Thursday, May 15, 2008

155. Droning on and on

Sorry to be away from the blog for so long. Please don't give up on me. I am presently struggling with a new paper with a deadline of mid-June, and it has not been easy going, so I've been forced to neglect the blog and will probably continue to be posting only sporadically. Meanwhile a very close friend died last week and the shock of his untimely death has made it difficult to concentrate. Paul Buriak was a student of mine many years ago, who became a good and very supportive friend, the sort of person who was constantly working to help friends and family in any number of ways. Paul was also a remarkable poet, but too shy and too unsure of himself to even attempt to get any of his work published. He will be greatly missed by his many friends and his family, who appreciated his many gifts, his penetrating intellect, his generous heart and his ability to bring people together and make things happen. I've been using him as a sounding board for my ideas for years and he's always had interesting, intelligent and helpful responses, as well as being consistently sympathetic and supportive. He was also an avid and enthusiastic reader of this blog, which I especially appreciated.
I've been droning on about this topic of drone, which is very interesting and important, but also a bit of a distraction from my principal theme, to which I hope to return soon, my pet "Great Tradition" idea, which hasn't quite played itself out yet. Before I leave the topic of drone, however, I need to say a bit more, because as is well known to students of Music History (with capital letters), drone was a very important aspect of Medieval Western polyphony. I've already had a lot to say regarding my conviction that elements of Pygmy/Bushmen style, notably hocket, stimmtauch and canon, almost certainly played a role in the development of the Western polyphonic tradition, making it a part of the "Great Tradition" for sure. (IMO)

Clearly the very important drone-based oral traditions of "Old Europe" also had an important role to play, which must be recognized, despite the fact that drone is NOT part of my "Great Tradition" theory. While I don't have time to get very deeply into that development, I do want to make the following point before I leave the topic of drone: there is in my mind very little question but that the so-called "art" music of the so-called "West" was not an autonomous development born of some sort of innate creativity that suddenly sprang up out of nowhere on the part of certain monks and priests of the Medieval Christian church. It was part and parcel of long-standing traditions that had been in play for a very long time, possibly tens of thousands of years. The early polyphony of the Medieval church is saturated with drone effects strikingly similar to what can be found in a great many of the Old European traditions pointed to by Jordania (and of course many others as well). This has been studied, of course, by some very capable people, but the full impact of their work has yet to be felt in the world of professional academic musical scholarship. The role of oral "folk" traditions of all sorts in the development of Western classical music at all stages of its history has consistently been either underplayed or ignored. Which means that the real history of "Western Music" has yet to be written.

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.