The social activity of a Pygmy encampment has no apparent hierarchy. Each person appears to enjoy total liberty; however, life is rigorously organized according to implicit plans, imperceptible to the uninitiated observer. As we shall see, Pygmy music, in the image of all their social activities, presents very similar characteristics, that is to say, relative autonomy of each participant within implied but strict structures [my emphases].Having made the point (thanks to Kisliuk and Arom) that the musical tradition under consideration here (what I have been calling "Pygmy/Bushmen style" or P/B) can be understood as the "image" (to use Arom's term) of a particular type of culture -- or perhaps more accurately, cultural style -- I must call attention to yet another aspect of this very unusual musical-cultural association, even more telling with respect to the argument I've been so patiently developing over the last several posts. Not only does the music mirror some of the most basic elements of the culture, but a musical practice of this degree of complexity and precision requires a degree of highly synchronized interpersonal coordination and musical skill that only a certain type of culture can provide. Comparable results can be achieved in the Western classical tradition only through a significant period of preparation on the part of especially trained ensembles. Yet, according to Arom, his recordings
bear witness not only to the extraordinary variety of the musical patrimony common to all the Aka, but, also -- and this is particularly notable -- to the perfect knowledge of this patrimony by each of the members of the community.Arom continues, describing in some detail the many aspects of musical invention, coordination and interaction that all members of the Pygmy community must master. The "highly elaborated vocal polyphony" is a "collective affair," in which the voice of the initiating leader "dissolves into the mass; and, unless there are precisely defined ritual reasons, all members of the community -- men, women and children -- take an equal part. . ."
Pygmy polyphonies can be understood formally "as ostinati with variations: cyclic music founded on a principle close to that of our passacaglia . . . [E]ach piece of music is based on the repetition of periods of constant duration, indefinitely repeated, but outfitted with multiple variations" in a manner that "calls to mind certain principles of composition of medieval art music, more precisely those of Ars Nova, of the 14th to 15th centuries. . ." and, like so much of the music of that period, is based on "a melodic line comparable to the medieval cantus firmus. . ."
"In this profusion in which the most complete liberty seems to reign there is thus a rigorous organization. . ." As Arom points out, "this technique is the fruit of long apprenticeship. As soon as they are able to walk, the children take part in the life of the community and thus in one of its principal manifestations, music."
(to be continued . . . )