Thursday, January 21, 2016

Situated Music (Continued) - The Tonkori Kalimba Mark II

Further situated music research into the melodic space of the Ainu fretless zither, the tonkori.

The Tonkori Kalimba made by Caleb Schepart of  nyKalimba
Classic Tonkori photo mother playing to child















Research context

Recap - situated music follows a research programme first proposed by Hugh Tracey in Ngomi in 1948. The melodies follow the path laid out by the instrument, then melodies suggest themselves to the musician pushing for a new possibility of the instrument. It could be argued that the Hugh Tracey Kalimba was the first conscious exploitation of the notion - a full compass of notes in a modified illimba layout.

Context

I have been using the ideas from Ngomi to design a series of instruments to explore the melody spaces from different cultures, which I blogged about earlier. This post concerns the Tonkori Kalimba. It was a pentatonic kalimba in re-entrant tuning that permitted the playing of tonkori pieces. It had octaves for tonal variation. It needed however to be retuned for the different pieces. What I wanted was something where the notes for the different pieces were available for playing immediately, but the question was how - easy retuning was possible with small neodynm magnets, but that was problematic as there was still a process of retuning which meant you had to first work out what tuning was there and then work out the difference you wanted. Also the extreme variations (say for Keh Keh Hetani Paye An) weren't achievable. And one can't have a concert that involved rebuilding an instrument on stage. Well, I suppose you can, but this would detract from the central idea.

So I got to conceiving the different tonkori tunings as avatars of the echt tonkori, offering the same relative melodic affordance but with different melodic outcomes. So in the tradition of avatars, they could be present at the same time in a representation (the many arms of the deities in statues represent this).

Let's briefly review the core tonkori tunings*. The unaltered pentatonic ("white note") is used for three classic tonkori pieces - Kento Hahka Touhse, Kehe Kehe Hetani Payean, and Ucaore Irehte.** For Kehe Kehe Hetani Payean, there is an octave with no seventh.
Then there is a tuning with lowered degrees 3, 6 and 7. It's fair to say that most of the "classic" tonkori pieces use this tuning: Ikersohte, Etouhka Mā Irehte, Tōkito Ran Ran, Suma Kā Peka Touhse Irehte, Sumari Pū Kosan, Ponsumarī Hechire and Hosuyasuya Ikos**.

There are a number of other tunings that have been employed - some are perhaps experimental. There is likely also to have been a shift in the tuning - the archival versions of these pieces use a different tuning and sound markedly different. But it's hard to say - emphatically the literature says that the tune is the same regardless of the tuning. In this it is similar to the mobility of Shona great pieces regarding of the tuning of the mbira on which they are played.
Other lesser tunings include 2232,3222,5232, 3223 and 5232, but these are of sufficient rarity for them not to be of significance here.

The Tonkori Kalimba Mark 2 - scope

So it seemed to me that an instrument that had two ranks of tines, each with their own scale, would pretty much cover the tonkori repertoire for the purpose of exploration. And because of the major/minor - up/down correspondence in the brain it seemed to me that the tuning with lowered scale degrees should be placed on the lower rank.

The melodic affordance of the tonkori in all of these scales and tunings is UUUDU, and I obviously wanted to preserve this. This meant that the scale degrees were arranged as and which translated (given that I wanted a rich tonic and I love the low A in kalimbas for personal historical reasons) into the actual note layouts:


which then translated into this tine arrangement:




The Tonkori Kalimba Mark 2 - design

Discussions with Caleb at nyKalimba told me that he would build an instrument to these specifications - this would be a modification of his existing two rank instrument. His ambira lamellophone is unusual in that the adjoining notes make the scales divided between the ranks. Most other two rank kalimbas have octave or fifth arrangement (I simplify here).

This was out working map (drawn by Caleb):
 realised as 

Caleb added an extra note on the left for aesthetic and structural reasons.

And now it is here at home:


Conclusion

How has it worked out? Well, for playing the tonkori repertory, and for experimenting in the tune space, it has been magnificent. And also as a musical instrument as well - I have basically had it on my person for months playing it everywhere. Everyone I show it to falls in love with it playing it. I'll put up a video of it being played shortly, this is to tell the world about it in the interim.

