Musicians’ Diary

Our thoughts, our creative steps, our everyday questioning about being musicians, emerging ideas & projects… and basically anything we want to share !

Musicians' Diary

No, I’m not a bass player !

A recurring problem for me in Istanbul is when I need to buy new strings for my folk guitar. In Brittany, most guitar players that play Breton music commonly use hard strings (usually Martin medium) whereas in Istanbul you can almost only find Light strings, despite of the large amount of music shops available. Therefore, I usually have to buy my strings from Brittany or from the web.

Playing hard strings has various consequences :

  • First of all, such hard strings can make guitar playing be very painful for your fingers.
  • The guitar itself has to be strong enough to stand resulting strains.

But look, this is what I have found last week in a Breton music shop :

My new guitar strings !

Yes this is even stronger than Medium strings (gauges are between 0.13 and 0.56), these are HEAVY strings, yes (gauges range from 0.14 up to 0.59) !

You may say, “this starts to sound like bass guitar strings !”. Indeed, I used to play with a combination of guitar and bass strings (using a bass string as lowest D, but this is now over !

The blue thing is a piece of pen cap that I cut in order to enable my guitar to stand the bass string that you can see on the picture !

Let’s go and try my new HEAVY strings, my fingers and my guitar have to get used to 🙂 !

§ Yann

astrakan breton world music on facebook

DIY Album, Musicians' Diary

Bağlama’s pitch


Bağlama, also commonly called “saz” in western Europe has the advantage of having moving frets, which means that fret position can be easily modified until you get the suitable music scale. Moreover, it has extra frets that enables to play notes between the common semitones that you have on a guitar or a piano. Thus, we’re entering the very exciting world of “quarter-tones” and “commas” (you can read this to learn more about this topic).

My bağlama

But those “quarter-tones” can be very different from one culture to another, or even from one performer to another. I always have the feeling that quarter-tones are very (!) high in Turkish music (more technically, I would say they’re about 50-60 cents above the lower degree, a semitone equals say 100 cents) whereas they sound usually lower in Breton music (I would say 30-35 cents. I have made some pitch measurements on Breton singer old recordings, and it tends to agree these values).

Therefore, moving frets are very convenient for adapting the instrument to the suitable scale, since you can move some of the frets upwards.

Moving the fret to get the suitable scale

I am pretty happy of the result, you can hear it on this live recording we made in Beirut last year : An Daou Gamerad Fidel

§ Yann

astrakan breton world music on facebook

Musicians' Diary, Sound & Video

How did you make this amazing video ?

1 Comment

Which video you mean ? This one, from our album‘s last song, that we called 7 Hills, based on traditional tune and lyrics, but we changed the original rhythm.



So how did we do it ? A combination of time + patience + paper + paint + cheap camera + cheap editing software !!!

As usual… any nice & warm comment will be welcome !!!

Musicians' Diary

Using oriental instruments ?

Music instruments that were (and are still) most commonly used in Breton music were bombard, biniou (breton bagpipe), treujenn gaol, (actually a clarinet), accordion.

Bombard (left) and biniou (right), mostly played together

More recently (i.e. in the 70’s and after World War II), new instruments like guitars, Irish wooden flute, bass, violin, Scottish bagpipes were introduced.

Treujenn Gaol (Breton clarinet)

In Astrakan Project, I mostly play stringed instruments. You may have noticed that I use guitar, but also Turkish ‘ud and bağlama (commonly called saz in western Europe). One may think this is to give an oriental flavour to our music. This might be partly true, but I don’t think this is the main reason.


One good reason is of course the fact that we currently live in Turkey, where ‘ud and bağlama are commonly used, so why shouldn’t I use them, temptation is so huge ?

But another good reason is that these instruments enables to play “more notes”, including the so called “commas“. In Breton music, we do have “commas” (see here for further explanations, for musicologists only !), yes, but they tend to disappear with the introduction of guitar, accordion and Scottish bagpipes for instance. You can play any note you want on a ‘ud, and almost any on a bağlama (even if there are frets).


When I play a breton tune, I feel closer to the truth (?) when I use the ‘ud than when I use the guitar, I think that’s a good reason for using oriental instruments !

§ Yann

Musicians' Diary

About Breton language

We get asked quite often WHY we chose to sing Breton songs in the Breton language (indeed, some traditional songs from Brittany are also in French).

Actually, we never chose, it just happened that our music’ lyrics are in Breton. Of course, we could explain why we prefer songs in Breton, because of the rhythm of the language, maybe also because of the particular sounds, because of the stories, but explanations came out afterwards.

teach yourself breton language books
Don’t give up…

The question should maybe then be “why do you KEEP singing in Breton when such a few amount of people may be able to understand you?”. This issue is for sure a meaningful one for us. None of us was brought up in Breton, in my case, because my family is not from Brittany, in Yann’s case, just like… more than probably 99% of people that are our age. In a survey made in 1997, 0.2% of people aged from 15 till 19 were able to speak Breton (source) . People our age.

