Last update: December 5, 2023
The pei ar ប៉ីអ (sometimes transliterated pei au, pey â), also called pei prebos (preboh, praboh) is an oboe with a wide reed and cylindrical bore. Its sound is compared, by Khmer musicians, to the shrill noise of cicadas. Except at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, there is no standardized length and scale. As the pei ar cannot be tuned after manufacture, it is up to the instruments that accompany it to be tuned.
The pei ar is similar — except for the mirliton — to the Armenian duduk.
We would like to report here the text of the French ethnomusicologist Jacques Brunet dating from before 1968 and published in the Bulletin de l'École française d'Extrême-Orient / Année 1979 / 66 / pp. 203-254. We have taken the liberty of removing transliterations in capital letters to replace them with the terms in the Khmer language.
This text is rich in lessons regarding the use of body dimensions. It also reveals manufacturing techniques. The techniques used de facto lead to the creation of an equiheptatonic scale. We have also described this practice for making flutes in Ratanakiri.
Translation P. Kersalé.
The pey â is an oboe whose tuor body is generally made of bamboo of various kinds dâk may, kaêv or pingpong សីពីងពង់. The bamboo is chosen quite thin and it is cut at the level of a knot into which the reed will then fit. The length of the body of the instrument is calculated either from a standard (string, wooden slat, etc.), or by ampans and finger lengths. Thus in the village of Sras Srang (Siem Reap) the musician calculates the length of his instrument from an ampan, plus the width of two inches. Another, from the width of ten inches. The end to which the double reed will be attached is then cut into a cone inside the knot so that the reed can fit onto the body of the oboe. The diameter of the instrument is chosen both according to the musician's breathing capacity and also according to the color of the tone that we want to obtain. After which we move on to drilling the holes. This same musician from Sras Srang, named Ta Sok, then uses a wire the length of the body of the instrument which he folds in two. Halfway through the bamboo he then drills a hole which will in fact be the sixth. Then he folds the wire in two again and drills a new hole which is a quarter of the length of the pey's body. Finally he divides his rope into three and this measurement then gives the spacing between each hole. A seventh hole is then drilled taking this same measurement into account. So on the instrument in my possession, 29.6 cm (11.65") long, the holes are spaced 2.5 cm (0.79") from each other, starting from the node of the instrument. The exact location of the holes is checked by ear from these measurements and it is sometimes necessary to recut another pipe if the desired range has not been obtained. Another easier method is to simply copy and respect the dimensions of a similar instrument. We also saw a pey â being made in Battambang: the musician first drilled a first hole in the middle of the pipe then established the distance between each hole by the width of his thumb. In the village of Wat Svay Andet (Lovea Em), we first drill the middle hole called run pram thien then we drill three other holes on either side of the pram thien from the measurement of a folded string four times. At Takêo we drill the first hole two inches from the upper orifice then each of the other holes is drilled one inch apart from the previous one. The methods are in fact numerous and were originally applied by each musician empirically from a standard which can be not only a string but also a finger, a hand and very often a toe. After which the methods considered to be the most clever were preserved by the people of the village. At the same level as the first hole, we drill an anterior hole called run huoch which is used to modulate a note and to produce slides depending on whether we fill it more or less. Many musicians still hold it covered by their thumb. Always at the same height as the first hole, a side hole called a run haêp is made to which a sheet of cigarette paper - formerly a section of matured grass - or the reed pith. This accessory produces a nasal effect. The pipe of the instrument is chosen from a bamboo that is neither too young nor too old and whose exterior surface is very regular. The cavity itself must be very smooth. This oboe is exceptional in that its body is cylindrical, whereas throughout the world the oboe almost always has a conical bore. Once cut, the bamboo is left to dry before being worked. The holes are drilled with a hot iron. On the examples that we measured, the section of the pipes varied between 8 and 12 mm (0,31" and 0.47"), their length did not exceed 30 cm. The double reed ândat អណ្តាត = tongue, is made from the reed known as prâboh; this is why the oboe is also often called pey prâboh. The end is cut into a knot so that it can later be easily inserted into the pipe of the instrument. At rest, reed and pipe are separated. The