The santur is a stringed instrument in the same family as the Appalachian hammered dulcimer, the Chinese yangqin, or the East European cimbalom. These instruments consist of sets of tuned strings laid out in a kind of flat, rectangular resonating box, played with various implements including ornate wooden hammers and even bird feathers. These gorgeous-sounding instruments are capable of great delicacy in terms of touch and offer a wide palette of harmonic possibilities. It is thus perfectly suited to be a lead instrument in the classical music that has been handed down from what was once the Persian empire. The music of Iran is modal in nature, based on complex systems known as dastgah. Hossein Malek is one of the country's virtuoso players on the santur, known for breathtaking improvisations from the dastgah, driving his accompanists on the sheepskin drum called the tombak into knuckle-cracking fits of propulsion. Malek is one of the internationally best-known Iranian musicians, having toured in Europe and the United States since the '60s. He is present on the major anthologies of classical Iranian music released by labels such as Rounder, Folkways, and the extensive Philips Modal Music and Improvisation series, sponsored by UNESCO.
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