As regards playing the music, it's perfect. Anything written in tonkori tabs of all sorts can be read, as can sheet music. There is some to-ing and fro-ing as regard how to play the middle tines, especially on the lower rank. But once that has been worked out it's easy.

As regards playing anything for the tonkori on the fly, it's also brilliant. When you know the layout it's pretty immediate. I suppose it isn't as immediate as the Mark I, but only in the sense that you didn't have to think about it.

Ainu music is highly figurative. This is music that illustrates sisters and brothers of the Ainu in nature - birds, animals, ghosts. It is also highly ritual and in the right context sacred. Having a layout that lets the player get involved in the melodic affordance directly really does make it possible to emulate the eloping lovers, the swooping cranes, the shuffling monster, the creeping fox, the playul fox cub. And that was to large extent the point of the experiment.

Oddly enough friends who have played it (jazz musicians) have been more interested in it as a means of improv in an unusual scale. So where I see it as 3 separate co-extensive instruments, they see it as a parti-chromatic instrument. And the high C I mentioned got immediate use. One friend start a riff on c' c'' a a' and improvised around that for a while. Which is I imagine unavoidable - the people repurposing it.

But then, isn't that further substantiation of Tracey's notion? This is an extended range instrument, providing a new melodic affordance that is reasonably certain never to have existed before.

So experiment successful. I am hoping Caleb will make it into a product in his shop, as people everywhere I go seem to want one. I am arranging a book of tab for it and will make that available when ready.






*I will assume for the sake of simplicity that everyone who reads this knows that numbers with hats means scale degrees, and down and up arrows mean raising and lowering a degree half a tone.  I will also assume familiarity with the practice of describing pentatonic scales with the intervals. I used the free font XPTChords from Philip Tagg for the scale degrees - http://tagg.org/zmisc/FontKeys.html.

** Kento Hahka Touhse = "Kento's hat has blown off"
Kehe Kehe Hetani Payean  = "Come on, let's go"
Ucaore Irehte = "the sound of the argument"
Ikersohte = "the sound of the shuffling monster"
Etouhka Mā Irehte = "the sound of the washing crow"
Tōkito Ran Ran  = "descending and pecking" (cranes coming down to eat leeks)
Suma Kā Peka Touhse Irehte  = "the sound of skipping across stones" (Lovers meeting in twilight on a rocky beach)
Sumari Pū Kosan  = "the fox creeps down" (into the warehouse to eat the goose fat)
Ponsumarī Hechire  = "the dance of the fox cub"
Hosuyasuya Ikos  = "the dance of swaying hips"








Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The difficulties with the idea of Melodic Archetypes.

Narmour's Archetypal Melodic cells

The idea of melodic archetypes is a seductive idea. Basic shapes possibly that inform all the others or in the background as an influence. The Analysis and Cognition of Basic Melodic Structures
 by Eugene Narmour attempts to dissect into three note groups of which is pictured here. The method is methodical but one wonders how one interprets say a run of 4 notes or more. To say it is a chain of three note groups is not what I think anyone hears.  Much less chordal outlines. So possible the question needs to be looked in less of a mechanical way. A more useful approach might be are to look at melodies as based on various types of mobility. This requires going into it in more depth but by chance I ran across some ideas of mobility in Paul Klee’s The Nature of Nature. (p.26) He mentions three types of movement, Unilateral, Parallel movement and movement and countermovement but these relate to more than one line or some figure ground relation. Perhaps more useful might be his descriptions of:
Gliding
Striding
Leaping
Jumps
Or having a Central figuration without discontinuity

Wile these can be vague, I think this moves us more toward the way melodies are experienced.  More on this later.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Melodicle as Acoustea - ἀκουστέον - "that which must be listened to"

TLDR - As there is a notion from ancient Greece of an "idea" -Ἰδεῶν, something that must be seen - so there might be a notion of an "acoustea" - ἀκουστέον, something that must be heard. This is borne out by Liddel & Scott. This is a nice term for a melodicle.

********


This is a reflection (following Ives' essay postface to 114 Songs) about the nature of tune, and Harrison's notion of the melodicle, with a hat-tip towards Wierzbicka's ideas on language.


This is about music, but we need some other paragraphs for backgrounding.

I am lucky enough to have a friend who is a classical Greek doctorate who though not in academe still reads and translates for fun. As my background is fundamentally in philosophy, we have long (possibly tedious to the observer) conversations about Plato and the pre-Socratics. And a thought came up in one such conversation today.

We were discussing the founding of property-based ideas of freedom in Locke, and were having a grand old time rubbishing the notion of "intellectual property" and the ownership of an idea (which is one of those things that if you give it away you still have it). And contrasting it with Rousseauvian ideas of freedom, and the notion of a vomeronasal sense of trust to align with the other extra senses (balance, heat, pain, embodiment). This based on Warzbiecka's fantastic book "Sense, Experience and Evidence" which shows how Lockean ideas and most of the baggage of the English Enlightenment come down to sensible meaning two things. So we were rubbishing the very idea of owning an idea.

Now, the notion of "idea" comes from the Greek ἰδέα, from Plato specific coinage, but not many people realise the etymology is from Ἰδεῶν, which comes from the root word for sight - it literally means "that which demands to be seen" or "that which demands to be understood".

So I thought - following Ives, there must be a similar word for a tune, that which must be heard. So we looked in Liddell and Scott and there is was - ἀκουστέον from ἀκούω - "that which must be listened to" or must"that which must be attended to"

So Harrison's "melodicle" (which has been uppermost in mind because of tonkori arrangements) are in fact Acousteas. And it informs the notion of "ear-worm" as well.

This usage may not take off, but it's nice to know it's there.

Ives' essay postface to 114 Songs
"Some of the songs in this book, particularly among the latter ones, cannot be sung, and if they could, perhaps might prefer, if they had a say, to remain as they are; that is, "in the leaf"--and that they will remain in this peaceful state is more than presumable. An excuse (if none of the above are good enough) for their existence which suggests itself at this point is that a song has a few rights, the same as other ordinary citizens.If it feels like walking along the left-hand side of the street, passing the door of physiology or sitting on the curb, why not let it? If it feels like kicking over an ash can, a poet's castle, or the prosodic law, will you stop it? Must it always be a polite triad, a "breve gaudium," a ribbon to match the voice? Should it not be free at times from the dominion of the thorax, the diaphragm, the ear, and other points of interest? If it wants to beat around in the park, should it not have immunity from a Nemesis, a Ramses, or a policeman? Should it not have a chance to sing to itself, if it can sing?--to enjoy itself without making a bow, if it can't make a bow?--to swim around in any ocean, if it can swim, without having to swallow "hook and bait," or being sunk by an operatic greyhound? If it happens to feel like trying to fly where humans cannot fly, to sing what cannot be sung, to walk in a cave on all fours, or to tighten up its girth in blind hope and faith and try to scale mountains that are not, who shall stop it?

--In short, must a song always be a song!"

The songs

Wierzbicka's book at OUP


Musician in a Landscape - Chiang Yee

Chiang Yee,  from The Silent Traveller in Edinburgh:

"That had been a very fine morning, and as I sat on one of the public seats along the Crags I had become completely intoxicated by the still, yet fresh air. A shaft of sunlight hovered in the mist, suggesting the busy movement in the air of each tiny particle. Then the chiming began from one church after another. At first I could distinguish a single tune quivering through the mist with notes so clear and pure they seemed to cleanse my heart and shake old dusty thoughts out of my mind. Involuntarily I rose to my feet. More chimes floated up, each distinct and yet blending with the rest to produce an extraordinary harmony. I held my breath with a happy feeling of expansion and clarity until the peals ended in a soothing trail of sound. I realised how right our great philosophers and musicians were to say that music is best heard at a distance and from a high place. Perhaps I had been particularly fortunate in hearing the chimes washed by the morning mist. How much better this was than to listen indoors or in a street to tunes cramped by walls and tarnished with urban reek! I have read many tales of famous old Chinese musicians who liked to play their instruments in the depths of a grove or under the shade of a big tree in a far corner of a garden while the audience listened at a distance, or, when forced indoors, sat behind screens so that the audience could enjoy the music undisturbed. We modern people sit close together in packed auditoria watching the movements of the hands and the expressions on the faces of the players on the stage, and sometimes even daring - if it is winter-time in Britain! - to sneeze or cough."


