Sunday, April 20, 2008

148. Music of the Great Tradition -- 48:Drone

Before continuing with our discussion of drone and the "drone problem," let's take a closer look at some patterns of distribution for traditional vocal music in Europe generally. As I've argued, the most widely (though also sparsely) distributed vocal practice would seem to be the "contrapuntal" style I've been associating with P/B hocket/interlock, the style at the heart of my "Great Tradition" hypothesis. Its wide dispersal plus strong associations, in so many instances, with Africa, suggest that it could represent the oldest and deepest "stratum" of musical culture in Europe.

Drone represents another aspect of "Old European" polyphonic survival, with a very different distribution -- and little if any stylistic affinity with Africa. As we've already learned, traditional drone polyphony is centered for the most part in mountainous enclaves of Eastern and Southern Europe, but found relatively rarely in Western Europe, Britain and Scandinavia.

Another type of traditional "Old European" vocal polyphony, based largely on parallel thirds and sixths, has an almost complementary distribution, centered in enclaves of Britain and Western Europe, north, central, and south. While the influence of classical and popular "professional polyphony" is always a possibility, there does seem to be a preference for the "softer" intervals of the third and sixth in the European oral tradition, distributed in a cline decreasing from west to east.

Jordania points to yet another "Old European" style, "heterophonic polyphony," so-named because polyphonic passages tend to be interspersed with passages of unison and/or octaves, to produce a kind of "enhanced" melodic line. Caution is advised in the use of this terminology, however. While strictly speaking "heterophony" refers to a type of group performance in which all parts present a variant of essentially the same melodic line, the term has traditionally been used to describe performances where the same line is variously ornamented or embellished in different parts, often with varying degrees of rubato (rhythmic freedom), and little to no intentional polyphony. The examples offered by Jordania are not of this type. What he refers to as "heterophonic polyphony" is exemplified by rhythmically synchronized performances, with little or no rubato, in which various intervals, of the second, third, fourth or fifth, are interwoven with unisons and octaves to produce what he has described as a "thickening" of a single melody. A great many Russian and Ukranian "folk songs" employ this style, where each phrase often begins and almost always ends with a unison or octave.

While most of the examples offered by Jordania are from Eastern Europe, very similar practices can also be found in other parts of Europe and, indeed, many other parts of the world. Since, as I've already demonstrated (see post 102), polyphony and heterophony tend to be conflated in both Pygmy and Bushmen music, "heterophonic polyphony" might well be an offshoot of P/B style, possibly a development from an early version of the Old European "contrapuntal" style to which I've been referring so often. (See posts 108-111 for a description of a somewhat different type of "heterophonic polyphony," as exemplified in the structure of Javanese and Balinese gamelan music.)

Let's turn now to some of the most widespread non-polyphonic traditions of Europe, the "monophonic/unison" traditions of both solo and group singing that, in Jordania's view (and I tend to agree), most likely represent a later development, possibly stemming from the Indo-European migration(s) hypothesized by Gimbutas. Here too, we have a very interesting east-west divide. Simple strophic structures, such as the ballad and lyric song, characterized by relatively stable rhythms, medium length phrases, pentatonic or diatonic scales, little to no embellishment and moderately tense to moderately relaxed voices, are distributed according to a markedly descending cline, from the northwest and central regions to the south and east. This is the style that Alan Lomax called, significantly: "Modern European" (as opposed to the "Old European" polyphonic styles we've been discussing). More complex structures, including complex strophes, litanies and through-composed forms, often characterized by either rubato rhythms or irregular meters (such as so-called aksak or "limping" meters), medium to long phrases, narrow intervals, moderate to extreme embellishment and moderately tense to constricted voices, are distributed over more or less the same territory as drone polyphony, in a descending cline from Eastern to Southern Europe, with very few instances to be heard elsewhere on that continent.

No comments: