jump to navigation

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VII December 10, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Africa, Andrew Shahriari, book review, books, Central Africa, ethnomusicology, Ghana, music, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Spain, Uganda, world music, Zimbabwe.
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.)

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI

PART SEVEN
Sub-Saharan Africa: Ghana, Nigeria, Central Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Senegal, The Republic of South Africa

General Comments: When we think of African music, we think of rhythms, of drums and pitched wooden percussion bound together in energetic syncopated magic. And there is a lot of that with these selections. Another African characteristic is the solo-response choral style where a soloist sings a line and a chorus responds by repeating the line or playing off of it in some way. This music also has elements seen in other music—pentatonic scales and even tonal “Western” harmonies. Even with the exotic and distinctive rhythms and sounds, there are more indications here of universal human musical commonalities.

CD 2, Track 19 from World Music: A Global Journey
Ghana: Polyrhythmic Instrumental Ensemble
A driving rhythm in four moves this piece. Those familiar with Santana (late 1960s Santana) would feel right at home with the way the bongo-sounding drums pound out the main rhythm. A syncopated hand clap springs out of the drum chorus with 16th note drum beats ornamenting the main rhythm. This underpins the singing. There are no pitched instruments in this piece. The singing is carried by a lead male voice (later trading with a female vocalist), with a chorus echoing the melodic lines. The lines are simple—1 to 5, cadencing down to 3, to 2, then resolving to 1. There is a syncopated feel to all of this—yes, the downbeats are pretty clear, but the music jumps and gyrates around the beats. That syncopation is familiar to jazz and rock fans, not necessarily in the comfort zone of traditional “Western” music.

CD 2, Track 20 from World Music: A Global Journey
Ghana: “Talking Drums”
This is really just a simple recitation. A female speaks (not singing notes, speaking), barely in any kind of rhythm. The drums are the only musical instruments, pitched a major second apart.  They appear to comment on the rhythm of the words.

CD 2, Track 21 from World Music: A Global Journey
Nigeria: Jùjú Popular Music
This is modern pop music in a Sub-Saharan style. We have electric guitars, organ and bass. The song starts with a drum kit, but the drum kit recedes in prominence, with African drums pushing the rhythm. The song is in a basic 4/4 rhythm, but at times feels truncated possibly to accommodate the vocal lines. The vocal lines are simple, almost motivic; diatonic major (though I hear diversions to the flat 3, almost a blues move). What makes this sound African as opposed to “Western” pop? Stanzas found in “Western” pop song construction are not present. The form is freer—the music starts with a little intro that is clear ensemble playing, but then drifts into an ongoing rhythm on one basic. There is a little motivic hook from 2 to 1 to 6 back to 1 played in unison with the bass. The primary percussion is a plethora of African drums. The drum kit stays back—I hear primarily hi-hat with some snare drum sprinkling in. The bass does not join the drums to anchor the rhythm—the bass notes join guitar notes and sometimes the vocals. It is a fun marriage of the pure African style and modern “Western” pop-rock colors.

CD 2, Track 22 from World Music: A Global Journey
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Pygmy Music
This piece has an exotic, strange-toned vocal line that underpins it—pentatonic motives intertwined to create a shimmering effect. Handclaps are the only rhythm. The rhythm is in a basic four, with a lot of syncopation. The vocal lines are simple, but intertwined in a way that creates more complexity. A solo voice calls over the top of this, mostly singing in a pentatonic mode, but sometimes shouting.

CD 2, Track 23 from World Music: A Global Journey
Zimbabwe: Mbira Dza Vadzimu
Two Mbira Dza Vadzimus lay down the instrumental tracks. They sound a lot like steel drums, though less edgier. The two combine to create a I7 to IV progression that repeats. The detuned quality gives us a quarter tone/microtone feel, though the music is still diatonic major (but with the flat 7 of the scale). The vocalist sings over the top within the I-IV diatonic feel. A rattle taps out the rhythm, holding together the two instrumental lines.

CD 2, Track 24 from World Music: A Global Journey
Uganda: Akadinda
Western percussion instruments play together to create a shimmering pattern.  It’s a pentatonic feel, and serves to outline a chord, but in a frenetic way. World Music: A Global Journey indicates this is easier to follow visually, as we can see what each percussionist is doing. Musically, this is an exotic feel, a wonderful way to express a single chord without just holding the notes sustained. “Western” composers do this, trading lines around different timbred instruments to spice up a static chord or tonality. It gives the music a drive, a life, like atoms/quarks/the energy of existence bubbling—nothing is really ever still—this music captures that.

CD 3, Track 1 from World Music: A Global Journey
Senegal: Jali with Kora
The kora is a “bridge harp.” This is again a diatonic major scale with introductory lines offered in cascading thirds. The instrument then goes into a vamp on a I/major chord. A male singer brings us a descending vocal line that seems to cadence on 1s, but sometimes drifts down. The singer hits both the natural 7 and the flat 7, implying a Mixolydian mode and major scale. The kora does not give us a 7 in the scale, so the singer is free to go Mixolydian or diatonic major (or neither, maybe just pentatonic).

CD 3, Track 2 from World Music: A Global Journey
Republic of South Africa: Mbube
This piece is performed by an all-vocal all-male ensemble. The soloist sings the line, followed by a big choral response. For some of the solo lines, we hear a low chanting of chords. Everything is I-IV-V-I in various combinations. There are lots of suspensions from the 4 to the 3, leading to cadences on the I chord, suspension-resolution cadences that would make a “Western” church choir proud.

CD 3, Track 3 from World Music: A Global Journey
South Africa: Ladysmith Black Mambazo
This is an internationally popular a cappella choral group. The harmonies involve simple, big chords, meticulously accurate and polished both in pitch and ensemble. The African sound comes from the solo-response style, plus the sounds of the voices. The rhythm is a basic four, but phraseology bends the rhythm at times. Syncopation is evident in the music as well, and a kind of percussion comes via vocal sounds like rolling r(s), tongue clicks, and rhythmic chants of block chords.

Personal Compositional Note: I will be employing rich rhythms as I have in my own music already. Technology gives me access to many sounds from all parts of Africa. And these rhythms are already part of my own musical culture as they were brought over with blacks and incorporated into the American music tradition in blues, jazz and rock. I like the solo and response feel. My melding of music will be instrumental, but there is no reason the concept of solo and response can’t by applied to instrumental music. Harmonically and modally, the African music I heard is not as intricate as some of the other traditions. African rhythms with some of those modal traditions will be fun!

The next post will move to the Caribbean.

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

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part VI December 8, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, bagpipes, book review, books, Bulgaria, ethnomusicology, Europe, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, music, Russia, Scotland, Spain, 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.)

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V

PART SIX
Europe: Greece, Spain, Russia, Scotland, Ireland, Hungary, Bulgaria

General Comments: This, of course, is one of two areas on this musical tour that I consider my own culture. The selections here are from folk traditions, so this allows me to look at these musical traditions at their roots, unaltered by cultural melding. I was struck by how many of these selections involve drone tones. I know this is a small cross-section (a really tiny cross-section) of European music. The drones serve to anchor us in tonal centers. This is a great musical tool to keep listeners engaged and oriented when the mode is exotic and unfamiliar period. Drone tones may be a part of the universal human musical experience. Even the Tibetan music with its drone followed by a drop of a major 7th, put a drone idea in their unique musical scheme. Otherwise, this small slice of folk/Europe gave me a chance for some assessments of my own cultural roots and generated some food for thought.

CD 2, Track 12 from World Music: A Global Journey
Greece: Greek Orthodox (Byzantine) Chant
This is a modal chant with a drone; an all-male vocal chorus sings the piece. My ears settled on the drone tone as the tonal center. That gives us a scale of 1, flat 2, 3, 4, 5, flat 6 (and I’m not sure the 7 was played) mode again. But it cadences on the 4! And that is how I heard it—not as a cadence on 1, but as a last-minute, sudden, unexpected move to 4. I have to admit, the drone sneaks in the 4 tone, but not prominently. If 4 is intended as the tonality, then this is a harmonic minor mode in the minor 4 key. But my ears don’t hear it that way. I like it in that original mode with a sneaky move to 4 at the end, like a Picardy third cadence. This music feels deeply spiritual, an attempt to blend with the Divine from yet another area of the world, offering more indications of confirmation that music functions as a bridge for humans from the physical to the metaphysical.

CD 2, Track 13 from World Music: A Global Journey
Spain: Flamenco
Guitar, energetic singing and emoting, and lots of rhythmic clapping, dominate the selection. We can almost see the dancing in our minds. As stand-alone music, it lacks a clear shape, as it is accompaniment for dancing. The guitar plays I-V7, with an occasional move to IV. At the end, we slipped in the harmonic minor, with a i-V7 harmonic structure. Flurries of notes punctuate the tight, rhythmic strumming.

CD 2, Track 14 from World Music: A Global Journey
Russia: Balalaika Ensemble
This is an ensemble of balalaikas, separate instruments pitched differently to create a sort of balalaika orchestra. The selection is played by a Russian ethnic ensemble in Ohio. They play an obviously structured, composed tune, simple but catchy, with that distinctive twangy balalaika sound. The harmonies are straightforward “Western”: I-V, I-IV-V. Then for fun, the piece modulates to the V and plays I- V7-I in the new key (V- II7-V in the old key). Tambourines come in to accentuate the rhythm, but this ensemble sets that rhythm nicely without it.

CD 2, Track 15 from World Music: A Global Journey
Scotland: Highland Pipes
This is one of my favorite selections from this musical tour. We have the well-known drone with the melody over the top. A snare drum wraps out the rhythm. The meter is 4/4 with triplets or 12/8 if you want to notate the triplet notes as 12/8 figures instead of 4/4 triplets. The drone is on the 5, not the 1. This took me a few listenings to understand. The 1 is heavily implied, but not played as the drone tone. The melodic line clearly sets the tonality. During the first half of the piece, every cadence is 3-1-1 on beats 1-2-3 of the 4/4 measure. There is no mistaking the tonality with that move. The mode—major key. The lines slip into circling around other tones, but always migrate back to that 1 at the end. I can easily hear a synthesizer or electric guitar playing a line like this over a synthesizer/electric guitar drone as a compelling musical blend, and on modes other than a major key.

CD 2, Track 16 from World Music: A Global Journey
Ireland: Uilleann Bagpipes
These are thinner bagpipes (not as familiar to me—not as much to my taste, not as commanding or rich as those Scottish bagpipes). The mode is a major scale, but the melodic line slips into the flat 7 when moving to the IV chord. That is my favorite musical moment in this particular selection.

CD 2, Track 17 from World Music: A Global Journey
Hungary: Tekerölant (Hurdy Gurdy)
The instrument involved here is a box that drones like bagpipes. The really exotic thing about this is the move back and forth between the major and minor third. (With a flat 7, we’re talking about a Mixolydian to Dorian move, though this is primarily Mixolydian with a flat 3 in the scale played most often at the end of cadences). There is one tonal center here, but with that changed third scale degree, we have some ambiguity in the music, giving it an exotic feel.  Yes, in the American Blues, the third of the scale is played bending the pitch between minor and major. But this is different because there are no chords here, and the lines are so clearly stepwise that the ear does not hear the adventurous leaps, turns and harmonies we get from the Blues. The third when it is played is unambiguously either major or minor; there is no in- between or bending when the pitches are played.

CD 2, Track 18 from World Music: A Global Journey
Bulgaria: Women’s Chorus
OK.  I didn’t get it.  Even the drone pitch doesn’t sound consistent. There is yipping, hinting at yodeling, that zips off, but to no discernible pitch. The authors of World Music: A Global Journey say this is some of the most popular “World Music” today. Not with me. This simply does not fit into my musical vision. If someone reading this would care to comment and stick up for this music, I welcome your contribution.

Personal Compositional Note: Drone tones as elements of my musical vision present many possibilities. I can even see shifting drone tones—just because folk traditions stay with one tonality for an extended period does not mean I have to. The Greek Orthodox chant featured that mode again, that mode I have seen in a few traditions: 1, flat 2, (natural) 3, 4, 5, flat 6, (natural) 7, 1/8(octave). Again, I wondered, particularly with the final cadence to 4, if I wasn’t really hearing the top half of a harmonic minor scale. But that doesn’t explain the flat 2. And my ears want to hear this within a “Western” tonal context. The people playing this music, including the Greeks, most likely do not experience the music that way. I know that I enjoy messing with that mode as-is, and I will! Maybe a Scottish bagpipe ditty on that mode! Maybe even a look at that Hungarian mode that alternates major and minor thirds.

The next post will move to Sub-Saharan Africa.

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

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part V December 6, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, Arab, book review, books, Egypt, ethnomusicology, Iran, Islam, Judaism, Middle East, music, Persia, Sufism, 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.)

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV

PART FIVE
The Middle East: Islam and the Arab World, Iran, Egypt, Sufism, Judaism

General Comments: In my previous post on Indian/Pakistani music, I commented that the music was based on modes and scales, as opposed to melodic and chordal harmonic ideas. The same is true of this music. We know from history that Indian culture interacted with Middle Eastern culture. So-called “Arabic numbers” actually started in India and came to Muslim Arabia from points east. So is difficult to know if the modal nature of Arabic and Persian music evolved separately or evolved cross-culturally. But there are distinct similarities. Of course, experts in Indian and Persian music would be able to point to many differences between their approaches. I know from my experience listening outside of this book that Indian music and Persian music are very different from each other, and are varied within their own styles. But the focus on modes and scales are shared between these regions—that is undeniable. Is this an indication that the use of modes and scales is some sort of universal musical constant?

CD 2, Track 6 from World Music: A Global Journey
Islam: “Call to Prayer”
For a religion that is supposed to be hostile to music, this is a heartfelt solo voice, chanting up and down on what seems to be mainly the first four notes of a major scale. There is a tone of spiritual depth and emotion behind this. My excursions into an international sound are planned to be instrumental, so I won’t be able to tap directly into this. But I will keep in mind the huge musical/spiritual connection in this Muslim “Call to Prayer,”—a call to interact with the Divine, summoned by simple, heartfelt music. To me, the poignancy of this music and its apparent spiritual nature for a religion that is generally considered hostile to music argues for music as a bridge to the Divine, whatever that is.

CD 2, Track 7 from World Music: A Global Journey
Arabic Taqasim Improvisation for Ud and Buzuq
This is a non-rhythmic run up and down what seems to be, by my ears, two exotic modes a perfect fourth apart. Cadences imply the second mode, but the tonality never stays there long. We have a flat second and a flat third in the main mode, so this seems to be Phrygian-like. We have a lute/guitar sound and a metallic string sound, different but close, trading lines.

CD 2, Track 8 from World Music: A Global Journey
Iran: Dastgah for Santur and Voice
The santur is a “hammered” zither. The voice is a female voice that seems to trade time with the santur. I hear a Phrygian mode, particularly in the voice, which starts on 1, drops to flat 7 then up to flat 3, moving down to the flat 2 and the 1. (Or are they starting out focusing on the 5, and I am hearing flat 7 to flat 6 to 5? Or is it neither, and I am cramming this into a “Western” context?”) The santur sounds “out of tune” at times. I suspect this is by design—quarter-tone tunings for the Persian modes. I still hear this music in the context of a twelve tone chromatic scale. Is this my conditioned “Western” ears? Maybe. But the vocalist seems to sing pure intervals, without discernible quarter tones. I still think the human ear detects only so many scale tones, and seven (eight to an octave) may be a universal human limit. I am not going to attribute this to “Western” ears right now. But, I will admit, even if the evidence points toward quarter tones as a viable musical expression in some cultures, I cannot get there. Whether this is due to “Western” ears, or human ears, that is where my own musical vision remains. I have recently listened to other santur music. Again, clearly the santur was tuned to quarter tones. My sensation of music, developed over nearly sixty years of life, does not allow me to experience these as much more than out of tune twelve tone notes. It may be that people growing up in the Persian culture can distinguish quarter-tones. I will say that I found the other santur music I listened to also focused around the manipulation of scales with the quarter tones. I found the rhythm and inventiveness of the handling of the exotic modes to be musically compelling and worthy of consideration for inclusion in my own efforts.

CD 2, Track 9 from World Music: A Global Journey
Egypt: Takht Instrumental Ensemble
We have a really enchanting, exotic ensemble here consisting of a plucked lute, bowed lute, flute, plucked zither and drum. They play the main melody in rhythm in a G harmonic minor, complete with flat 6 and natural 7. The five is definitely used as dominant throughout piece. The listening guide of World Music: A Global Journey indicates their flat 3 is flatter than the “Western” equal temperament flat 3, but I can’t say my ears detected a difference—it sounds like a normal flat 3 to me. This is one of my favorite selections on this musical tour. I’ve played with ideas like this in “Eastern Boogie” from “Issa Music” (and I will play with these ideas more). The musicians do not focus on a harmonic, chordal basis for the melodic lines. That is something I will add in my own musical vision (and did add in “Eastern Boogie”). Otherwise, this is almost like a jazz combo trading solos!

CD 2, Track 10 from World Music: A Global Journey
Turkey: Sufi Dhikr Ceremony
This is mainly a chorus with a flute following the melody and a few background instruments. It is a joyous major key melodic line, with syncopations to give the line rhythmic drive and emotion.

CD 2, Track 11 from World Music: A Global Journey
Judaism: Jewish Shofar and Liturgical Cantillation
We hear a horn setting the tonality with a tonic-dominant fanfare call. The vocal chants in what is an exotic mode with a flat 2 in it. He dwells on the 5 a lot, coming to 1 only infrequently, and of course at the end. This is another one of these flat second/major third scales (frequent in selections from this region). I wonder if the Jewish and Muslim practitioners of this music know how close in style and spirit the “Call to Prayer” and this cantor’s chant are!

Personal Compositional Note: There is no question that I will be using the mode of 1, flat 2, 3, 4, 5, flat 6, 7 and 1/8(octave). This mode offers beautiful sounding harmonies and melodies that will be fresh but not too outlandish to Western ears, and hopefully familiar to Eastern ears. I’ve identified books discussing Arabic and Persian scales/modes. There may be significant numbers of scales. I’m not sure if this is because we’re talking about scales with quarter tones, which I do not see myself employing in my own work. So I’m not sure how far I will go personally into the modal nature of this music. But I have been listening to Arabic and Persian music with the idea that I might pick up some more interesting scales and modes to apply to my own musical vision. Of course, there are exotic timbres from this music that can be incorporated because of the technology now available. I expect to be juxtaposing traditional Arabic and Persian sounds with other sounds from around the world and from different points in time.

The next post will move to Europe.

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

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part IV December 4, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, book review, books, ethnomusicology, India, music, Pakistan, raga, South Asia, 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.)

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III

PART FOUR
South Asia: India, Pakistan

General Comments: This music is largely built on scales/modes, not chord progressions. Artists appear to be expert at working over the scales, exploring all sorts of possibilities through improvisation, building lines from the characteristics of the scales. Rhythms follow motives and melodic lines. There were a few indications of standard “Western” rhythms following the melodic line whether sung or played. The Sufi devotional song broke into a clear 2/4 triplet (or 6/8) rhythm, a catchy rhythm with the accent on the second beat of the three, giving it a fun, syncopated feel.

CD 1, Track 5 from World Music: A Global Journey
India: Hindustani (Instrumental) Raga
This piece is based on an exotic mode played by plucked lute over droning strings. The scale is basically a major scale, but with a flat 6th. There is a pulse to the music, but there is not an immediately evident conventional “Western” time-signature. The notes of the scale of the passage are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, flat 6, 7, 1/8(octave). The flat 6th gives the mode an exotic flavor and when the music hovers around the flat 6th and perfect 5th, with the augmented second coming up from the flat 6th to the 7th, the music feels like it is revolving around a minor key. But when the improvisations slip back to the lower five tones of the scale, a major key feel is evident.