full version:
It was raining hard outside my window; I could hear it clearly. But I had thought of going up Arthur's Seat to hear the Sunday morning chimes of Edinburgh's church bells. Rain has never prevented me from going out.
I might never have thought of this expedition had I not chanced to hear the chimes on a previous Sunday from Salisbury Crags.
That had been a very fine morning, and as I sat on one of the public seats along the Crags I had become completely intoxicated by the still, yet fresh air. A shaft of sunlight hovered in the mist, suggesting the busy movement in the air of each tiny particle. Then the chiming began from one church after another. At first I could distinguish a single tune quivering through the mist with notes so clear and pure they seemed to cleanse my heart and shake old dusty thoughts out of my mind. Involuntarily I rose to my feet. More chimes floated up, each distinct and yet blending with the rest to produce an extraordinary harmony. I held my breath with a happy feeling of expansion and clarity until the peals ended in a soothing trail of sound. I realised how right our great philosophers and musicians were to say that music is best heard at a distance and from a high place. Perhaps I had been particularly fortunate in hearing the chimes washed by the morning mist. How much better this was than to listen indoors or in a street to tunes cramped by walls and tarnished with urban reek! I have read many tales of famous old Chinese musicians who liked to play their instruments in the depths of a grove or under the shade of a big tree in a far corner of a garden while the audience listened at a distance, or, when forced indoors, sat behind screens so that the audience could enjoy the music undisturbed. We modern people sit close together in packed auditoria watching the movements of the hands and the expressions on the faces of the players on the stage, and sometimes even daring - if it is winter-time in Britain! - to sneeze or cough.
The church bells of the Christian West sound much as our temple bells do, though the latter only strike single notes. They are cast in the same manner, and they are rung for similar purposes: the difference lies in their timbre. I do not know when the first church bells were cast in the West; in China there are temple bells among the ancient bronzes of the Chou Dynasty dating back three or four thousand years. We often use the phrase 'Sheng-chungmu- ku" which means ' morning bell and evening drum', to describe something which awakens the mind and quickens the conscience, and it came to my lips as I stood listening to the chimes on Salisbury Crags.

Appolinaire's Symphony Made by the World

Music is the audible history of my fingers moving. There are other histories. They make a ballet to the eye. Makes me think of Kubik reconstructing Chopi xylophone music from documentaries.

But there are other non-music sounds. arms moving in clothes, chairs squeaking, blood surging past the stapes. The cataract of aging ears. They got left behind. Audible shadows of the audible, left out of history.

Apollinaire's ‘symphony made by the world’ created by the Moon King, who when we meet him
"... was seated in front of a keyboard, one key of which he was applying with a weary air; and it remained stuck, so that there came from one of the pavilions a murmur both strange and continual. At first I was unable to discern its meaning. The well-developed microphones which the king had at his disposal were regulated in such a manner as to bring into the cellar noises of life on earth from the most far away places.

Now it is murmurs from the Japanese countryside …

Then, from another depressed key, we are transported in mid-morning, the king hails the socialist hard work in New Zealand, I can hear the whistling of geysers …
Doum, doum, boum, doum, doum, boum, doum, doum, boum, it is Peking, the gongs and drums of the patrols …
The king’s fingers run over the keys, haphazardly, raising them up, in some fashion simultaneously, all the murmurs of the world have just been made for us, as we remain stationary, a tour by ear..."

Situated music - a theory of musical affordance

Clancey describes situated cognition as a correction to the naive ideas of artificial intelligence. I think that there is a parallel between the idea of embedded music and abstract music, the former being a product of the musical affordance of an instrument, the latter the idea of universal unembodied melody - glassperlenspeil if you like. It comes from an idea of Hugh Tracey's in his book for an African music, Ngoma.

I have been constructing a series of hybrid instruments as a means of exploring the doctrine of (for want of a better phrase, I have called) instrumental affordance. This is the idea of the interplay between the layout of an instrument and the kinds of music that develops for it.

