Notation - A consistent standard

A place where discuss about secrets, tips and suggestions for practicing on congas and to improve your skill and technique ...

Postby zumbi » Thu Feb 28, 2008 4:03 pm

dear david,
i did not said that ALL bach's works were improvised: i did said that a lot of the solo keyboard works were, as they were cadenzas in piano concertos all through the classic and early romantic period.
until the mid 19th century ,in western classical music, the written page wasn't considered so sacred and untouchable as it is today. the composer was an improviser as well and so was the performer (and often the composer WAS THE performer and was free to improvise on his own composition).
as for your assumption of my ignorance, i hold a college degree from the university in rome, italy in music history with a thesis on mozart's don giovanni, and one in ethnomusicology from the same university.
not that i like to boast but since you took me there...
you maybe right on beny more and mr. jimenez, thou, as i didn't do first hand research on that but just heard that from credible sources that may still be wrong.
as for the other post assuming that the lack of a notation system may have caused a lot of african music to be lost: that is just an ethnocentric assumption implying superiority of the written tradition over the oral one. something that can be debated.
peace & blessings to all!
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Postby Joseph » Thu Feb 28, 2008 5:22 pm

Love the language analogy - especially the speaking with an accent part as it relates to somebody's playing. I'll take it a step further - take a new language mix in a couple other lanuages and cultures - ta da! You can end up with a whole new language - like creole.

yeah, I like it too, but with all the different systems are we talking about creole or pidgin?
pidgin notation? :;):
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Postby davidpenalosa » Thu Feb 28, 2008 6:36 pm

Zumbi,
Please accept my apologies, I missed the very important word SOLO in your previous post. However, you still are using this one type of music to make the point that in "the mid 19th century, in western classical music, the written page wasn't considered so sacred and untouchable as it is today". I don’t know really how "untouchable" is today, but the four-part chorals by J.S. Bach (1685-1750) would not have existed without written music. They were very precise pieces of music and performers were not "free to improvise". So, the fact that Bach would improvise in solo pieces says nothing about the importance, or lack of importance of written music. Again, you are talking about apples to make a point about oranges.

As far as I know, no musician who couldn’t read has ever directed and arranged for a big band. Someone has to write and direct those big scores.

What was your focus in ethnomusicology?

peace & blessings to all!

-David
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Postby bongosnotbombs » Thu Feb 28, 2008 8:55 pm

zumbi wrote:as for the other post assuming that the lack of a notation system may have caused a lot of african music to be lost: that is just an ethnocentric assumption implying superiority of the written tradition over the oral one. something that can be debated.
peace & blessings to all!

I don't think I'm being ethnocentric. I think you misunderstood me, so I will try to explain my opinion better.

Wars happen and people get killed, sometimes in very large numbers and in this case they become enslaved and forced to undergo various means of deculturalization. It's tragic and sad.

I never made a claim that written was superior to oral, oral history traditions can be a very powerful practice in some cultures.

Who's to say that everything transmitted orally has been retained? How do we know what has been saved and what has been lost? Do teachers always have a chance to pass on everything they know?

I happen to be reading a book now that describes some forms of rumba as almost being extinct. When they are no longer practiced or taught how would we know these ever existed?

but it is just an opinion of mine and certainly can be debated.




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Postby zumbi » Thu Feb 28, 2008 9:43 pm

apologies fully accepted david.
of course notation has played a key role in the development of western classical music: it would be folly to assert otherwise.
it's interesting to study the history of musical notation and see that some of the issue we're discussing today concerning notation for congas at some point were applied to notation for vocal melodies or string instruments and (later) keyboards. i.e. the use of signs, staves etc.
the introduction of the bar lines and the consequent classification of different time signature, for example, was very controversial. some argued, and the argument could be still valid today, that melodies flow in a way that doesn't need to be "trenched" so to speak every given amount of time.
the music of 20th century composers like stravinsky, frank zappa and others requires a lot of time signature changes that make it very difficult to study and understand while it would be easier to master them following the melodic flow (a system common in west african classical music).
my original point was that notation is a relatively recent element in music (even western music) and it has taken too much of a central role to the detriment of the (equally important) oral traditions.
when it comes to musical languages stemming from the african root, the oral transmission ensures that a certain spiritual and human growth of the student goes hand in hand with his/her technical growth something completely neglected in this age of mass-market globalization.
nowadays, for example everyone can buy online a bata drum, some methods of bata drumming and start playing, without any spiritual preparation, some rhythms that for centuries had a deep spiritual significance.
i am not sure i can call this progress, but that's another topic...
peace & blessings!
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Postby zumbi » Thu Feb 28, 2008 10:02 pm

bongosnotbombs,
romans used to say "verba volant, scripta manent" latin for "words will fly away, what is written will stay". so, for western civilization it was clear from ancient days an assumed superiority of the written over the oral tradition.
of course oral transmission is exposed to the risks of informations getting lost or changed: it's a dynamic system compared to a static one (the written), it has its pros and its cons.
what the western education system has been always underestimating, in my opinion, is the importance of transmitting a certain ethos (principles, moral guidelines etc.) together with the actual information, something in which oral tradition is the only way to go.
oh yes, david, my ethnomusicology studies focused on a particular tradition of rhythmic poetry in central italy where one poet would improvise a verse of eight lines in strict rhyme and the next one should do the same picking up from the rhyme the previous one has left. it would go on for hours untill one would run out of lyrics or could find such a unique rhyme that could not be picked up no matter how vaste one's vocabulary...some form of rural ancient italian rap challenges...
one love




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Postby Thomas Altmann » Thu Feb 28, 2008 10:07 pm

... an ethnocentric assumption implying superiority of the written tradition over the oral one ...


As far as I'm concerned, I have gained so much from the cultural achievements of an oral tradition that it would only be just if the representants of this culture finally enjoyed the blessings of my literal culture in turn.

If I had not written their music down, I would eventually forget vast portions of what I was taught. I would have to invent stuff and improvise and take the result for the real thing. Well, at least original.

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Postby davidpenalosa » Fri Feb 29, 2008 9:33 pm

zumbi wrote:... as for the other post assuming that the lack of a notation system may have caused a lot of african music to be lost: that is just an ethnocentric assumption implying superiority of the written tradition over the oral one. something that can be debated.

Hi Zumbi,
In case you missed these quotes from the "clave pandora’s box" thread, I’m pasting them in here in response to your comment. These excerpts are from African scholar Kofi Agawu’s book "Representing African Music: Postcolonial Notes, Queries, Positions" (2003). In it, Agawu compares how Africans view their music and written transcriptions with the way non-Africans view it.

Addressing the value of transcriptions of African music, Agawu says:

"… a comprehensive and critical account of the library of transcriptions of African music is not only possible but potentially interesting and revealing. The archive of African music would be greatly impoverished without the labors of these workers. Showing us what African musicians do puts us in a better position to understand how they do it. This is not to pretend that the ‘what’ is expressible only in one kind of medium, or that it is knowable without remainders; the point, rather, is that there is no substitute for the pursuit of that ‘what’, whatever it is. One reason for skepticism about transcriptions is the often careless claim that African music cannot be adequately transcribed into European notation." (pg. 51)

He argues that African music is just as suited to notation as Western music:

"The problem of notation is in [a] sense a universal one. To present it as a problem for African music alone is to deprive its specifically African manifestation of any claims to universality, any standing among influential discourses." (pg.64)

As Agawu makes clear, the incorrect "ethnocentric assumptions" are on the part of non-Africans who have a problem with transcribing African music. African scholars themselves see the value in notation as one method of PRESERVING the music.

"It is noteworthy that the debate about appropriateness of staff notation for African music is a subject of particular interest to outsiders, not insiders. African scholars from Kyagmbiddwa to Kongo have for the most part accepted the conventions – and limitations - of staff notation and gone on to produce transcriptions in order to inform and to make possible a higher level of discussion and debate. .. If no African qualities refuse translation, we are better off putting our energies towards building a basic library – with all its imperfections – that can enable an informed rather than impressionistic discussion of actual notes, rhythms and timbres that African musicians play and sing." (pg. 52)

-David
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Postby zumbi » Fri Feb 29, 2008 10:21 pm

yes david i did read the other topic and i have no objections with what mr. agawu says.
if notation system is to be used to help preserve the music for a reference purpose in scholar circles, why not.
you're trying to portrait me as hostile to musical notation: nothing like that.
i can actually read music and i think it is a good skill to have rather than not.
my point is that all those written references (and not only for musical forms based in africa, but for anything that has a non-metronomic or swinging -or whatever you want to call it- concept of timing) would be useless unless illustrated by someone rooted in the tradition who can interpret them in the "proper" way. and that could only be transmitted orally.
we are living in a visual society that consider the eye as the most important and valuable of our senses.
as obvious as this may sound one can be a superb musician while being blind (or illiterate). it would be kind of harder if he was deaf...
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Postby davidpenalosa » Fri Feb 29, 2008 10:36 pm

zumbi wrote:you're trying to portrait me as hostile to musical notation

as obvious as this may sound one can be a superb musician while being blind (or illiterate). it would be kind of harder if he was deaf...

I wasn't trying to portray you in any particular way, I thought I was just responding to some of your comments. Thanks for clarifying your views.

It's true there are many amazing blind musicians. I'm not aware of any deaf musicians on the other hand....

I'm getting off-topic here, but one of the Conjunto Folkllorico Nacional de Cuba's top dancers - Ibis, is deaf. She is able to feel the particular bata toques in her feet and is able to change her steps according to the rhythmic changes of the drums through that unconventional means of sensory input.
-David
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Postby zumbi » Fri Feb 29, 2008 10:54 pm

my brother david,
reading of the dancer i do actually recalled of a female percussionist that is almost totally deaf and uses the same technique: by performing bare feet she works with vibrations through the floor.
she's quite famous and several great composers have composed pieces for her: unfortunately i can't remember her name at this time.
i know you weren't trying to portray me in any particular way (what interest would you have in doing so, after all?) it was just a speech figure.
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Postby Joseph » Sat Mar 01, 2008 3:40 am

Slightly OT

But as since several references were made as to "classical"
composers, I'd like to put a plug in for Béla Bartók (though he was more of a modernist).

Recorded, notated, explored, and mapped the inter-relationships of the rhythms and melodies of the aural musical traditions of the isolated mountain peasant communities of Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania.

One of the founders of the field of ethnomusicology, upon which a portion of this discussion is predicated.




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Postby davidpenalosa » Sat Mar 01, 2008 4:34 am

Thanks, I didn't kow that. May I offer my own recommendation? - 20th Century composer Steve Reich and his minimalist piece "Music for 18 Musicians" - Reich studied tradional African music at the University of Ghana. This piece is rhythmically constructed from common African 12/8 patterns. It's quite psychedelic!

From Wikipedia:
"The piece is based around a cycle of eleven chords introduced at the beginning, followed by a small piece of music based around each chord, and finally a return to the original cycle."
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Postby Joseph » Sat Mar 01, 2008 3:22 pm

Thanks for that. I’m a big fan of minimalism…and post-minimalism
Interesting instrumentation: Marimba, voice, strings, woodwind, maracas.
Here’s a link where the intro to the piece can be heard for others who might have an interest.
Music for 18 Musicians.
He looks to be an interesting character, I‘ll have to read up on him. I’m familiar with his name, but not his work.

From Wikipedia
“The term minimalism has expanded to encompass a movement in music which features repetition and iteration, as in the compositions of Steve Reich”

Yes I can see minimalism and African influences melding naturally and beautifully.

From “African Rhythm and African Sensibility” (the only reference I have)
“ the repetition of a well chosen rhythm continually reaffirms the power of the music by locking that rhythm, and the people listening or dancing to it, into a dynamic and open structure. The rhythms in African music may relate by cutting across each other, or by calling and responding to each other, but in either case, because of the conflict of African cross-rhythms, the power of the music is not only captured by repetition, it is magnified.”

“ …the African drummer concerns himself with the notes he does not play as with the accents he delivers. Though to a Western ear a piece of music may seem complex and confusing, to an African ear it may sound extremely open and clear.”


Further straying OT
…what the hay?...I started the thread…let it go where it goes…freeform discussion on music with emphasis on notation and ethnomusicology…I’m easy.

Another composer of interest (there really are so many…but I’ll stop after this one..I promise)
Charles Ives: spent the majority of his life as a award winning, innovative director of an Insurance Agency. In his spare time was a prolific composer, wrote many works for orchestra. Never heard most of what he had written, because he was primarily an insurance salesman..

From wikipedia
“Over time, Ives would come to be regarded as an "American Original"; Ives combined the American popular and church-music traditions of his youth with European art music, and was among the first composers to engage in a systematic program of experimental music, with musical techniques including polytonality, tone clusters, and quarter tones.Sources of Charles Ives’ tonal imagery are hymn tunes and traditional songs, the town band at holiday parade, the fiddlers at Saturday night dances, patriotic songs, sentimental parlor ballads, and the melodies of Stephen Foster. His works have dissonance, which comes from untrained voices singing a hymn together: some voices straining and sharpening the pitch, others just missing and flattening the pitch, creating a cluster of tones instead of a single tone. In addition, Charles Ives' music has polyrhythm, which comes from untrained voices singing a hymn together: some voices were slightly ahead of the beat while others lagged behind. Finally, Charles Ives' music has polytonality which comes from two bands in a parade, each playing a different tune in a different key.”

That last sentence refers to a piece called “The Fourth of July”.
I tried to find a link to listen, but only small samples, that don’t convey the totality of the piece.
Some of his stuff can be difficult to listen to, but “Fourth of July” is a fine example.
Anyway, Ives was an innovator who truly “pushed the envelope”.

I won't stray any further. :;):




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Postby davidpenalosa » Sat Mar 01, 2008 6:19 pm

Hi Joesph,
I love Charles Ives. His piece "Forth of July" is what I imagine turn of the 20th Century small town America would have sounded like on July 4th after I smoked a very potent joint! :)

Allow me to bring this discussion back around to the original thread topic: NOTATION. African rhythm has often been described as "poly-metric". The music of Charles Ives is a great example of the rare phenomena of poly-meter. African-based rhythms though, even the most complex bata or columbia arrangements, are not poly-metric.

Meter is:
"The pattern in which a steady succession of rhythmic pulses is organized." – The New Harvard Dictionary of Music

In clave-based music all pulses are organized around a single temporal referent (four main beats). The effect created by systematic, simultaneous duple and triple subdivisions can suggest an illusion of "poly-meter" though.

How’s that for dovetailing back into the original thread topic? :)
-David
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