CD 1, Track 6 from World Music: A Global Journey
India: Carnatic Classical (Vocal) Kriti
This vocal piece has a clear tonal center set by an instrumental drone. It is in a simple major pentatonic mode. There is no chord progression. The singer moves up and down the pentatonic scale with precision, with florid, expert turns, totally accurate within the scale.

CD 1, Track 7 from World Music: A Global Journey
India: Hindu Bhajan Devotional Song
In this piece, we have a soloist followed by a chorus singing. Again, we have simple melodic moves in a pentatonic major scale. Melodic lines start at the fifth and the tonic, and cadence at the fifth and the tonic. At the end of the piece, it sounds like the singer left the pentatonic scale, though it wasn’t clear whether this was a vocal error, or a real deviation from the scale.  There’s a clear rhythm set by the phrases of a vocal line, but no consistently fixed time-signature.

CD 1, Track 8 from World Music: A Global Journey
Pakistan: Qawwali (Sufi Devotional Song)
A harmonium drone sets the tonality and also follows the vocal line in this piece, playing every note of the standard major scale. There are clear tonal centers, but they appear to shift during the piece. The scale for the melody is largely pentatonic, though it is not a strict pentatonic scale. The music goes back and forth from a free rhythm to a clear rhythm. There is a fun rhythmic section in a 2/4 triplet (or 6/8) rhythm, a driving rhythm with the accent on the second beat of the triplet.

Personal Compositional Note: “Western” scales are not the only scales available.  I personally enjoy playing with exotic skips in a scale, dwelling on them, exploring their melodic and harmonic possibilities inside/out, upside/down, backwards/forwards. I’ll definitely be playing with the mode mentioned above as well as other modes derived from similar changes in standard scales or modes. Also, a three rhythm does not have to be a “Western” waltz. That three rhythm in the Sufi devotional song may well show up in future music of my own.

The next post will move to the Middle East.

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

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part III November 28, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, book review, books, China, East Asia, ethnomusicology, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, music, Terry E. Miller, Tibet, 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.)

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey:
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II

PART THREE
East Asia: China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Tibet

General Comments: Of course when we think of Oriental music, we think of pentatonic scales. And pentatonic scales are evident through much of this music. The Chinese music selections offer tamer, less exotic pentatonic scales evoking a major key feel. The pentatonic scales offered in the Japanese selections are more exotic because of the positioning of the tonal center in the scale. The standard major key pentatonic scales are found in most cultures. The Japanese scales appear to be unique to their culture, instantly recognizable as Japanese, or at least as “Oriental,” and certainly offer some opportunities for adventurous music creators. In this group, we also have music examples from Mongolia and Tibet. Particularly the Tibetan music seems well outside the mainstream of conventional human music.

CD 1, Track 16 from World Music: A Global Journey
China: Guqin (“Ancient Zither”)
This is described as an “ancient zither.” The selection plays one musical line. It seems mainly pentatonic, but at times it seems to include all seven diatonic notes of a major scale. Occasionally the line is punctuated with a pitch bend. A general comment about pentatonic scales in Oriental music—they can revolve around an implied major or minor key, and can move back and forth. What is often omitted is the seventh of the implied scale. This makes the music less prone to dissonance away from the overtone series. We still do have dissonance of a sort with movement to cadence points, often implied by a perfect fourth down/perfect fifth up from the tonic. Cadence points on 5 are “dissonant” in the sense that they are not at a final musical destination point, a final resting point. But if we are to include this sort of lack of resolution in the definition of dissonance, we would have to consider this to be a soft dissonance. This is something to keep in mind when looking for universal characteristics of music.

CD 1, Track 17 from World Music: A Global Journey
China: Jiangnan Sizhu (“Silk and Bamboo”) Ensemble
An ensemble plays pentatonic lines with no harmonies. Woodwind/flute sounds dominate the tone up an octave from the other sounds. We can hear plucked and bowed strings. Here’s another example of that classic, quintessential pentatonic feel, with some ambiguity as to whether the tonal center is at 1, or at 6 (which then would be a minor 1). There are little clickity-clack percussions sounds that give us a distinct, strict rhythm pattern, duple, 1-and-2 and 1-and-2. The tonality shifts from different scale degrees according to the listening guide in World Music: A Global Journey. The pace picks up at the end, but there is no real change to the basic music.

CD 1, Track 18 from World Music: A Global Journey
China: Beijing Opera (Jingju)
This music starts out with a gaggle of percussion sounds, as if demanding attention. The music seems to be in a minor pentatonic scale. A female vocalist sings very high, not really shrill, but at an unusual vocal range for “Western” ears. The rhythm becomes less structured as if accompanying something more dramatic. Again, the lines are generally pentatonic.

CD 1, Track 19 from World Music: A Global Journey
China: Revolutionary Beijing Opera (Yangbanxi)
This music sounds very “Western.” Chinese instruments join in, but this is almost completely Western in its feel with tremolo string sections and orchestral trumpets front and center. It a less pentatonic piece and more diatonic. There is a strong tonic to dominant feel in the music. The music can be interesting when it melds some pentatonic moves with the conventional “Western” tonal harmonies. But this is clearly an attempt to “Westernize” “Oriental” music, complete with the big IV-V-I cadence at the end of the piece.

CD 2, Track 1 from World Music: A Global Journey
Mongolia: Urtïn duu (Long soing) with köömei (overtone or throat singing)
This music is in a pentatonic minor, 1-flat 3-4-5-flat 7. There are some very strange sounds offered with this music, probably the “overtones singing” referred to in World Music: A Global Journey. There is a simple melodic line with vocal trills. There are no passing tones and the lines stay within the scale pitches. The vocal line is also accompanied with a bowed single string line. The overtone sound is like a high buzzing flute sound, but is difficult to compare to any other conventional instrumental sound.

CD 2, Track 2 from World Music: A Global Journey
Korea: P’ansori Narrative
This music features a vocalist accompanied by a drum. She roughly follows a pentatonic melodic line, but there is such emotion in the performance that a raging vibrato obscures the pitch at times. The drama punctuates the phrasing. The vocalist speaks at times.

CD 2, Track 3 from World Music: A Global Journey
Japan: Sankyoku (Instrumental Chamber Music)
This music is characterized by an exotic sound, basically one line but with the instruments approaching it not quite in unison. The music is played by a shakuhachi, zither and lute. The mode is exotic: 1, flat 2, 4, 5, flat 6 and flat 7. Many pentatonic scales avoid half steps. This mode seems to embrace them. The “Oriental” sound comes from the wooden flute up an octave over the plucked lute-like strings. But those half steps also seem to be quintessentially Oriental/Japanese. There’s a clear duple rhythm to the music, binding the musicians together. They do play in a quarter/eighth triplet rhythms through much of the music.

CD 2, Track 4 from World Music: A Global Journey
Japan: Kabuki Theater
This music features a very similar mode to the previous selection. There are more instruments playing here, including percussion. The vocalist sings the pitches of the mode. The rhythm is again a duple meter, unifying the piece. And again, we have the characteristic high flute sound and lower string sound.

CD 2, Track 5 from World Music: A Global Journey
Tibet: Buddhist Ritual
This music is completely unique. The first sound implies a tonality, but the next tone is a major 7thlower, giving us the real tonality. The first tone is fluttering trumpet sounds that seem to give us an imprecise pitch. Low male voices chant. On this recording, it was hard to pickup the pitches of the chants because the volume was so low. The low brass tones, by virtue of repeating, insist on the actual tonal center of the selection. There are no discernible scales/modes evident for this music.

Personal Compositional Note: Pentatonic scales do offer fuel for composition, for melody and harmony. They can be dull (because of their banal familiarity) but can play supporting roles for other musical adventures. The exception is the Japanese pentatonic scale offered in the Japanese music selections. This could be a fun scale to use to evolve compelling harmonies and melodies, using different sounds than the “Oriental” instruments we normally hear playing this type of music.

The next post will move to South 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

Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part II November 25, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in Andrew Shahriari, Bali, Balinese, book review, books, ethnomusicology, gamelan music, Indonesia, Java, music, Southeast Asia, Terry E. Miller, Thailand, Vietnam, 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.)

Previous posts from World Music: A Global Journey
Book Commentary/Review – World Music: A Global Journey, Part I

PART TWO
Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Northeast Thailand, Indonesia (Java and Bali) 

General Comments: I think other cultures can offer “Western” music (my own culture’s music) a lot of ideas when it comes to timbre. We have been steeped in the “Western” symphony orchestra for so long that we have become accustomed to a narrow set of timbres.  Popular music has expanded this; electronics even more. But there is so much more to explore. Pentatonic scales crop up over and over again in most cultures and are evident in a lot of this music. (Let’s face it; pentatonic scales are almost a cliché of what we think of when we hear “Oriental” music, though the scales are everywhere.)  But Gamelan music? Throw out conventional pentatonics for this stuff. It is easy to see why “Western” composers for over a century have been going to this well to expand musical visions.

CD 1, Track 9 from World Music: A Global Journey
Vietnam: Central Highlands Bronze Gong Ensemble
A clanging chorus of metallic instruments with a clear pulse and with a simple melodic motif characterizes this music. It is the sounds and timbres that make this music distinctive. The only scale notes I discerned were the first five notes of the major scale. My ears heard a tonal center but with the emphasis on a cadence from 5 to 4 to 3.

CD 1, Track 10 from World Music: A Global Journey
Vietnam: Nhac Tai Tu Amateur Chamber Music
A number of string instruments, plucked and bowed, move up and down in pentatonic scales, revolving around a clear I and V. The “bowed lute” slides through pitches, though staying with the notes of the scale as primary. Pitch bends are also used on the “plucked lute” and the “plucked zither.” A subtle percussion instrument, a click-sounding instrument, like a finger snap, or a tongue against the roof of the mouth, signals phrases. The rhythm is well-defined, and the notes played by the strings are on and off the beat, giving the music an energetic, syncopated feel.

CD 1, Track 11 from World Music: A Global Journey
Thailand: Classical Piphat Music
Xylophones pound out a steady patter of notes in rhythm while a thin, reedy sound gives us a pentatonic scale line over this setting. The xylophones migrate through clusters based on the scale. I read in World Music: A Global Journey that some of this music is based on the octave subdivided differently than seven tones between the octave. (A major pentatonic scale is formed by the elimination of the 4th and 7th tones of the major scale.) My ears hear a conventional pentatonic scale, with changes in what note of the scale the music revolves around. But the exotic, possibly “out of tune” sound implied in an octave subdivided differently is not evident to me here. This music speeds up as we go, then slows suddenly to a cadence, followed by a short coda. It is not far from the feel of a Scottish or Irish fiddle ditty.

CD 1, Track 12 from World Music: A Global Journey
Thailand: Lam Klawn Repartee Singing
The khaen (a “free-reed aerophone”) sounds like it could be at home playing Cajun music in New Orleans! The khaen gives us a rhythmic and harmonic underpinning, sliding through clusters on a pentatonic scale, moving focus from I to V (but with a very clear I delineated).  The vocalist sings phrases in the scale, with turns, and with the singing almost evolving to spoken word in places.

CD 1, Track 13 from World Music: A Global Journey|
Thailand (Northeast): Luk Thung Popular Song
This is a pop song in a minor key, Thai sounds clearly “Westernized” with a bass and drums rhythm section. Over this are Thai vocal stylings and Thai instruments. It is the bass/drums rhythm section, providing a clear 4/4 time-signature, and a clear i, iv, v chord progression (occasional III adds in) that gives the song its “Western” feel. There is even a cheesy synth- sounding solo at the end.

CD 1, Track 14 from World Music: A Global Journey
Indonesia: Javanese Court Gamelan
Different levels of metallic percussion sounds (maybe a few not metallic) build a basic tonal center, but the center shifts, often ambiguous. We have notes sounding to my “Western” perspective as if they are in a “minor” key. But the bottom notes, slower moving, in the lower pitched metallic instruments, change pitches, sometimes along the flat 6th of that minor tonality, and staying there long enough to cause me to wonder where we are tonally. There are layers of rhythm that give this music its unusual (to “Western” ears) sound. There are certainly melodic ideas to pick out, but not melody and harmony in phrases as we are used to hearing them. And it is the multitude of timbres, correctly described in the book as collectively making a “shimmering” sound that set this music apart.

CD 1, Track 15 from World Music: A Global Journey
Indonesia: Balinese Gamelan Gong Kebyar
This is a quicker paced selection that starts and stops, bringing a frenetic “shimmer” in the upper notes when it is moving. I hear roughly a major scale idea here, with a lot of cadences on the 7th. Pentatonic scales avoid the tritone. Not this piece! There are many melodic moves back and forth from the 4-5-4-5 them to 7, and sitting on 7, that give us that feel.

Personal Compositional Note: I can see many possibilities for the “shimmer” idea presented by this music. Harnessed within harmonic and melodic structures familiar to cross-cultural ears, this music presents a plethora of possibilities. The bell sounds are easily sampled and/or produced on synthesizers and samplers. And the metallic quality of the tones also creates some imprecision when rendering pitches. This is another contributor to the exotic nature of this music. This allows the modern music creator a chance to juxtapose many varied tones in the “shimmer” effects mentioned above. That 4-5-4-5 to 7 move mentioned in the last piece also could lead to something. I do expect to use characteristics of this music in my upcoming new music.

The next post will move to East 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

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.)

PART ONE
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

Book Commentary/Review – The Study of Ethnomusicology by Bruno Nettl October 24, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, Bruno Nettl, ethnomusicology, music, The Study of Ethnomusicology.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

(This is the tenth of a series of commentaries about a series of books about the nature of music. The other commentaries of this series were about the books 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 JohnstonExploring Music by Charles TaylorMusic and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson and Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin. This series has been triggered as a result of  my rediscovery of the love of creating and performing music. There is definitely a spiritual connection to this rediscovery, evidenced by my recent release of “Issa Music” and my posts about mystical/spiritual aspects of the music of the progressive rock group Yes (The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans”  and The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes). This further relates to spiritual meditations with the theme of more than one path to God, and the possible coming together of both physics and metaphysics I and II).

Getting acquainted with the discipline of ethnomusicology was an inevitable step in this inquiry. Bruno Nettl’s The Study of Ethnomusicology has been a great way to catch a glimpse of this area of study, and gather information relevant to my own priorities. This inquiry started with the objective of studying music’s relationship to physics and metaphysics. This has led logically to a look at different music from around the world. Are there universal aspects to music, common among all cultures? Beyond that, are there aspects of music that are universal for all sentient creatures? That second question can only be answered very speculatively, but it still needs to be considered if we are thinking of music as a possible link of physics to metaphysics. If it is, we would expect other sentient beings to have this link available to them as well. So universal characteristics of music become important to this study. And looking at varied music from around the world, formed from different origins and traditions, becomes an integral part of looking at these issues. 

Nettl, of course, spends much time discussing the ethnomusicology discipline. He did not write this book to address my concerns, admittedly outside of anything academically conventional. But the book is a comprehensive look at ethnomusicology. I feel as if I have a good idea of what drives the discipline, and what information I might expect from ethnomusicologists. This has led me to purchase another ethnomusicology textbook, World Music: A Global Journey, by Terry E. Miller and Andrew Shahriari. The book includes three CDs (and detailed listing guides) containing excerpts of music from all over the world, and a survey of music from region to region. I will create chapter-by-chapter blog posts of the areas studied, with comments on my takeaways from each. So I am expanding this series of posts again. I will continue to look at universality, commonality, among the different music excerpts. But as I am now gathering material for new music, with incredible computer technology that will allow me to create music unthought of a decade or so ago, I’ll be looking at how I might incorporate characteristics of each region’s music into my own musical vision. 

Points I take from Bruno Nettl’s The Study of Ethnomusicology:

  • Bruno Nettl specialized in Plains Indians and Persian music, two very different musical traditions, by location and characteristics!
  • Nettl acknowledges that “an understanding of the nature of musical creation is a major issue in the world of music, a problem largely unsolved in scholarship.” The instinct to connect with the divine in some way, the metaphysical angle, needs to be considered. And, this consideration may be “unsolvable in scholarship,” at least conventional academic treatments.
  • Nettl starts off seeming to be hostile to the “study of universals.” And this led me to think that though this discipline fascinates me, and the information ethnomusicologists bring to us is central to my own musical concerns and objectives, I would not have fit in with ethnomusicologists!
  • But then Nettl goes on to discuss “three kinds of universals”: “Anything present in every instant of music,” “anything that is present in every musical utterance,” and “a third and somewhat more realistic approach, we ask where there is anything that is found in each musical system… whether there are any characteristics or traits present in all of them.” A fourth approach is also mentioned—“whether there are features shared not by all but by a healthy majority of musics.”
  • Nettl does find among music around the world “the association of music with the supernatural. All known cultures accompany religious activity with music.” Obviously, I do not believe this is a coincidence.
  • Nettl acknowledges that technology, especially computer power, is leading to the world becoming more “multimusical.” This is what I am engaged in at a practical, production level with “Issa Music,” released late last year, now with over 500 fans on Jango internet radio.
  • Nettl addresses the idea of all “musics” seen as equal, with “Western” systems of harmony given no superior qualitative status. As a practitioner, not academician, I need not concern myself with this. I will adopt whatever moves me artistically, both from my own “Western” perspective, and from newly learned musical approaches from other places in the world.
  • Yes, of course—hearing music is much more important than analyzing notation on paper.
  • Nettl expresses frustration trying to establish firm analytical models to address varied music systems. I know for an academician, this is frustrating. But I accept that not everything is quantifiable—reduced to binary 1s and 0s, reduced to digital information on a spreadsheet. Some things in life, especially artistic things, are “analog.” Nettl acknowledges this later when he says “the literature of ethnomusicology is full of discussions of music that focus on what somehow seems salient or significant or interesting to the author.”
  • He discusses whether studying music from other cultures is some sort of exploitation, almost like colonial exploitation. I find this absurd. I believe sharing cross-culturally is one of the greatest forces for good in our increasingly integrated world, a world of shrinking proximities. In my own efforts, I have no intention of hijacking original material from other cultures (or from any other people who have created music). I do intend to be influenced by sounds, by scales, by harmonies and by rhythms from everything I hear, including new music from my own “Western” culture.
  • Nettl mentions the 1970s as the “period of greatest harmonic dissonance” in “Western music.” I experienced this personally as a conservatory student between 1972 and 1976. I concluded I had no future in academia as a “serious music”/”art music” composer because I did not adopt the idea of dissonance for dissonance sake as part of my musical vision. I still don’t. Maybe academia is less enthralled with dissonance now— frankly, I have no idea, and no concerns about what academia accepts anymore.
  • Nettl, on page 253, says “time to show my colors. The fundamental function of music in human society, what music ultimately does, is twofold: to control humanity’s relationship to the supernatural, mediating between human and other beings, and to support the integrity of individual social groups.” Yes, Professor Nettl, on particularly the first part of your statement, we are in agreement.
  • Nettl explains Islam’s often hostile attitude toward music by pointing out that Islam calls for a direct relationship between God and the individual. This means music is not needed to mediate between God and people, so is of lower importance. In fact, some Muslims consider music potentially dangerous. This seems absurd to me. Muslims study the Koran as an important part of their religion. No one talks about the Koran getting between the direct relationship between God and the individual. The Koran is an essential tool for facilitating that relationship. Music can also be such a tool.
  • Nettl mentions tunings, referring to the circle of fifths. As I have discussed in earlier posts, this falls in the realm of physics, and leads to a possible conclusion on universal characteristics of music.
  • Nettl says “…ethnomusicologists have largely taken this attitude: humans are very much alike, and they all have music.”
  • Musical instruments “seem to be a cultural universal.”

So my journey through these topics continues. I have expanded this once again. There will be a set of blog posts, one at a time, about the different regions of the world as covered in World Music: A Global Journey. I will then discuss Leonard Bernstein’s lectures “The Unanswered Question.”  I have the benefit of both the written versions of these lectures and viewing DVDs of the lectures during which he provides copious musical examples. After concluding with my discussion of Bernstein’s ideas, I’ll offer some conclusions of my own that attempt to take this topic from physics to metaphysics to music and to formulate some conclusions. I expect these conclusions to influence my own music-making over the coming years.