We have both a good knowledge of Breton, from self study, from paying attention to songs, to road signs, from trying to speak to old people, from night classes… But anyone having learned any foreign language for a couple of years knows how hard it is to make it your language. Despite of that, we both strangely relate to that language as being our language. The one we’re emotionally connected with.


We don’t sing in Breton to be understood. Nor to be heroic people trying to save their language. We sing in Breton because it is a part of us. We sing in Breton because it is what we like to do. But when we sing in Breton, deep in our heart, you’ll find sorrow, because we know that not many people will understand all the beauty behind the poetry, we know that no translation or explanation can replace it.

§ Simone

Musicians' Diary

4 Live tracks available on “Pay what you want”.

Starting a fresh new year is always the right time to :

  • start new things, and we’re already working on some new tunes and songs
  • look back toward what we did in the previous year.

And this how we thought that it was time to do something with some rather good quality recordings we had from our concert in Beirut last spring, so we put them on Bandcamp, and they’re available for download, all together or separately, you can listen to them before, decide to pay something for them or even get them for free, and please : feel free to share them around !

§ Simone

DIY Album, Musicians' Diary

Using loops on stage : Trying to find the right balance

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As we use a computer with pre-recorded loops on stage (this post), we realised that we needed (and that we still need !) to find the right balance between those two following extreme situations:

  • A : The computer only provides very simple loops such as a drone or a basic beat.
  • B : The computer provides the full set of missing instruments so that we play the songs as they can be heard from the album. B-statement in our minds is this :

I must say that when I had started loop programming, we were first very close to the A-statement. Later on, as I was thinking that my programming skills and experience were increasing, we got very close to the B-statement…

The kind of music we would like to play on stage is somewhere in-between. A-statement may not be sufficient since we are in most cases only two musicians on stage (Voice and stringed instrument, except when we have guests), whereas B gives the feeling that we are not really playing but that the laptop is playing for us. Some would call this “Karaoke” !

Our laptop, footswitch and instruments

So, we’re going back to A, but not as close as in the beginning, loops mostly consisting in drones and light rhythms. We do hope we’re on the way to find the right balance !

[ yann ]

Musicians' Diary

How do we play on stage ?


For quite a long time, we had the idea of playing with electro loops on stage, but we didn’t really want to hire an extra musician for that. I know for ages that many guitarists use loop pedals. I think these devices are suitable when you want to record and overdub guitar loops. But we wanted to be also able to launch drum loops, drones and samples.

I found out that the right solution for that was an amazing software called Ableton Live. This software enables one to set up full arrangements and to launch them on stage. But my problem was how can I use my hands to trigger on stage while playing guitar or oud…?

An Ableton Live set we use on stage.

The answer was that I had to use my feet of course ! Which means that I need a kind of footswitch. MIDI footswich ? Not even a MIDI port on my cheap soundcard. USB footswitch? I found out that what I was looking for didn’t really exists ! Then I found this interesting link:

That was the best solution ever ! To built my own USB footswitch myself using an old USB keyboard and the suitable footswitches. I found all the necessary components in a very in a rather fascinating area of Istanbul called Karaköy.

And I started to make it on my own…You can see the resulting system below :

My home-made USB footswitch.
My home-made USB footswitch.
On-stage setup.

We did several concerts with this system, and sometimes with hardly any sound-check. We must say that it works perfectly !

[ yann ]

Musicians' Diary

All about our studio album + fan Pictures

You can’t wait any longer to buy it? Direct link to the shop >here<

If your not so much in a hurry, have first a look at this wonderful colours !

album cover astrakan project XV
Nice, hey ?

Yes, it’s real… Hear by yourself

This first tune is called “tri martolod an oriant”, based on traditional tune and lyrics from Brittany, quite famous since the 70’s under the title “tri martolod yaouank” (3 young sailors, some facts and a translation >here<)

You liked it ?

Do you want to have it ? [we wished you’d think so !] go >here< (it will use PayPal), for 12€, and what do you get for that price ?

  • 9 tracks to listen any time & anywhere you want
  • in a nice packaging with nice colours and paintings
  • the immediate download of all the tracks so that you don’t need to wait for the delivery to enjoy the music
  • shipping included for any destination. [yes, any destination in the world !]

You’d prefer a digital only ?

Of course, it’s possible, one click >here<, price is 6€

  • 9 tracks from the album in any format you want (mp3, flak) in high quality
  • Nice single covers to give you a taste of every song and that will nicely be displayed on your player. (we created them all out of pictures from our travels, you can see them in this >galery<)

From iTunes ? 

Head over here:

bare espacement

You want to know how it was made before you make up your mind ? Hear some more music maybe ? How about a little promo video ?

The sample track is the “mouezhiou“, based on a traditional dance from the Vannes’ area (South of Brittany).

Want to buy it now ?

Some happy faces from people enjoying our music…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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Maybe, you can download some FREE tunes in the meantime :

Yep, 4 tunes recorded live, you can enter “zero” for the price and get them for immediate download, or name your price after you listened to them.

bare espacement

You want even more ? If not done yet, you can follow our thoughts during the recording on the blog section. Or connect…