double reed is chosen from fresh reed which is buried in hot ash in order to soften the wall. When the ash begins to cool, the knotless end of the reed section (the one that will be transformed into vibrating reeds) is flattened and kept in this way under a small press for several days until it retains its shape. known as “duck-billed”. The reed can be used as long as it no longer rounds when removed from the press. Finally we cut and thin to the extreme what has become two vibrating strips in order to soften them as best as possible then we scrape their surface in order to obtain perfect regularity of the double reed. The two slats are held tight together by a small protective snap bamboo corset (usually two small flexible bamboo rods held together by knotted wires). After which the double reed is soaked for a long time in lime water mixed with a little acid so that the material is completely dead and no longer swells with the humidity of the lips. The duration of this bath (2 to 3 days) is decided by the instrument maker. When playing the pey â, we generally place - but not necessarily - a sort of small khniep tensioner (= press) which, by tightening the ridges of the reeds prevents them from pressing against each other so that they can still vibrate. When the pey â is in working order, the reed is embedded in the pipe, the end of the pipe often being ringed with a small metal blade to prevent it from splitting. The reed is approximately 11 to 12 cm (4.33" to 4.72") long. Sometimes the pey â is carved from krâkâh wood, particularly among musicians where there is a musical tradition influenced by Siam. This type of pey â is practiced at the royal palace in Phnom Penh and with many musicians in Battambang, more rarely elsewhere. The measurements taken for its manufacture are then extremely precise (because you cannot touch up a hole in the wood) and the decimeter is required. The dimensions are similar to those of the bamboo pey â. The one we have is, in working order, 39.4 cm (reed 11 cm, pipe 29 cm when separated). The body is perfectly smooth and slightly rounded in the center, and the two ends of the pipe are surrounded by a thin metal ring. Although made of wood, the bore of the pipe is also cylindrical. Made of krânhung wood, it was pierced using a metal rod of rectangular section called daêk khay. The height of the instrument varies between musicians. However, the intervals are generally respected whatever the pitch of the tonic.
Translation P. Kersalé.
When all the holes are blocked, we obtain the lowest note called samleng ko. By leaving holes 7, 6 and 5 open, we obtain the samleng kândal សំឡេងកណ្តាល (= medium sound) at a fourth of the bass sound. Finally, by maintaining the same position of the fingers but by blowing harder, we obtain the samleng aêk សម្លេងឯក (= first sound), that is to say the high degree to the fifth of the medium sound. The other instruments are tuned to these three degrees in most orchestras. By leaving all the holes successively open one after the other we obtain the following scale on the pey â of Péang-Lovea (see musical staff in the original document). The scale varies according to the provinces, often even between villages close to each other. By blowing harder we obtain approximately the notes of the higher octave. However, the degrees of the upper octave do not correspond exactly to those of the lower octave. On the other hand, depending on the vocal possibilities of the singer, the fundamental degree can change as we will show later with the example of some scales. Here as an example is the scale of a pey â recorded in Phnom-Penh where the western scale is more influential (see musical scale in the original document). To play pey â, we plug holes 1, 2, 3 with the index, middle and ring fingers of the right hand and holes 4, 5, 6, 7 with the index, middle and ring fingers. and the little finger of the left hand. To define the use of an instrument, Cambodians use the term corresponding to the act of practicing this instrument. So to say “play the oboe”, we say “blow”, or phlom pey âr ផ្លុំប៉ីអ. This same term is used for all wind instruments.
Le pei ar était joué, jusqu'à la Révolution khmère rouge, dans l'orchestre de mariage ancien phleng kar boran aux côtés du chapei, du skor daey, du kse diev et du tro khmer, un ensemble orchestral aujourd'hui devenu rare.
This old phleng kar boran wedding orchestra consists of the following instruments: chapei lute, pei ar oboe, tro khmer fiddle, kse diev zither, pair of skor daey drums. Most of its members belong to the last family to hold this precious know-how in Siem Reap, the Maen family. This filming was carried out in November 2017 as part of an audio recording. This song is called Som Pong Pon.
This ancient phleng arak boran possession music orchestra consists of the following instruments: chapei lute, pei ar oboe, tro Khmer fiddle, kse diev zither, pair of skor daey drums. Most of its members belong to the last family to hold this precious know-how in Siem Reap, the Maen family.