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Exploring the World of Music

Sound, Music, and the Environment

What do different cultures mean by music? This program explores the definition of music from the sine wave to poetic metaphor, and the impact of the cultural environment on musics as different as Bosnian ganga and becarac singing; Tuvan throat singing; Irish, West African, Trinidadian, and Japanese musics; and Western chamber music, jazz, and rock.

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Exploring The World Of Music Program #1 “Sound, Music and the Environment” Transcript

NARRATOR:

One of the most universal of all human pursuits is the creation of music. From birth to death music defines, describes and accompanies us on our journey through life.

MARK SLOBIN:

Music is like food. Every human being needs food but everybody eats different food. Food that Americans eat is really strange to people in other parts of the world. Some of the food that other people eat would make an American sick to his stomach. But everybody needs food.

JOHN COHEN

What is music? Well from a scientific point of view it’s the organization of sound.

MARY JO PAGANO

It’s a language without words and the reason for language is to communicate and the reason for music is to communicate.

JUNKO OBA

Depending on what you want to express it can be hundreds of different things.

MICHAEL WIMBERLY

Music is the essence of the creator, the entire universe.

TIMOTHY YING

In my case it’s the sounds that I make with my violin.

RAVE TESAR

There are people that go that’s not music.

TED LEVIN:

Music is music if someone thinks it’s music.

JOHN COHEN

You can’t put it a box and say this is music. It’s all these wonderful abstract things brought together.

ERNEST BROWN:

You can think about it and rationalize it and express it and explain it. That’s all afterwards. It gets you on an emotional level first.

NARRATOR:

While music seems to exist in every human society, it’s meaning and role differ from culture to culture. But the physical laws of sound are universal. At the root of all sound is vibration.

GERALD SHAPIRO:

Not only the root of all music is vibration but in some sense perhaps the root of everything is vibration. Everything is moving all the time.  The  Earth is moving. The sun is moving. On the earth the waves are beating against the shore. Everything which is, is vibration.  In order to have a sound you need a physical object which vibrates, whether it’s a cello or a speaker in a radio, you need a medium to carry that vibration typically it’s air and finally we need an ear, an ear drum and a brain to tum it into something  that’s meaningful to a human being.  The simplest sort of sound is called a sine wave and I can display that sound on an oscilloscope. Of course in nature, nothing is so simple as that. There isn’t just one sine wave happening at one moment. Actually there are many sine waves all adding and subtracting.

ERNEST BROWN:

When you listen to a sound when you listen to a musical note, you hear several things. You hear the basic note but you also hear some overtones that are generated.

FRED STUBBS:

The overtone theory is really quite simple. Behind every acoustically generated tone there is a series of other tones which are happening simultaneously and this series of tones extends above what we call the fundamental tone and what we call the fundamental tone is usually the tone we can identify and sing back.

GERALD SHAPIRO:

When you begin to talk about notes of music, you have to talk about different parts to those sounds. Every musical sound has four parameters. It has it’s pitch, and we’ve been looking at pitch in terms the frequency of the sine wave or the fundamental. It has it’s pitch, how high or low is the sound? It has it’s amplitude, how loud or soft is the sound? It has it’s timbre how complex or simple, how many overtones go in to making up this sound and what is there relationship and proportions? And it has it’s duration, how long does the sound last? If I as a composer write a piece, it’s decisions about those four parts of each note that really determine which note goes where, how long it is, how high it is, how it relates to the other notes. And now we’re really talking about music more then about sound per se.

NARRATOR:

In western societies people define music in terms of it’s basic structural elements:   melody, rhythm, timbre, harmony, and texture.  However not all cultures see music in this way.

ERNEST BROWN:

Most cultures around the world there’s no word for music. Our word music comes from the Greeks and it’s something that’s used in European culture and it’s used in Arabic culture. So of course there’s no word for melody, for rhythm, for harmony, for texture, or chord, or any of  the other terms that we commonly use in the United States and Europe to talk about music. But if you want to make comparisons across cultures, you need some kind of terminology to use.

NARRATOR:

A melody is a succession of pitches. It can be composed like the melody of a song or it can be improvised like a solo in a jazz performance. Rhythm refers to the time element in music such as the steady pulse of Australian Aboriginal clap sticks. Rhythm can also be free without a regular beat like the solo shakuhachi music of Japan. Timbre is the tone color of a musical sound. The same pitch sounds different when it is played on different instruments. This is because each instrument has its own unique timbre.

