The idea behind the Skin Cello (2016) was to deconstruct the power of the traditional cello as an instrument, to change our relationship to it, through the use of different construction materials. Khabat Abas came to the idea of the Skin Cello in response to her experiences as a performer in the war-torn environment of Kurdistan-Iraq, where compromises and work-arounds are part of daily life. In 2016 she designed the Skin Cello as a mix between the Middle Eastern daf (a type of frame drum) and a Western cello. The sides of the Skin Cello are wood, as usual; the back is open; and the front is a drum skin.
Although it is the same size and shape as a normal cello, the change in materials radically changes the cello’s sound. In particular, the instrument cannot be tuned, because the bridge is fixed to the unstable skin, rather than to stable wood: when bowing a string, the bridge vibrates as well. In addition, because of its skin front and open back the instrument’s resonance is unpredictable. With simple – but fundamental – changes to its design, the Skin Cello becomes an instrument that is both a cello and not a cello; an instrument that draws on a particular historical practice while at the same time estranging itself from it and inviting new possibilities of performance.