 This idea was proposed formally by the musicologist Hugh Tracey in his book Ngoma (1948), but has been sort of mentioned elsewhere. It's particularly obvious with thumb pianos, wherein there are missing notes or notes that are present twice or even three times to make certain things easily played.
 The Effects of Instruments upon Music
Although we make musical instruments to play our music as we want it, we sometimes find that the instrument plays its own music—notes that we did not expect. It is like driving a donkey along a path. So long as the donkey stays on the path it is our way; but sometimes it refuses to go along the path and goes off into the grass to find its own way. Every musician well knows what this means. The instrument in his hands seems to come alive, and without his knowing quite what is happening he plays sequences of notes which do not come from his mind but from his fingers on the instrument. Then if this new sequence sounds well he may try to fix it in his mind and play it again. So the instrument itself has added something to the music, more than was thought out in the mind of the composer alone.

A great number of musical phrases come from the instruments in this way. The bows make certain harmonics which we use as yodels (maguri); the position of the keys of the Mbira makes it easier to play certain sequences of notes which, maybe, lie close to each other; the flutes produce an unexpected number of small notes if we blow harder, and we have to accept the notes that they make because they can make no others.

The music of any instrument or voice shows clearly the features (the likeness) of its parents. For instance, when we sing we can hold on to one note for a long time. But not so on the Mbira. We must keep on striking it to keep the note sounding. Some, musicians put extra notes on the Mbira for this purpose, notes of the same pitch on either side, so that they can make one note sound a long time by playing it with two thumbs alternately. So where we can sing one long note, the Mbira would have to play several beats :
Voice : Nde-------------------------------------------
Mbira: Da-ka-da-ka-da-ka-da-ka-da-ka-da-ka-da-ka
The characteristics of each instrument and its manner of playing can thus be turned to good account by clever musicians.

In the course of a great number of years, the constant use of one kind of instrument has a deep and lasting effect upon the music of the people who use it. The manner of playing instruments is also most important. For example, the drums which are played with the palms of the hands make quite a different sound from those played with beaters. The quick vibrations of a light beater on a tight drum head (kettledrums) are much used by European military bands, but you rarely hear this sound from our drums. But on the other hand they cannot achieve so great a variety of blows as we do on our drums.

Each instrument that we use helps to make up the character of our music. If we changed our instruments our music would also change. Centuries of work and skill would be lost if we ceased to play our own instruments. The music of the Mbira, for instance, if played on a European piano would soon lose all the special character which is part of its charm.

The notion of  instrumental affordance is based on J J Gibson's theory of affordances -
"The affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill." 
So instrumental affordances are the obvious possibilities what a musical instrument offers the performer and/or composer for good or ill (inspiration or cliche). Gibson's categories of affordances include those
"of the medium, of substances, of surfaces and their layout, of objects".
 (Gibson 1979). I'll put more at the bottom of this blog

Back to Tracey - he points out that the instrument evolves to meet the increased needs of the musician, who then sees new possibilities in each newly evolved instrument, and so it goes. we can see that there are affordances of medium, substance, surface and surface layout for an instrument. The medium is common between all instruments - sound travelling through air. The substance gives the nature of the instrument - these are the Sachs categories of idiophones, aerophones, chordophones. For a musical instrument this can be termed a sonoral affordance.

Each instrument also presents a surface to the musician (again, musician here includes performer, composer, arranger, transcriber, builder and designer). So the difference in surface and surface layout between (say) a fife and a piccolo is the keying and all that enables. This is different to the object affordance that is the difference between a piccolo and an alto flute, but have the same surface layout. A common substance and surface layout give a working definition of a family of instruments. We can call this the melodic affordance.

Seen backwards, we can look at this as the musical umwelt (per von Uexkull, Fraser) of the musician - their musical universe is observed through this instrumental affordance. So the possibilities that are possible are relatively unlimited, but there is a large preponderance of things that are obviously beautiful or emotionally charged.

Since this is an observable phenomenon, it seemed to me that (following the idea of conceptual blending of per Fauconnier) new musical umwelts would be possible by mixing the substance of one family with the surface layout of another family. So I set about making instruments that presented these hypothesised new musical umwelts to me, while making them eminently playable.

I have been building as a series of experiments hybrid kalimbas, using the melodic affordances of other  instruments with the sonoral affordance of the kalimba. I have then arranged the traditional material of the instrument providing the melodic affordance, then improvised to see what follows. When the "experiment" is "complete", I'll write up what I learned, but my expectations were exceeded in  ways that would sound like exaggeration.

Here's a brief survey. 

 The Tonkori Kalimba 

This instrument (built for me by Darko Korocek of Instruments Korocek) combines the 5-note re-entrant tuning of the Ainu Tonkori fretless zither. It has two ranks so the notes can be played as parallel octaves (in the way that a twelve string guitar sounds jangly)  .
I arranged the repertoire of the tonkori for it, then explored the instruments affordance to see what tunes emerged from given starting points

 
















The marovany kalimba

 This instrument combines the affordance of the marovany (a box harp from Madagascar) with the tines of the kalimba (it has been done by other people as well, I'll find the link when I get a chance). It was built for me by Ray Vincent of Ray's Rootworks:
It's played from a strap around the neck:


 The other two are ongoing - the pocket gamelan and swarkalimba

Swarkalimba

This instrument combines the affordance of the swarsangam with the kalimba.

This affordance is a tampura bass, with a swarmandel arangement.It was made for me by the Caleb Schepart at NyKalimba.


I have yet to make a "proper" recording of it, this is me fiddling with it the day it arrived
https://soundcloud.com/ivodne-galatea/swarkalimba-demo-track

Pocket Gamelan

There are two pocket gamelans and they require very large pockets: they were made for me by William Harper - one is in pelog

and the other in slendro



Here is a pelog extemporisation
https://soundcloud.com/ivodne-galatea/pocket-gamelan-demo

more to come on these.

*************************************

Gibson:
The affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill. The verb to afford is found in the dictionary, but the noun affordance is not. I have made it up. I mean by it something that refers to both the environment and the animal in a way that no existing term does. It implies the complementarity of the animal and the environment. The antecedents of the term and the history of the concept will be treated later; for the present, let us consider examples of an affordance....

If a terrestrial surface is nearly horizontal (instead of slanted), nearly flat (instead of convex or concave), and sufficiently extended (relative to the size of the animal) and if its substance is rigid (relative to the weight of the animal), then the surface affords support....

Note that the four properties listed --- horizontal, flat, extended, and rigid --- would be physical properties of a surface if they were measured with the scales and standard units used in physics. As an affordance of support for a species of animal, however, they have to be measured relative to the animal. They are unique for that animal. They are not just abstract physical properties....
An elongated object of moderate size and weight affords wielding. If used to hit or strike, it is a club or hammer. If used by a chimpanzee behind bars to pull in a banana beyond its reach, it is a sort of rake. In either case, it is an extension of the arm. A rigid staff also affords leverage and that use is a lever. A pointed elongated object affords piercing -- if large it is a spear, if small a needle or awl.


As adapted by Norman: (Psychology of Everyday Things)
The term affordance refers to the perceived and actual properties of the thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possible be used. A chair affords (‘is for’) support and, therefore, affords sitting. A chair can also be carried

Playing is like

"When I play the guitar, even when I am practicing, I am besieged with images, memories, deja vu experiences and emotions; and for every chord I play, for every tune I write, there is within me a distinct and unique image, emotion, or feeling".
John Fahey -  God Time and Causality 1977

 Yes, spot on. Writing music is a species of being haunted

Gospel of Fahey (again)
But while technique is very important , it is only part of the story. Music is a language - a language of emotions. The worst possible way to play these songs - and I am not only talking about my own compositions - is in metronome time at a uniform volume. Another terrible thing would be to play any composition the same way every time, or to feel that you have to play it exactly the way someone else, such as myself, played it or said to play it. A good technician must also be creative . Even if a person is not a composer, he can interpret and arrange, and these skills are as important as technique in making a performance interesting. I rely heavily on both technique and interpretation , and I think of myself as a very good composer, arranger, and plagiarist for the solo acoustic guitar.
Interpretation depends on two factors: First is the ability to dramatize one's self, to get caught up in and carried away by what one is doing, especially in conducting and guitar playing. Second is musical background. A broad spectrum of musical interest over a long period of time is ideal. The broader and longer your musical appreciation, the better; and the earlier you start, the better. I grew up listening to classical orchestral music. I later immersed myself in Southern American folk music. For some reason, the best folk music came out of the South , and east of the Mississippi. Nobody really knows why.