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A Musical Journey

The Dancer - Music From Without to Within.

As a dancer one develops a relationship with music that is receptive and responsive. It seems that each dancer or choreographer develops a different way of counting and or referencing the music in order to interpret it and respond to it. Some will respond to rhythm as a dominant source, others to nuance of colour or mood generated by the key signature or mode and the tempo. The dancer / choreographer interprets or translates from the aural into the physical extending the music to take form in the physical space.

Dance was my first disciplined form of musical expression and as such it led me to develop a kinaesthetic and tactile relationship with music. Music has always evoked an emotional and physical response in me but it has also been the source of an intellectual fascination, about how it works and how it elicits these responses. As a dancer and choreographer I have developed a profound relationship with music and a desire to understand its workings and effects on the listener.

The Didgeridoo Player - Discovering Voice.

Didgeridoo playing is based on a combination of breath and language, or rather the constructs and elements of language. Playing didgeridoo led me to reflect on phonetics or the structural basis of language and the manipulation of phonetic structure to create rhythmic patterns. For example: door ka deeka door wa deeka. Repeated over and over this generates an doubled 8 beat pattern punctuated by the wa sound that is created by the breath in and expulsion of air from the cheeks that constitutes one of the circular breathing forms in didgeridoo playing. In numerical language the double 8 would look like:

⎜1⦰⦰45⦰7⦰ ⎜1⦰3⦰5⦰7⦰⎜

(the null symbol, ⦰, indicates that a beat is not sounded). The insight that I could translate from phonetic structure to number structure and back again opened up a whole area of understanding for me. An awareness was growing in me that different cultures used different thinking modes to communicate notions of musical rhythmic structure, some based in phonetics and others in number systems.

The Percussionist.

The next musical toy to come my way was a djembe drum. Coincidence can play a huge part in anyones learning process and a chance comment about playing equally well with the left or right hand set up a chain of thought in me about nature of rhythm generated by hand. If a player makes a point of alternating hands on every beat, as I did as an experiment, then the awareness that rhythm turns on 2 beat and 3 beat combinations arises. The mathematician in me rose to this insight and led me to develop a system to generate rhythm using patterns of 2’s and 3’s. This is common language in Greek and Middle Eastern music. They use the term short for a 2 beat unit and long for a three beat unit. With this view an 8 beat pattern using all 2’s looks like.

⎜12 12 12 12⎜or ⎜12345678⎜ with accents on 1,3, 5 and 7. Using 2’s and 3’s we could have ⎜123 123 12⎜or ⎜123 12 123⎜ or

⎜12 123 123⎜to generate 8 beat patterns. This can be applied to create beat patterns from 5,6,7,9,10,11 or any number. After about 13 the patterns become a little unwieldy but the theory still holds. I have discovered many rhythmic patterns through this understanding only later to hear them in the context of music from one cultural form or another. For instance:

⎜12 12 12 123⎜

This is a 9 beat pattern that I was playing and then heard subsequently in a Greek song called “I Walk at Night” and also in a tune played a visiting Swedish folk violinist.

This insight taught me about the universality of music, in that it is generated by the things that make us human rather than by Cultural forms. Cultural forms influence the choices that are made from a range of possibilities that are universal and a consequence of us being human.

Then came the Kora.

Then came the Kora, a multi stringed instrument from Senegal in West Africa. My relationship with the Kora has led me on a fascinating musical journey. As an opened stringed harp like instrument the Kora has a resonance with the music of Ancient Greece in that it is similar to the harp and lyre of that culture. The Renaissance saw a revival of interest in the modes of Ancient Greece and the Kora lends itself to experimentation with modal tunings. Add to this my fascination with a wide variety of complex rhythms and the mix becomes rich indeed.

History tells us that the modes give room for expression of a wide variety of states of being or moods. This is where my nature finds some potential for resolution. As a person who is strongly engaged with life through both heart and mind my music satisfies both. I have a strong sense of enquiry and the endless combinations of rhythm, mode and tempo leaves me plenty of room for experimentation and discovery.

The question that I am addressing in my music at the moment is, how does mode, rhythm and tempo work together to create the “feel” of a piece of music? Each mode has, to my ear at least, a distinct feel or quality. Exploring different rhythms in a particular mode gives rise to very different melodic patterns and then varying the tempo tempers the excitability or calmness of the piece. As I have said there are endless possibilities for joyous experimentation, expression and sharing. Long may the journey continue!

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