Archive for September, 2005

Tibetan Buddhism: Tantras of Gyütö, Nonesuch H-72064.

Monday, September 19th, 2005

This is Tibetan monks sort of chanting and sort of singing (at some extremely low pitches much of the time) mostly in unison, but sometimes there will be a solo voice. The unison parts use an interesting isorhythm. Due to the low pitches that they sing, their voices have a deep, resonant sound—it’s almost as if you can hear the individual vibrations of their vocal chords (maybe you can).

This sounds like frog music—good frog music, to be exact. I don’t mean that to be derogatory; I happen to like frog music. It’s just that I simply can’t listen to this without thinking of the frogs singing in Paul McCartney’s animated film, Rupert and the Frog Song. Frog music is a strangely neglected (in my opinion, anyway) genre of music. I know for a fact that kids like frog music, and I know for a fact that adults like it (and I wouldn’t trust any adult who didn’t like frog music with my kids (assuming I had kids)). It’s fun (although these Tantras are certainly more on the serious side of the frog music spectrum). Of course, part of the reason why it’s easy for me to abstract these Tantras as ‘simply’ frog music is the fact that I don’t understand the language they’re sung in, so I don’t have a clue as to what they’re actually about. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to any of the religious ideas expressed by the words (In fact, I consider myself to be a lapsed Zen Buddhist/Taoist). But I do think it’s fun to listen to.

Scene from "Heung Boo-Ga", from P’ansori, Nonesuch H-72049.

Sunday, September 18th, 2005

This is a woman singer, backed by a single drummer. The drumming consists mainly of interjections between the lines being sung. Also, there is a sound like a foot stomping on a stage, which may or may not be produced by a drum. Although the drumming is only intermittent, the piece has a steady beat due to the singing. The vocal part consists of lines that are long, melodic, and intricately melismatic, but still have a steady pulse underlying them.

You have to pay close attention to this piece to really appreciate it; otherwise it can sound like just so much primitive wailing (that was my initial reaction to it). Also, you sort of have to get past the voice, which isn’t pretty by conventional, Western standards. But, if you do that, and, if you listen closely, you will hear some lovely, complex melodies being sung. However, they’re not repeated, so it’s easy to miss them or overlook them. I have no idea whether this piece is semi-improvised or composed. If the latter, then, since it seems to be through-composed, I can’t imagine how the singer can possibly remember all of it (it’s sort of written down (the words are, anyway)), especially since p’ansori can be quite long.

“Ketjak: The Ramayana Monkey Chant”, from Golden Rain, Nonesuch H-72028.

Saturday, September 17th, 2005

This consists of many men doing a rhythmic, fairly static, chant, while one or two other men sing what sounds like improvised melodies behind them. The unusual thing about this piece is that what would commonly be thought of as the backing part, the rhythmic chanting, is much louder than what would be commonly thought of as the main part, the improvised singing.

It’s easy to dismiss this piece as just some annoying, repetitive chanting, unless you listen closely and hear the sort of improvised wailing that is going on by one or two (or, maybe, three) men in the background. This wailing, or singing, is pretty impossible to describe except to say that it sounds maybe what demented cousins of Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and Solomon Burke wailing away in the psych ward after drinking a little too much (but not way too much) cheap, red wine (smuggled in by a sympathetic trusty) might sound like. And I mean that as a compliment. It’s cool.

Friday, September 16th, 2005

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“Sekati”, from Music for the Balinese Shadow Play, Nonesuch H-72307.

Friday, September 16th, 2005

This is a piece for what sounds like two (or maybe three) pitched mallet instruments that sound like Western xylophones. It consists of two or three lines that sound independent (or almost independent), but, yet, interact in interesting ways. That is, it sounds almost polyphonic. One of the lines is more melodic, while the other one or two are simpler and play more of a backing role. The tempo is allegro and the lines are continually moving (particularly the foreground line). There is enough repetition in the lines so that the listener feels comfortable, and not lost, but enough evolution and variation in the lines that the piece holds your interest.

I really like this piece a lot. With its polyphony, it sounds baroque. I think Bach would have liked it. Actually, I’m pretty sure he would have liked it. Actually, this reminds me quite a bit of cellular automata (and music generated from cellular automata) in the way complexity arises from simple parts.

The bass as an instrument of subversion

Saturday, September 10th, 2005

I just read this great quote from Don Dixon in the excellent book, Tape Op, edited by Larry Crane. Anyway, here it is:

“I like the fact that, if somebody’s playing a C-chord, and I’m playing an A, it was an A minor seven.”

I had never thought of the bass (which I happen to play) as being such a subversive instrument before.

Desolation Row

Monday, September 5th, 2005

I read Bob Dylan’s Chronicles book the week it came out; it was impossible to put down. Anyway, I’ve been studying 12-tone row composition lately, and happened to remember this post from Alex Ross’s excellent blog:

To the tune of a concertina

Alex’s post refers to this passage from the book: “If you’re using the [diatonic] scale, and you hit 2, 5 and 7 to the phrase and then repeat it, a melody forms”.

I also kind of wondered what Bob meant when I read that in his book

So, I came up with this version of a 12-tone row based on Bob’s comments and Alex’s blog post:

Desolation Row

Note that you can’t follow the pattern (as I interpret it, anyway) exactly. Otherwise you would want to put a B as the 10th tone, but B has already been used as the 3rd tone.