Harmony refers the simultaneous sounding of two or more notes. Composers of Western classical music have developed a detailed harmonic system routed in the musical practices of medieval Europe. Texture is the way all of these elements are combined into a musical fabric. Textures can be complex like the overlapping rhythms of a West African drumming ensemble. Or as simple as the sound of a single human voice. We can analyze and compare different musics by looking at their basic elements but music itself also exists as an element in the cultural life of every society.

TED LEVIN:

The environment can influence music in both conscious and unconscious ways. For instance in the West, the argument has been made  that a lot of the dissonant music that arose at the beginning of the century was a result  or a reaction to the noisiness of industrialization. And the dissonance of modem civilization, that it was a reflection of social dissonance in a way in sound.

MARK SLOBIN:

If we use the word environment to relate to music, we’re talking about two things: a physical environment and a social environment. In the case of highlander people in Bosnia singing together, the two are pretty much inseparable.

NARRATOR:

In the mountainous region of Bosnia Hertzogovnia close to Saraevjo a sheep herding community has developed a unique singing style known as ganga. This genre which is primarily sung outdoors in groups closely reflects the conditions and life style of the highlander community.

MIRJANA LAUSEVIC:

In Bosnian highlander culture, specifically in Mt. Bjelasnica, people will spend a lot of time outdoors since it’s the herding  culture. They  will spend a lot of time up in the hills all alone looking down into the valley. And if somebody’s passing through the valley, they certainly  want to be heard.  It is very important to conquer  that space with  your voice.  In terms of finding a genre that will carry the furthest it’s definitely a genre called ganga. And this particular type of singing is characterized by very close harmonies, so voices are close to each other and they somehow acoustically clash off  of each  other, but that enables the sound  to travel further.  When I first got to Medlo Fair, which is the occasion on the mountain when everybody gathers in one place and the singing happens everywhere,  it’s just absolutely astonishing. But when I first got there I was somewhat frustrated because that was my first really independent field work and I really wanted to get nice recordings and wanted to get nice cuts and it was just impossible. And for a while I was running around from one group to  the other. You could never tell when is somebody going to sing.  They’re just standing there. And suddenly somebody just breaks into a song and I would not even get a chance to click my record button. And then suddenly  it occurred to me this is really what is attractive about this type of singing. It’s not there to be performed it’s there to express something.

NARRATOR:

Another singing style which reflects highlander culture is called becarac.

MIRJANA LAUSEVIC:

In patriarchal highlander culture men and women do not sing together. Singing is a very important part of courtship rituals and people will start singing at a very early age but not in public. They  will sing out in meadows. They will sing up in the hills. They will sing away from the adults.  So it often happens that for example a group of  girls, when they feel ready for courtship and for marriage subsequently, they will suddenly one night decide to start a song in the village. And it’s almost like an initiation right. The becarac that we sang is called “Shining Star” and I can tell you the story of how I first encountered that particular becarac.  It  was a fairly cold but extremely  clear summer  night.  They’re  these girls that are singing “Shining stars does any of you know where my darling is tonight? Shining stars wandering through the sky on the Earth my darling and I.”  These girls were singing about the boyfriend or potential

boyfriend of one of the women that started the song. And I’ve been  looking at them and in this environment where you are really surrounded by nothing but the stars. It suddenly made so much sense and became so clear, this connection that people find with what is closest to them. And in that case it was the stars. And also this fact that there is nobody else that you can ask but the stars was somehow very poetic and in a way very symbolic of their experience of the environment.

NARRATOR:

Just as music is an integral part of culture it may be intimately linked to the natural world.  And in many cases it is perceived as a powerful bridge to  the supernatural or divine.

TED LEVIN:

In Tuva music has always served as a medium through which people implace themselves in landscapes in soundscapes. Tuvans are animists. That is, they believe that the world is inhabited by spirits and that human kind can make contact with those spirits, can make offerings to them by imitating the sounds of the places or the things in which those spirits live. Tuvans love to imitate sounds. And the reason they do this is because they believe that by imitating some sound they can literally implace themselves, put themselves in that being or thing. Tuva sits on just the north west border of Mongolia, politically it’s part of  Russia.  It’s a small place and it’s people have always been herders. They herd sheep, yak, goats, and when you live all of the time with animals you develop a very close

who is not simply literally imitating or reflecting what you hear but processing it, making it one’s own–making it one’s own artistic property in a way. And that’s what they do.

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