jump to navigation

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I November 22, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in aborigine, Andrew Shahriari, Australia, book review, books, ethnomusicology, Hawaii, Kiribati, music, Oceana, Papua New Guinea, Terry E. Miller, world music.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

I indicated that my final blog post on this subject would be about Leonard Bernstein’s The Unanswered Question, a discussion of tonality and the nature of music. We will get there, but after a ten-part detour into commentaries on the book World Music: A Global Journey by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. This is a logical detour after absorbing Bruno Nettl’s information about ethnomusicology. I will do individual blog posts about each of the areas covered in the book, focusing mainly on the musical examples provided. I will first comment on general observations about the area and the selections provided. I will then post specific notes on each individual selection. These comments are not intended in any way to be definitive exhaustive examinations of the types of music discussed. They are just my comments on the musical examples provided in the context of my discussion of music, physics and metaphysics. (Also, this study will contribute to the new music I am in the process of creating, an effort to meld many international styles together. This is not some politically correct effort to create a global music for humanity. It is simply my fascination, as a composer/music creator, with all the different sorts of musical approaches available to humans. Technology allows me to explore this fascination and create based on it.)

Oceana: Australia, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, Kiribati

General Comments: This music is simple and basic. The Australian example offers a lone soloist singing over the drone of a didjeridu. The example from New Guinea gives us a mouth harp that plays the same pitch and simply changes tone throughout the piece. The excerpt from Hawaii is of a chorus, but again with a very simple musical concept. The Hawaiian example is reminiscent of the solo and response choral style found in African music. If these evolved separately (and unless the Hawaiian style copied the African style as a result of recent cultural contact, they probably did) this points us toward a potential universal human style of music. The last example from Kiribati centers around a simple scale without a 7th. The lack of complexity in this music allows us to feel as if we may be experiencing music created at the most basic human level. Of course, this can help us toward insights on the potential universal nature of music more than music that has the evolved into complexity and distinctive cultural characteristics. Music at this basic level points us toward a possible musical common denominator.

CD 1, Track 1 from World Music: A Global Journey
Australia: Aboriginal Song with Didjeridu
A lone soloist sings a descending line in a simple scale over the drone of a didjeridu. The line actually starts on the major seven of the tonality. The melodic line gives us a rough outline of a major seven chord starting on the major seven and cadencing on the third of the scale. The didjeridu drone establishes an unambiguous tonal center. Drones seemed to be universal; we are familiar with them in such distantly separated places as Indian sitar music and Scottish bagpipe music, as well as this Australian aborigine music. And, the descending nature of the melodic line, starting high and moving to a cadence point, is reminiscent of American Indian solo vocal chants.

CD 1, Track 2 from World Music: A Global Journey
Papua New Guinea: Susap (lamellophone)
A mouth harp plays on one pitch, changing timbre, in a 2/4 rhythm. (Though the primary music note is one pitch repeated, there is a faint move to the perfect 5th. This is the first non-unison/octave tone in the overtone series and the simplist ratio when bisecting a vibrating string, possibly leading to a conclusion on the universal characteristics of music.) This reminds us that music can be effective based on changing tone and timbre, not just on the melody from a specific mode, or how a pitch relates to harmonies. However, this uni-pitch music does not retain musical interest for very long.

CD 1, Track 3 from World Music: A Global Journey
Hawaii: Mele Hula Pahu (Drum-Dance Chant)
This selection features a female singer over a drumbeat that plays in four, with some variation. The vocal line is two notes moving back and forth over a minor third, with the upper note functioning as the predominant tonal center. The vocal is almost like spoken sentences, chanted on two pitches but with the lower pitch subordinate.

CD 1, Track 4 from World Music: A Global Journey
Kiribati: Group Song for bino (sitting dance)
A chorus starts out singing in unison with no harmonies in what seems to be a pentatonic scale.  As the piece proceeds, some simple harmonies evolve. Clapping provides the rhythm, and the claps tend to be on the downbeat, in quarter notes, with occasional eighth notes. The pentatonic scale eventually appears to center around a major scale, as there is a perfect fourth the added to the scale. So the scale is actually a major scale minus the seventh. This gives us a strong sense of a major key, a diatonic feel. But leaving out the seventh of the scale takes any tritone out of the scale, giving us a tame harmonic scheme.

Personal Compositional Note: Simplicity and can be compelling, and can reach more fellow humans at a shared, possibly even deep level. Finding fresh ways to offer simplicity may be more challenging than finding new innovations for complexity. Creative talent, even genius, may be found in the creation of fresh takes on simplicity.

The next post will move to Southeast Asia.

Previous posts on this topic:

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel Levitin

Music, the Brain and Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr

Good Vibrations/The Physics of Music by Barry Parker

Measured Tones by Ian Johnston

Exploring Music by Charles Taylor

Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson

Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin

The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl