Wednesday, June 27, 2007

41. Voices of the Winds

In the section of her essay on Russian panpipes (see previous post) entitled "Breathing Techniques" Olga Velitchkina explicitly refers to a very specific danger inherent in pipe playing generally -- hyperventilation:

Uninterrupted blowing from one pipe to the next is very air consuming, because in this way part of the air is wasted during the movement. On the other hand, if each push of air is treated as a separate breathing cycle, it exhausts the player and quickly leads to hyperventilation. For this reason, Russian panpipe players employ two levels of breathing simultaneously, one "deep" level maintaining a normal breathing pace and another level supplying air for each note played on the instrument. . .
The articulatory breathing in panpipe playing is a visible and audible phenomenon. It can be observed in the movements of the upper abdominal muscles, pushing the puffs of air through the rest of the air column. The way this is done holds the 'secret' of not hyperventilating when playing kugikly.

For the Russian performers breathing is especially tricky because they must coordinate their pipe articulations with "vocal sounds," as described in the following section of her essay. One cannot help, while reading this, and recalling the sound of both the Russian and Ouldeme recordings of combined piping and vocalizing (see previous post), but make a mental comparison with the situation we found among the Siberian and Inuit throat-singers, the Bushmen Tcoqma performers and the Maasai warriors, all of whom are skating at the edge of hyperventilation, unconsciousness and trance. Could there be something about this type of hocketed interplay generally, whether vocal or instrumental, that tends to induce hyperventilation and trance? And if so, could this have something to do with the apparently close association between the vocal and instrumental versions of both "Shouted Hocket" and "Hocketed Interlock" we've been discussing?

Did the vocal tradition come first? If it developed directly out of the duetting, chorusing and pant-hooting practices of our pre-human forbears (whose air sacs would have forestalled hyperventilation), then it does make sense to assume the first musical notes could have been produced vocally, very possibly originating in yodeled (thus pitched) shouts, or hoots. On the other hand, it could have been the invention of simple one-note whistles, pipes or trumpets that produced discrete pitches for the first time -- and inspired the yodels. Another possibility, perhaps more likely, is that both practices emerged at roughly the same time, each feeding the development of the other.

I'd like at this point to return to Roger Blench, whose doubts regarding the possible relation of his polyphonic wind ensembles to Bushmen vocalizing got me going on this particular track. Blench correctly points out the differences, but at the same time implies a deeper affinity by pointing to a possible "link" to be found somewhere in southwest Ethiopia. There are, indeed, some very interesting traditions of polyphonic vocalization in that region, made all the more intriguing by the archaeological and genetic evidence pointing so strongly to this part of Africa as the possible homeland of the original "Out of Africa" migrants.

Here is an example of a rather intricate form of style family A1, "shouted hocket," from the Adjuran, cattle herding nomads of southwest Ethiopia, sounding very much like a cross between the Bushmen Tcoqma ritual and the panted vocalizing of Maasai warriors (from Ritual Music of Ethiopia -- Smithsonian/Folkways). Indeed, according to the liner notes, the Adjuran "dance themselves into trance" during such performances. Here's another example, but this time in style A2, "hocketed interlock," from another group also from southwest Ethiopia, the Ari, sedentary farmers living in the highlands (from Ari Polyphonies, Ocora). I find this performance especially fascinating as 1. it's so close in style to the preceding "shouted hocket" selection; 2. it so strongly resembles the one or two note per instrument hocketing of the wind ensembles, yet 3. is at the same time so very similar to certain types of Pygmy and Bushmen vocalizing. Here indeed we find a type of vocal interlock that's structurally all but indistinguishable from its instrumental counterparts. And as a matter of fact it's not unusual to find hocketed and/or interlocked compositions that can be played by wind ensembles or sung, interchangeably.

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