Ziya Tabassian

Perhaps the most delightful aspect of Tombak is the obvious care that has gone into recording and reproducing the wide dynamic range Tabassian presents. Startling Moniker, USA

Tombak is certainly a percussionist’s percussion album, savouring each microscopic whisper of fingers on stretched skin. The Wire, UK

Also called zarb, the tombak is the main percussion instrument used in Persian classical music. Made of a single piece of wood, the instrument consists of five parts: the membrane, which is stretched over the large opening, the drum shell, the neck and the small opening. The tombak is played with bare hands. The flexibility of the musician’s hands, his nimbleness, combined to the movements of the wrists and fingers, allow a large range of tones and nuances.

Self-definition, a search of the unknown, a desire to create and a longing to transcend limits prompt me to take the tombak beyond its traditional scope into unfamiliar grounds. Authenticity guides me, but I seek my own language. A quest for new sounds, the approach at times non metrical, at times cyclic of musical patterns shaped through horizontal, vertical or even circular lines, enhanced by variable pulsations and multiple, acoustic layers are part of my vocabulary. A tension between the materiality of the acoustic object and the melodies of rhythms also comes into play.

CD (AM 161)

  • Label: Ambiances Magnétiques
  • AM 161
  • 2006
  • UCC 771028116126
  • Total duration: 49:06
  • Sympathique case
  • 126 mm × 126 mm × 5 mm
  • 45 g

On the web

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In the press


Startling Moniker, September 25, 2007

Tombak, percussionist Ziya Tabassian’s first release for Ambiances Magnétiques makes its break with more “classical” style tombak playing early on, introducing rubbing and scraping sounds not often associated with it. It’s a gentle way of letting listeners know Tabassian intends to search for new facets of this well-known instrument. Entre nos peaux is a fine example of this search, beginning with a series of slowly cascading drawing sounds across the head of the tombak, which gradually form into a circular and continuous scraping sound of nail on hide.

Tabassian forms these wild scratch noises into a ball of pink noise, possibly using his whole palm across the head – though the exact nature of how these sounds were realized is unimportant to enjoying them. When Tabassian allows the awesome low end of the tombak to emerge again, it bursts forth as a wounded beast, rushing and powerful… charging the listener and suddenly retreating. Perhaps the most delightful aspect of Tombak is the obvious care that has gone into recording and reproducing the wide dynamic range Tabassian presents. The deepest tombak rumbles practically carry with them the scent of the resonating wood from which they arise, while the lightest touch of fingernail is also apparent.

Although there is nothing wrong with Tombak, I do find myself wishing for more in the way of an improvisational recording from Tabassian. I suspect there is a strong element of improvisation in this album, but with the “all pieces composed by” credit, it’s difficult to be sure. For me, the process of discovering and utilizing these new sounds is most interesting and I’d appreciate being let a little closer to that source than this recording seems to allow.

Perhaps the most delightful aspect of Tombak is the obvious care that has gone into recording and reproducing the wide dynamic range Tabassian presents.

Soundcheck. Global

Martin Longley, The Wire, no. 283, September 1, 2007

The tombak is a drum commonly used in Persian classical music, sometimes known as the zarb. In 2002 Montréal-based percussionist Ziya Tabassian returned to his native Iran to further his studies, resolving to respect the tradition, but committed to exploring the more abstracted qualities of the drum. Tombak is certainly a percussionist’s percussion album, savouring each microscopic whisper of fingers on stretched skin. At one point one imagines Tabassian was buzzing his lips, as if into a cornet mouthpiece, but instead it’s the supremely dry friction of fingers pushing the “wrong” way on the drum skin. The listener can find a comfortable volume level for such subtleties, but when a harder rhythm coalesces, speaker cones rumble with mighty bass. One piece sounds as though Ziya is peeling a hard-boiled egg on his drumhead. Eventually, the album closes with the almost shockingly conventional Danse mon tambour, revealing the drum’s ability to power a layered beat pattern. Ultimately though, this disc might be too minimalist for even the most steadfast drum worshipper.

Tombak is certainly a percussionist’s percussion album, savouring each microscopic whisper of fingers on stretched skin.


Dionisio Capuano, Blow Up, no. 110-111, July 1, 2007

Il tombak è il principale strumento percussivo della musica classica persiana. Non propriamente un tamburo, assomiglia ad una grande coppa di legno, con l’apertura superiore coperta dalla pelle in tensione e un collo stretto che finisce con una base più stretta ed una piccola apertura. Viene suonato a mani nude, percosso, fatto roteare. Tabassian non fa virtuosismi, né tribalismo à la page. Esplora il corpo dello strumento come fosse quello di un’amante. Da questa manipolazione sensuale escono suoni che sono brividi della pelle (Entre nos peaux, è il titolo più che emblematico), melodie (Chante mon tambour), riflessi quasi metallici (Seul dvant soi). Il musicista più che suonare uno strumento, sollecita lo spirito della sua terra a parlare, a danzare (Danse mon tambour). Il tombak acquista una vita propria, avviluppando esecutore ed ascoltatore. Bonghisti freak state alla larga.

Tabassian non fa virtuosismi, né tribalismo à la page. Esplora il corpo dello strumento come fosse quello di un’amante.