Book Commentary/Review – Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde by Joscelyn Godwin September 10, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde, Joscelyn Godwin, music.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment

(This is the ninth of what will be a series of commentaries about a series of ten or so books about the nature of music. The other commentaries of this series were about the books 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 JohnstonExploring Music by Charles Taylor and Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson. This series has been triggered as a result of  my rediscovery of the love of creating and performing music. There is definitely a spiritual connection to this rediscovery, evidenced by my recent release of “Issa Music” and my posts about mystical/spiritual aspects of the music of the progressive rock group Yes (The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans”  and The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes). This further relates to spiritual meditations with the theme of more than one path to God, and the possible coming together of both physics and metaphysics I and II).

Joscelyn Godwin’s book Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: Mysticism in Music is indeed about music and mysticism as the title implies, including lots of discussion of “music of the spheres.”  But for me, one of the most insight-generating sections of her book is her broad discussion of the general trajectory of “Western music” over the last seven hundred or so years. Godwin admits to undergoing a change in attitude toward contemporary music. She is now less disdainful of rock and jazz, and understands how the composer of “serious music”/“concert music”/“classical music”/“art music”—I would even add “conservatory music—has lost most of the audience. (I have written about “concert music”/“classical music” at my website with my essay “Is ‘Classical Music’ Fading Into Obscurity?”) She reminds us with profound simplicity of how this has happened.  Composers got the idea that there were no new options for tonality, that all the ideas were used up, so they needed to reach for esoteric, wild schemes to create new music, new frontiers. In a way, this went along with frontier-busting advances in the sciences and changes in the rest of society. But for music, this is a false idea. One of the conclusions I have drawn from this study of music, metaphysics and physics is that there are general rules about consonance and dissonance, but the cultural context then creates a wide variety of listener perspectives. So the cultural context of consonance and dissonance is constantly flexible, constantly shifting. Music creators never run out of possibilities because they are always creating music within a new and different cultural context. There will be new sounds, new tones, new rhythmic ideas from changes in technology, from cross-cultural interaction—cultures constantly change, so music customs change, so music options change. There will always be new contexts so always opportunities for new music within an accessible tonal framework. So there is no reason to create a whole new set of esoteric systems of musical expression, some of them unfathomable and disconnected from what humans naturally hear as music, under the false belief that all musical ideas have been exhausted. I don’t believe they can ever be exhausted. 

Specific comments about Joscelyn Godwin’s book:

Part I: Ascending Parnassus

Chapter One – The Marvelous Effects of Music

  • There is a branch of Hindu philosophy that considers sound the parent of all senses. This points to a cross-cultural recognition of the power of music for humans.
  • The rest of the chapter offers various historical and cultural perspectives, linkages of music to the soul. This linkage has been challenged within the last few centuries. In a sense, Godwin’s book, and my own excursions on the subject, challenge that challenge, and call for the possible restoration of that link, now in the context of current science and spiritual thought.
  • A great modern example of this linkage cited by Godwin is the inspiring use of music to facilitate the recovery of brain-damaged patients, and to improve the conditions of the autistic, the blind and even the “supposedly deaf.”

Chapter Two -Hearing Secret Harmonies

  • Some religions fear music (both strict Christian and Muslim denominations do), recognizing the power of music to captivate the “soul,” and affect behavior. In my view, we should embrace this aspect of music’s potential, known to our ancestors, even to our prehistoric ancestors.
  • Godwin discusses Celtic legends that “leave an unforgettable impression of a dreamlike existence suffused with music.”
  • When humanity began to understand the actual nature of “up,” and that “up” leads us out to the stars, into space,  “heaven,” sometimes considered “up there,” became devalued, even discarded. But Godwin points out that even the ancients understood “Heaven,” or “Nirvana,” or other forms of spiritual bliss, exist as something outside of the material, not something positioned in the clouds, or out in the stars. Music has been a way to access that “locale,” wherever it is.
  • Traditional Islam does not embrace music. But the mystical Sufi Muslims do!
  • Religions that have angels give those angels “musical attributes.”
  • Pierre Teilhard de Chardin also embraces music in his mystical conception of reality.

 Part II: The Great Work

 Chapter Three – Musical Alchemy

  • I love this thought – thank you Joscelyn Godwin! “In order to undertake this work, the true composer, like the alchemist, does not choose his profession: he is summoned to it by a call that cannot be ignored.”
  • Godwin identifies three types of music: 1) “visceral music, usually marked by strong rhythm,” 2) “music of the heart and its emotions” and 3) “music which sets thought in motion.”

 Chapter Four – Music and the Currents of Time

  • Above, I refer to Godwin’s discussion of Western music, and the insight that discussion gave me. (Godwin’s discussion of the trajectory of Western music takes place in this particular chapter.)
  • Godwin acknowledges what a number of modern discussions of music fail to consider, that in the early development of humanity, “music was a handmaid to the traditional functions of worship, song, and dance; it did not yet exist for its own sake.”
  • In the past, “the composer, poet and singer are often one and the same person.” I invite readers to review my recent blog post on CADD!
  • She also confirms the apparent universality of “twelve chromatic tones.” Music traditions can have scales of less than twelve tones; pentatonic scales are common among many disparate cultures. But more than twelve tones, as functional-primary pitch production, seems nearly unheard of. So-called “micro tones” pop up as adjuncts to the twelve tones in some music, and as intellectual curiosities in modern “art music.” But they are rare, and sound utterly foreign to all but the most sophisticated ear, familiar with micro tones through training, immersion and repetition.

Part III: The Music of the Spheres

  • Most of Part III features short sections describing what I find to be mainly unsuccessful attempts to relate the math of music to the math of planetary and celestial phenomena. I will say that simple ratios pervade both, which demonstrates to me the profound insight numbers provide to understanding reality. But I don’t think there is “music” in the stars. On the other hand, I do think looking at numbers for a mystical connection between ratios, even a musical connection, is a worthy search.

*******

This is a remarkable book, written by an author trained in conservatory traditions, but willing to pursue this subject in an objective, non-elitist way. My comments do not in any way encompass all of the intriguing material she presents. I focused on what is germane to my own personal look at music, physics and metaphysics, germane to my own narrow objectives for this study. Someone interested in this topic will find a lot of great food for thought in Joscelyn Godwin’s book.

*******

I have two books left on my reading list for this project. The first is a lengthy textbook on ethnomusicology. The second is Leonard Bernstein’s interview/book on the nature of music, often considered a “defense of tonality” against the atonal trends prevalent in his day for “concert music.” Before posting on those final two books, I do have some interim conclusions concerning this subject matter, some overall ideas, that I will offer in a blog post soon.

