Thursday, May 8, 2008

154. Mysteries of D/D -- Tibet!

A few days ago I received a very interesting email from Giovanni Grosskopf, an Italian composer with a strong interest in ethnomusicology, who teaches at a conservatory in Milan. Professor Grosskopf has been following this blog for a while, and has already provided me with some very useful information on the Tralallero tradition as well as some thoughtful and meaningful feedback on other aspects of the blog. So whenever I hear from him I always look forward to something interesting. But I was in no way prepared for the extraordinary link he sent in his most recent communication, a link to a video featuring various types of Tibetan music. For most of us, including myself, I'm embarrassed to admit, Tibetan music means the chanting of Lamaic monks, sometimes accompanied by extraordinary trumpet playing, a tradition of great interest which is also, in its own way, a type of D/D, since the chant is itself a drone, and the polyphony can be remarkably (and also very beautifully) dissonant. I was also aware of a solo vocal tradition featuring voices with a remarkable range and fluency, often going into the stratosphere. But Giovanni found something very different at a certain point in this video:
my interest raised when a group of three Tibetan women began to sing. It was a polyphonic "Tibetan women love song", according to the presentation. Their style included very frequent dissonances of second, shrill and steady voice, and glissandos on the syllable "ee", not very far from Bulgarian polyphonic chant, and not unlike what you called the D/D style.
Here's the link, courtesy of CCTV. All the music on this video appears to be reasonably authentic and well worth listening to, despite the slickness of the production. The performance to which Giovanni alludes can be found 21 minutes and 13 seconds into the show. If you have a fast connection you can move the cursor to that position and wait a second or two while it buffers. Or you can simply listen to this excerpt I recorded. And he is right! The singing of these women is astonishingly similar to the D/D styles from both the Balkans and Flores that I've been discussing. Unfortunately no information is provided as to what particular group within Tibet they represent. If anyone out there has that information or knows where to get it, please contact me or place a comment here. This is for me a completely unexpected and very intriguing development.

Unlike the Nuristan tradition unearthed by Jordania, which may well be due to a relatively recent migration from the West, this Tibetan version of D/D would appear to be indigenously Himalayan. Could it be related historically to either the Balkan or Indonesian/Melanesian D/D traditions? Or both? Could it represent some sort of musical "missing link" between them, a survival, perhaps, from some paleolithic migrations, centered perhaps in India, that might have spread in at least three directions, west, north and east, leaving little to no trace of itself anywhere in between? Again, as I've said before, the real value of such research and such speculation is that the musical evidence has led to the formulation of a testable hypothesis. If it turns out that there are unique genetic connections between any two of these groups, then music will have contributed something of real importance to our understanding of human history.

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