Thursday, April 24, 2008

151. Music of the Great Tradition -- 51:Mysteries of D/D

The remarkable style of drone polyphony associated today primarily with Bulgaria (or more accurately Southwestern Bulgaria) is paralled by roughly similar traditions to be found, as noted by Jordania, in many more or less remote enclaves of Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Greece. This can be considered a true style area, rather than simply a region of drone polyphony, as it involves several highly idiosyncratic features in addition to drone. Most prominent is the stress on extreme dissonances, based on major and minor seconds, and sometimes even smaller intervals, characteristically emphasized and often sustained, generating acoustic "beats" that can produce a powerfully resonant bodily vibration, in which the singers clearly take pleasure. Since this style so prominently displays both drone and dissonance, Jordania has labeled it the "Drone/Dissonance" style, or "D/D."

While Jordania mentions several traditions in Georgia and elsewhere that tend to also feature secundal dissonances, in most cases this is an evanescent effect, not unlike similar effects in P/B polyphony, where seconds are often freely combined with thirds, fourths and fifths. This type of polyphony could, in many cases (especially where drone is absent) be explained as an offshoot of P/B. Not so with the "Bulgarian" "D/D" style, where the dissonances are emphasized and dwelt upon in a manner totally unlike anything to be heard in Africa. Other characteristics of this very distinctive style include extreme glottalization (possibly related to yodel), tremulo, free rhythm, extreme volume, and a characteristic upward glissando "glide" prominent especially at phrase endings. While drone effects can often be combined with parallel motion (usually in seconds!), the sustaining or iteration of a single note against at least one other moving part is usually a prominent feature of this style.

So what is the problem? Couldn't such a style, so clearly localized largely in one region of Europe (the Balkans) have developed as an offshoot of certain other types of polyphony in one particular corner of southeastern Europe and spread from there? Yes, I suppose it could have. The problem is that essentially the same style of singing, complete with all the features mentioned above, can be found in a totally different part of the world.

To illustrate, let's compare this example, Zamurknia Pestotin, from Bulgaria (from Vocal Traditions of Bulgaria, Smithsonian Folkways), with this, Berasi Kremet, from, of all places, Flores (from Music of Indonesia, Vol. 8, Smithsonian Folkways), a small island near Bali, halfway round the world, in Indonesia.

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