The Qaathi

Introduction

The Qaathi used to extend all through central and Southeast Essos but nowadays they have been relegated to one city alone; ” the greatest city that ever was or ever will be”, according to them. The Qaathi claim this musical tradition to be the oldest one known in the known-world but records show the music of the Assha’i to be older. One thing we can ascertain is that the Qaathi musical tradition has been in constant evolution and expansion since its inception hundreds of years ago, and thus has accumulate a vast number of traditions, procedures and even quirks that take a lifetime to master.

Scales

To many, thinking of music is thinking of melodies, but nowhere is this truer than in Qarth. From the very beginning of Qaathi music all effort seems to have been about creating a system where melody is the only concern. The Qaathi musical tradition is the most flexible, intricate and expansive of all musical traditions explored in this volume with a total of 60 different scales. With such an expansive system of scales a tradeoff seems to have been made, where several melodies seem to be heard playing together as they do in Slaver’s Bay or Braavos. When I asked a Qaathi musician about the possibility of multiple melodies playing simultaneously and why Qaathi musicians seem to have never explore the possibilities of polyphony he responded as if I had asked why fire is hot: “if you need more than one melody to move me then you need to play better melodies”. While this seems to be a very narrow-minded attitude it is only a reflection of their music, which is entirely based on improvisation. If the Qaathi ever wanted to engage in polyphony they would have to abandon their scale system and rework the tuning of their instruments, and that would be just like asking the Qaathi to demolish the walls of their city.

The Qaathi ‘Trichord’ musical system is based on the distance of a major third (fig. a) and a minor third (fig. b). These are three possible combinations of these trichords in the major trichord version: with the middle note a half step distance from the bottom note; with the middle note a whole step from the bottom note; or with the middle note a half a step from the top note (fig. c). In the minor trichord there are two combinations: one with the bottom note a half step from the bottom note and another with the bottom note a whole step from the top note (fig. d). These five trichords are the basis all Qaathi scales.

The Qaathi scale system is based on the stacking of these trichords upon a root. At first glance it would seem to be similar to the First Men scale system of stacking intervals of third but it is important to point out that the trichords do not need any transposition once the stacking has been completed, as all the playable notes are found within the octave.

To create a scale in the Qaathi tradition one must first establish a root and choose whether to begin with a major trichord or minor one (fig. e starts the scale with a major trichord). This is the most important decision as it will define the nature of the scale. Regardless of the type of trichord chosen the second trichord must be of the opposite type as diminished and augmented fifths are not permitted between root and the fifth note of the scale. This doesn’t mean there are no decisions to be made for the second trichord as there are two different minor trichords and three different major trichords (fig. f adds a minor trichord). For the third and final trichord there are no restrictions as it can be either major or minor (fig. g ends the scale with a major trichord).

The three trichords together result in a total of nine notes, but as the second trichord shares its bottom and top notes with the first and third trichords respectively, the total number of notes in the scale is seven notes. At this point we get to one of the most daring aspects of Qaathi music, where the concept of scale diverges considerably from any other culture in both Westeros and Essos, as this seven-note scale does not feature a duplication of the root at the octave as all other musical traditions would do. This is a unique quality of the Qaathi system where every note in the scale must be found within the established structure of a trichord, thus making the concept of octave equivalence a rare occurrence in Qaathi music. There are instruments tuned one or more octaves apart from each other as they always contribute by duplicating the main melody playing in unison or one at a time, so everything remains in tune, but it is entirely out of the question for one instrument to feature octave equivalence on its own. Since every note must be part of a trichord the only way to reach the octave is to extend the scale by stacking yet another trichord on top of the third. This method never guarantees the octave to be in tune with the root so most scales end with the third trichord although there are Qaathi schools that extend the range well beyond with a fourth and even a fifth trichord. This aspect of Qaathi music is one of the strangest I’ve come across in my journey and its complexity is something I am still digesting so we will only cover music created under the assumption of three trichords per scale as it is rather the most common approach in Qaarth itself.

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