Book Commentary/Review – Music and Mathematics: From Pythagoras to Fractals, edited by John Fauvel, Raymond Flood and Robin Wilson August 10, 2012

Posted by rwf1954 in book review, books, John Fauvel, music, Music and Mathematics, Raymond Flood, Robin Wilson.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment

(This is the eighth of what will be a series of commentaries about a series of ten or so books about the nature of music. The first six commentaries of this series were about the books 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 and Exploring Music by Charles Taylor. This series has been triggered as a result of  my rediscovery of the love of creating and performing music. There is definitely a spiritual connection to this rediscovery, evidenced by my recent release of “Issa Music” and my posts about mystical/spiritual aspects of the music of the progressive rock group Yes (The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes: Introduction to “The Revealing Science of God—Dance of the Dawn” from “Tales from Topographic Oceans”  and The Poetry of (the Progressive Rock Group) Yes). This further relates to spiritual meditations with the theme of more than one path to God, and the possible coming together of both physics and metaphysics I and II).

This book is exactly what the title describes, an overview of how music and mathematics relate. We have articles written by a number of writers with varying perspectives. I will comment on each of those articles. But I can summarize my predominant “take-away” from this book. Yes, numbers describe universal aspects of music. Through ratios of string bisection and the overtones series, ratios that also pop up in wind instrument partials, we can see a mathematical basis for how we perceive music, a basis that could well be universal to any creature with the consciousness to perceive music. 

But I also must point out that numbers themselves are symbols depicting an arithmetic or mathematical reality. When the symbols take on more importance than the reality they are utilized to depict, the symbols lose their effectiveness for describing reality. And when used in abstract formulas to try to create meaningful music, they risk creating nothing meaningful musically, or something only meaningful as a curiosity, like throwing paint up against a wall to see what it will look like. It might look great—more likely it will just look like a mess. Maybe with some tweaks here and there, music of this sort could be more compelling than a mess. But when composers turn the numbers and formulas into the creative vehicle, they are throwing paint against the wall, and it will sound like paint up against a wall most of the time.

Introductory Section) Music and mathematics: an overview – Susan Wollenberg

  • In Western intellectual tradition, music has been studied in the past as a science. Only recently has it been classified as an art. And mathematics has always been a huge part of that study of music.

Part I: Music and mathematics through history

1. Tuning and temperament: closing the spiral – Neil Bibby

  • This article goes into the formulas involved with various scales and intervals. We are reminded that equal temperament tuning does not become an issue unless we try to change tonal centers, to change the starting pitch of a scale—unless we decide to “change key”/“transpose.” We take a close look at ratios and scale intervals, and the mathematics of equal temperament tuning. We find out equal temperament tuning has been proposed in other cultures, such as medieval China. Numbers, in the form of ratios, guide us toward determining consonance and dissonance in music.

2. Musical cosmology: Kepler and his readers – J. V. Field

  • Kepler explored the mathematics of music and planetary orbits, finding simple ratios for both. Are simple ratios the universe’s way of organizing itself in physics, implying a metaphysical component, and do the ratios of music help bridge the gap between physics and metaphysics?
  • There is also a mention of the potoo bird, which sings a “descending diatonic scale.” This is evidence of a nonhuman creature utilizing a scale that humans would recognize, a scale that can be derived from the ratios the Greeks originally described. This is evidence of a universal musical reality.

Part II: The mathematics of musical sound

3. The science of musical sound – Charles Taylor

 4. Faggot’s fretful fiasco – Ian Stewart

  • Another look at Pythagorean string bisection ratios—how they generate the tones of conventional scales, and how on fretted instruments, they lead to the necessity of an equal temperament tuning system.

 5. Helmholtz: combinational tones and consonance – David Fowler

  • This is an examination of Herman von Helmholtz’s (1821-1894) attempts to set specific, quantifiable rules for consonance.
  • Helmholtz looks at all the math again on bisected string ratios and overtones, and tries to come up with rules on what is consonant and what is dissonant. The problem, as I see it, is that there are learned cultural customs with respect to music that make one person’s dissonance another person’s consonance. Some broad universal principles may be discernible. The octave appears to be universally consonant. Microtones appear to be universally dissonant. In between can depend on cultural context. A single note held for a long time can seem dissonant, if dissonance is a musical unpleasantness that begs for resolution. Or, a tritone, known in the West for some time as the “devil’s interval,” can be consonant as part of a blues chord—or a minor second or major seventh can be sweet sounding as part of a major seventh chord. But the Helmholtz ideas give us a basis for a discussion of consonance and dissonance, and can be very helpful if we resist the temptation to turn them into absolutes.

 Part III: Mathematical structure in music

 6. The geometry of music – Wilfrid Hodges

  • Discussions of musical lines, music on a page, and putting these lines through a geometric analysis. (I did not find this particularly helpful to the issues I am looking at.)

 7. Ringing the changes: bells and mathematics – Dermot Roaf and Arthur White

  • A look at some patterns of bell-ringing.

 8. Composing with numbers: sets, rows and magic squares – Jonathan Cross

  • This chapter goes into detail on some 20th Century composers—Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Alban Berg, Pierre Boulez, Peter Maxwell Davies, Iannis Xenakis—and how these composers fashioned their compositions according to mathematical rules. I am familiar with many of these composers, and this chapter prompted my comment at the outset, about mathematical symbols used for the purpose of insight, and not as a primary method of composition. Frankly, and this is a matter of personal taste, I find much of the music derived using mathematical rules to be unsatisfying. Music creators still need to make choices for music to have a meaningful effect on an audience. As soon as they make their choices, they are no longer composing with numbers.

 Part IV. The composer speaks

 9. Microtones and projected planes – Carlton Gamer and Robin Wilson

  • Using geometrical planes to write music.

 10. Composing with fractals – Robert Sherlaw Johnson

  • This is a discussion of using computers to write music. The writer asks if the computer wrote the music. Of course not! Whoever provided the computer with the instructions—the program, in computer parlance—wrote the music! And the article discusses choices that often need to be made to complete the musical piece. Of course, that is composer involvement! The choices, by the way, then take us back to the human being creating the sound. It is the sound that matters, the sound and what it brings to the listener. The program serves that purpose, and likely has a limited function, though in the hands of a skilled musical communicator, I can see computer music resulting in effective music. In fact, in creating “Seventh Hell,” from my CD “Issa Music,” I needed computer power to realize my sonic image of the 7/8 sections. A technically gifted performer probably could have played the synthesizer lines I use in that piece. But programming those lines on the computer, I think, made the piece much more effective. And computer power opens up new possibilities that would have been limited by technical capability in the past. But the composer, the music creator, still has to tell the computer what to do!