Gabriel Bélanger, SOCAN, Paroles & Musique, no. 14:2, June 1, 2007

Le percussionniste Ziya Tabassian offre au public un premier album solo. Connu pour sa participation à différents ensembles, il est actif autant dans le milieu de la musique ancienne que contemporaine. Il présente ici des pièces pour tombak (connu également sous le nom de zarb), principal instrument percussif de la musique persane. Cet opus est le fruit de ses réflexions musicales les plus récentes et retrace les rythmiques de la musique ancienne persane tout en y apportant une touche contemporaine.

Destination Out

David Dacks, Exclaim!, May 1, 2007

There’s no shortage of solo drum or percussion ensemble discs. However, very, very few of these attempt to explore their subject matter in an electro acoustic way. This marks Tombak as an important building block in what will surely become more commonplace in years to come. Recorded live with no edits or overdubbing, Tombak shows Tabassian in total control of his instrument. He is well known in Quebec as a proficient player, in the traditional sense, of this single headed, goblet shaped drum, but here he eschews pattern-based regular rhythms in favour of scraping, scratching and advanced tonal manipulation of this incredibly versatile instrument. Perhaps a solo record on tombak works better than on some other percussion instruments due to its inherent versatility. Tabassian capitalises on the quick and sensitive response of the tightly bound drumhead to create everything from pure bass pulses to wind-like howls. The dampening effect achieved by using one’s hand inside the cavity of the drum is also imaginatively deployed. Further sonic ingredients are found in Tabassian’s ability to brush the body of the drum or create distorted effects simply with his hands. All these sonic inventions are interesting but his formal technique also plays a major part in his ability to generate abstract sounds — consider the drum flurries in Varashan, which sound more like smears than precisely metered riffs. The last tune on the album, Danse mon tambour, does give it up and turn it loose with some addictive rhythms and sparkling colours.


Jos Smolders, Earlabs, April 17, 2007

Tombak is the name of an important percussion instrument used in Persian classical music. It is a one-sided drum carved out of the trunk of a walnut or mulberry tree and covered in goat or lamb skin. It is in the dedicated hands here of Ziya Tabassian, who studied classical percussion in Montréal, and tombak in Iran. He is member of several ensembles that are engaged in classical and world music. On Tombak however we find all alone with the tombak or zarb. Tabassian composed 9 pieces to demonstrate his love for this instrument. Compositions that are beyond the musical context where the tombak is usually heard. Played with bare hands he creates subtle and sober improvisations, that show the great flexibility of his playing. It is amazing what new sounds and colors he finds on this simple instrument. Through a great variety of techniques and musical principles, he discovers new dimensions on this rich instrument. On the other hand, how inventive and virtuoso this music may be, it is just two hands on one basic percussion instrument. Within these limitations Tabassian does a great job. But as a listener you must have a great affinity with this idiom in order to really appreciate and enjoy it. So I hope Tombak finds it’s way.


Rigobert Dittmann, Bad Alchemy, no. 54, March 1, 2007

Und widme mich gleich Ziya Tabassian und seiner experimentellen Handarbeit an der Tombak. Ziya ist ein Meister dieser klassischen, auch als Zarb bekannten persischen Handtrommel, die er ansonsten in Constantinople spielt, einem auf Alte Musiken entlang der Mittelmeerküsten vom arabo-andalusisch-sephardischen bis zum levantinischen Ende spezialisierten Ensemble mit neuerdings der Sängerin Françoise Atlan. Tombak zeigt in allen nur denkbaren Techniken und Finessen, was zwei bloße Hände - ohne Overdubs - mit der becherförmigen Trommel aus Maulbeerholz anfangen können. Tombak beschreibt lautmalerisch die beiden typischsten Klänge des Instrumentes. Aber Ziya entlockt ihm, neben allen möglichen und einigen fast unmöglichen geklopften Metren, auch noch durch Reiben und Rubbeln ein erstaunliches und völlig entgrenztes Vokabular. Doch muss man auf die kulinarischen Freuden von Weltmusik fixiert sein, um hier das harte Holz der Schulbank zu spüren? Zarb pur ist harter, spröder Stoff, den so zu kneten allemal Respekt für die mutige Materialerweiterung und phantasievollen Geräuschimpressionen verdient und die Bewunderung von Kennern sowieso. Aber nach den 49 Minuten muss ich mir jetzt erstmal den Staub abklopfen und dringend die Kehle anfeuchten.

Sélection CD

Yves Bernard, Ici Montréal, no. 10:10, November 30, 2006

Parallèlement à ses expériences au sein de Constantinople ou avec son frère Kiya, le Kronos Quartet et Kayhan Kalhor, Ziya lance enfin son premier disque. Un album instrumental avec pour seul instrument le tombak, principale percu de la musique savante persane, qu’il joue à mains nues,sans superpositions et qu’il sort habilement de son contexte premier. Le Montréalais se sert de toutes les cavités du tombak, le frotte, le gratte, le frappe, le triture, le fait ronronner, siffler, crisser, tonner, danser,en arrondit le son, lui fait faire la vague, le dédouble. Un disque déroutant mais nécessaire!

Un disque déroutant mais nécessaire!