Tuesday, June 26, 2007

40. Sweep Away the Morning Dew and Sweet the Winds Shall Blow

For Roger Blench, the polyphonic music of San speakers (i.e., Bushmen) "structurally . . . appears quite unlike the wind polyphony recorded from elsewhere in Africa, although it has been argued that it resembles the vocal polyphony of the Pygmies. There are important structural differences between this type of two- and three-part polyphony and the multi-octave ensembles characterised here." He then goes on to suggest that a "link" might be found, nevertheless, in Ethiopia, where both styles are still being practiced.

Blench's remarks regarding structural differences make a great deal of sense -- indeed, the differences seem obvious, since in the vocal tradition each part is in itself melodic, while the instrumental parts often consist of only one note each. However, if a link is possible then doesn't that imply a structural equivalence, if not on the surface, then at some more fundamental level? We run into this sort of problem all the time when comparing one practice to another -- some things seem similar, others different; so are the two "really" different after all, or basically the "same"? In my view, the vocal and instrumental traditions are, if not the same, then nevertheless very closely related. For one thing, each individual pipe, horn or trumpet part in these ensembles is both hocketed and iterative, suggesting a possible connection with the hocketed vocal iterations so characteristic of style A1. Additionally, I think the more complexly interlocked hocketing of A2 may also have served as a model on which the more complex instrumental styles were based, as the end results can sound quite similar, despite the differences in performance technique. But there is also some evidence that the two could have developed in parallel, reinforcing and enriching one another.

It's important to understand that certain Pygmy groups have instrumental traditions similar to the ones mentioned by Blench, although the instruments rarely play on their own, without the participation of voices. Here is an example of hocketing between a Babenzele "hindewhu" pipe and a vocalist -- the same man performs both parts (from Anthology of World Music Series). And here, incidentally, is something very similar, from the Huli, in a very different part of the world -- New Guinea (from Music of Papua New Guinea, Musique du Monde.). Returning to Africa, the Aka Pygmies call such pipes mo-beke (from Musical Anthology of the Aka Pygmies, Ocora). A more complex interchange between pipes and voices is heard in another Babenzele example, "Song After Returning From a Hunt."

Hocketing pipes and voices are combined in other African traditions also, as in this example from the Ouldeme people, in the Mandara Mountains of Cameroon (from Cameroon:Flutes of the Mandara Mountains). I find this recording strikingly similar to the music being played in the following video, made by Olga Velitchkina as part of her study of the movement style of Russian panpipers (you'll need QuickTime installed to view this little movie). Listen carefully for the "hooted" voices in both clips, strongly reminiscent of what we hear in the Pygmy recordings above, as well as some of the shouted hocket examples we've already heard in an earlier post. If my juxtaposition of African, Melanesian and European traditions puzzles you, I wouldn't be surprised. But there is in fact considerable evidence, as presented in my essay, that all the musical practices quoted above share a common root

That's all I have time for today, folks. See you back here soon.

No comments: