, singing, and dancing. Watch the expressive performance of the Spanish flamenco master Carmen Romero commissioned by the Aga Khan Museum, 2021. 

Rhythmic patterns are also used in decorating objects and architectural elements. While you are listening to this music, look at the wooden panels on display in this section, AKM730.1-3. Do you see the visual rhythm of the geometric patterns? Do they evoke a sound or music in your imagination?

Image: Squinch (Ceiling panel), Spain, 15th-16th century, wood, carved and painted, AKM730.1

Video: “Al-Habiba” Compañia Carmen Romero, Carmen Romero, Rosendo Chendy León Arocha, Benjamin Barrile, Leen Hamo. Recorded at the Aga Khan Museum in 2021

Folktale Storytelling

Storytelling is an important tradition in cultures across the world, as a way to convey history and literature, including folktales, fables, and poetry.

Watch Juno-nominated musician Maryem Tollar and storyteller Dawne McFarlene engage in a lyrical call and response in this impassioned interpretation of a classical Arabic folk tale from One Thousand and One Nights.

Are there oral storytelling traditions that you share with your family or community?

Image: Manuscript of Mi’a layla wa layla (One Hundred and One Nights), Spain, 1235, ink and opaque watercolour on paper, AKM513

Video: This performance was commissioned and recorded by the Aga Khan Museum in 2020

The Sound of Rabab

The rabab is a boat-shaped string instrument with two chambers. It is one of the main plucked musical instruments of Afghanistan.

Listen and watch master Atiq Nikzad perform an Afghan rabab in Riverdale Park, Toronto, accompanied by tabla player, master Tanjeer Alam (Rajeeb). This performance was commissioned and recorded by Labyrinth Ontario Musical Workshop in 2020.

Look for other examples of string instruments in paintings on display or online. What do you think they would sound like?

Image: Rabab, Afghanistan, 19th century, wood, bone, mother-or-pearl, skin, AKM711

Video: This performance was commissioned and recorded by Labyrinth Ontario Musical Workshop in 2020.

The Sound of Writing

The creation of this calligraphic practice sheet would have required slow and controlled movement of a reed pen (qalam) by a calligrapher. 

As the tip of a reed pen moves across the surface of paper, it creates a characteristic screeching sound. This sound has a meditative effect for many artists who practice this type of calligraphy.

Listen to the sound of a calligrapher's qalam copying the first line of this page. Can you hear the difference between the long strokes and the shorter ones created by the qalam.

Image: Calligraphic Practice Sheets in Nasta‘liq script, Iran, 1867, ink on paper, on Loan from The Rare Books and Special Collections, McGill University Library, AC158

Audio: © Saeedeh Niktab Etaati, August 2021

The Sound of Kamancheh

Celebrating with music, as depicted in this painting from Shahnameh (Book of Kings), is a tradition practiced in many cultures. 

Listen to kamancheh, a bowed stringed instrument shown in the painting here.

Can you imagine improvising the rhythm on the tambourine while listening to the kamancheh in this performance by Saeed Kamjoo?

Image: Marriage of Siyavush and Farangis (detail), manuscript of Shahnameh (Book of Kings) by Firdausi (d. 1020), Isfahan, Iran, 1657, opaque watercolour, ink, and gold on paper, AKM274

Video: Pocket performance: Saeed Kamjoo, published November 23, 2020.

Performative Storytelling (Naqqali)

Naqqali is a form of professional storytelling in verse and prose, combined with the body movements of a storyteller (naqqal) and sometimes music. This type of performative storytelling is mostly known in relation to the narration of the epic stories from the Shahnameh (Book of Kings). 

Listen to an episode of the story of Siyavush depicted in this painting. This naqqali was composed by Shahrokh Yedegari and performed by the first female naqqal, Fatemeh Habibizad (Gordafarid), at the Aga Khan Museum in 2014.

Can you think of an epic story that you once read? How would you perform the story?

Click here to watch the video.

Image: Marriage of Siyavush and Farangis, manuscript of Shahnameh (Book of Kings) by Firdausi (d. 1020), Isfahan, Iran, 1657, opaque watercolour, ink, and gold on paper, AKM274

Video: The recording is an excerpt taken from a page-to-stage performance Siavash: The Prince of Hope, performed in 2014 at the Aga Khan Museum.

Tartil and Recitation

Reciting the Qur’an in a pleasant manner and with proper intonation (tartil) has been recommended in the Qur’an and in religious sayings. A qari (Qur’an reciter) considers the rhythms and syllables length within the structure of each verse during recitation.

Click here to listen to the recitation of the chapter 93 (Al-Dhuha, The Morning Hours), on view on the right page of the manuscript, recited by Qur’an reciter, Mishary bin Rashid Alafasy.

Look for the floral motifs on this page while listening to the recitation of the verses. These rosettes mark pauses in the reciting of the text to show where each sentence ends.

Image: Qur’an Manuscript, Chapters 92-95 (The Morning Hours), Turkey or Iran, early 16th century, ink and opaque watercolour on paper, AKM263

Audio: © 2021 Quran.com

Poetry and Music

This folio is from a collection of poems by the 13th-century Persian poet Sa‘di. The manuscript to which this folio belongs was produced in India in early 17th century.

Persian and Arabic poetry is based on various patterns of long and short syllables known as metres. Knowledge of the specific metres aids in the correct recitation of poetry.

Listen to the four verses on this page recited in Persian. Try making a beat by following the long and short syllables you hear in this poem.

Image: A Court Assembly, folio from the manuscript of Kulliyat (Collected Works) of Sa‘di (d. 1292), Agra, India, ca. 1604, paque watercolour, ink, and gold on paper, AKM284.19

Audio: © Bita Pourvash, August 2021