Candidate: Mehdi Aminian, MA

The mention of Persian carpets conjures images of realms of colorful woven materials as well as perhaps the materialistic and tangible value they hold. The Woven Sounds research project, aims to investigate the intangible cultural heritage surrounding the process of carpet weaving in Iran.
Just like other types of works songs, such as those sung when fishing, during crop cultivation or during the winnowing of grain, which exist in traditional societies around the world - the singing culture around carpet weaving has evolved and shaped the craftsmanship and artisanship of weaving itself.

Persian carpets, as the foremost heavy textile art craft of Iran, have been emerging within the traditional process for millennia; peak production was attained around the 2000s when statistics show that there were around 2.2 million weavers living in Iran. Since then, however, the number of weavers has been falling drastically (reaching the estimated number of 750,000) as a result of a multitude of social and political factors (e.g. sanctions on carpet, consumerist culture, etc.).

Carpet weaving in Iran, which has formed throughout history synergic exchanges between labor and artistic creation, has developed its own unique style of work melodies intertwined with the weaving process. Despite the widespread culture and variety of traditions in carpet weaving across Iran, no studies on the intangible cultural heritage around carpet weaving could be found. Many of these traditions, along with the accompanying craftsmanship, are vanishing rapidly, which in turn has highlighted the urgency of conducting the present research.
The Woven Sounds research project, aims to investigate the intangible cultural heritage surrounding the process of carpet weaving in Iran. The specific research focus is on the musical cultures relating to this topic. In particular, I will analyse the development, distribution, structure and practice of a phenomenon addressed in my present research as Naqshe-Khani (Pattern Singing) and its effects on carpet weavers and the process of carpet weaving itself. After an intensive research, I found scarcity of research on the intangible cultural heritage around the process of carpet weaving, despite the widespread culture and the variety of traditions across Iran. Many of these intangible traditions are rapidly vanishing today along with the accompanying craftsmanship. In my project, I focus on elaborating on the historical development of carpet weaving in Iran, the emergence of Naqshe-Khani, the process of implementing it and the scale of the practice today in 4 provinces in Iran.  This project draws on the preliminary results of series of fieldwork trips carried out between 2017 and 2022 in Esfahan, Fars and Kerman and Bakhtiari provinces.
So far, I have identified two categories of work music traditions that accompany carpet weaving. The first one, known as Naqshe Khani (Pattern Singing), consists of recitals and tunes which serve as a guide of patterns for the weavers while they are weaving. The second one, manifested in the form of storytelling, singing, poetry and prayer recital, is not directly connected to the weaving process but accompanies it and, I argue, influences the labor process.

Demo documentary on the Naqshe Khani phenomenon in Kerman:

Image 1 depicts the patterns on which Naqhshe Khani is based:

A demo documentary on the intangible cultural heritage around Carpet Weaving in Iran:

Nomad weaver singing while weaving:

The fieldwork shaped the research questions and hypotheses as well as the logical order of approaching and inquiring the phenomena. Central for the investigation is understanding which are the historical and practical reasons for the emergence of Naqshe Khani and what musical, linguistic or shared styles can be recognized today in the different areas of Iran. What are the effects of Naqshe Khani on the process of carpet weaving and on the work performance, work quality, mood alteration and the general life quality of weavers? How do they intersect? Are the effects of Naqshe Khani similar or different from those of other recited or sung genres? What factors contributed to the decline of Naqshe Khani and why is this genre relatively better preserved in some areas rather than in others?

For the investigation of these complex phenomena, an interdisciplinary approach will be employed. The theoretical anchoring lies in the broader field of Ethnomusicology (MERRIAM 1964; NETTL 1983 and RICE 2010) through which the musical processes observed can be explained and further theories built, or the present one extended. The external social aspects of the intangible musical heritage under investigation will be elucidated by drawing on Social Theories. They will form the basis for understanding the matrix of interaction between the macro-factors that influence human behavior and the micro-domains of musical performances during carpet weaving. Furthermore, in the analysis process, I will rely on further subdomains of Anthropology, Ethnology and Psychology. By the end of this proposed research, the analysis of the impact of intangible cultural heritage (oral), its symbolic powers on the carpet weaving and the weaver’s life condition is anticipated. The current degree of Naqshe Khani applied in weaving across Iran and the effects of its decline will be analyzed. The musical and linguistic analysis of Naqshe Khani in four regions of Iran (Esfahan, Kerman, Fars, Bakhtiari) will be compared.

Using a qualitative approach, I plan to deploy primary methods of data elicitation such as in-depth interviews, life histories and participant observation, the results of which will be triangulated with supplemental techniques: weavers’ performances; field notes and written documents (historical texts and diaries). The data based on narratives will be subjected to an inductive content analysis. The analysis of the musical construction of the Naqshe Khani will be carried out from a modal perspective and mode distribution of Dastgah. As this project is shaped by field research, interviews and personal inputs and data, reflection and investigation on establishing fair and ethical relations to the weavers and their data is of paramount importance to me. I will conduct the research observing the fairness principles and ethical standards in ethnomusicological and anthropological fieldwork and in line with European data protection laws.

The data gathered will be duly archived (long-term) at the Phonogrammarchiv and disseminated with an open access policy online on the platform of the ÖAW Commission Vanishing Languages and Cultural Heritage. As part of a collaboration with other research departments (e.g. ACDH, ÖAW), I will explore and enhance the interaction between the scientific and civic community in Austria and Iran beyond the writing of a PhD monography in form of a scientific and artistic documentary, with the aim of empowering the various local or international research communities for future investigations into this topic and the researched community itself.

Mehdi Aminian is currently an employee at VLACH Commission and he is carrying out his PhD at the University of Vienna (supervisors: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Thede Kahl, Univ.-Prof. Dr. Julio César Mendivil, Univ.-Prof. Dr. Tiago de Oliveira Pinto).