Tuesday, March 25, 2008

139. Music of the Great Tradition -- 39:Hocket

No one got it. (Admittedly I didn't allow much time, sorry.) That last example is from Africa, transcribed by J. H. Kwabena Nketia, in an essay highlighting the extraordinarily widespread use of hocket in that continent: "The Hocket-Technique in African Music" (Journal of the International Folk Music Council, Vol. 14. (1962), p. 47).
An illustration of the hocket-technique as used in Ghana in the music of flute ensembles is provided by an extract from a recording of the Builsa who live in the Upper Region of Ghana. In this particular ensemble, three short notched flutes are used, all of them with two or three finger holes. They are graded in pitch, so that one can speak of treble, alto and tenor flutes (ibid., p. 46).
As is evident from both this example and several of the medieval examples in the previous post, it's not always easy to distinguish hocketing from the interlocking of parts, and often the distinction simply breaks down. In some cases, hocket manifests itself in an extreme form, where each voice or instrument contributes only one note at a time, as in the first example from the previous post or, to invoke a more commonly known practice of today, a bell choir. In other cases, the interaction can be more complex. Often there is a tendency to break up not simply the melody, but the musical texture as a whole, in an interplay of tightly coordinated interweaving parts, to produce a characteristic overall effect often described as a resultant.
In any music in which the principle here discussed is applied in whole or in part, the resultant -- a complex of pitch- or tone-contrasts in a defined sequence, operating within the framework of an equally defined pattern of rhythm -- is of particular importance. Each player must have both a general awareness of the resultant, as well as the knack of coming in at the right moment. . .
Analysis of music employing the hocket-technique-whether in its simple or
more elaborate forms-must emphasize the resultant (or groups of resultants) by showing the interdependence of the separate instruments or the links, both horizontal and vertical, which bind them into an integrated whole (ibid., p. 51).
Nketia goes on to add the following very interesting comments, reflecting both an awareness of the striking resemblance to European medieval traditions and a skepticism regarding its meaning that was typical for his time -- and remains typical today. Since he raises an issue fundamental to the whole question underlying my very different notion of a "great tradition," it's important to quote him at length:
In conclusion, the concern of this paper has been to demonstrate the "interlocking" principle, so commonly found in African musical practice, and based on the use of hockets. In adopting the term hocket for describing the examples discussed here, I have been guided merely by a resemblance between this procedure in African music and a practice in Medieval European music to which the term originally referred. It is not implied that there is any direct historical connection between them. Moreover, a difference both in attitude to the hocket and in its application is discernible between the two hocket-traditions. We are told by some historians that in Western music the hocket was a device -- indeed some of them describe it as a naive device-which showed itself in two forms: (a)in the form of interspersed breaks in one voice accompanied by semibreve movement in the other parts, or (b) in the form of divisions of a melody between two voices. The latter it is said, is to be found mainly in theoretical treatises rather than in actual music. There was a certain arbitrariness in the use of this device, but we learn that it was "a genuine attempt to obtain that particular emphasis of rhythm which is now styled staccato."

In African music practice, the hocket is not merely a device but a technique of building up single or parallel linear structures in various types of interlocking patterns. The hockets are not arbitrary artistic devices; they are functional, in the sense that they arise out of melodic and polyphonic considerations. They are often a means to an end, not an end in themselves, and are used for achieving overall effects of continuity, for building up interlocking, and sometimes complex structures, out of relatively simple elements (ibid., pp. 51-52).

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