Category Archives: Video

A question of tone

One of the themes of this blog, if such a thing could be said to exist, is the endeavour to see music in its wider setting (society, culture), through exploring links with other disciplines (language, science). In that regard, I’m always grateful to receive invitations to talks in Edinburgh University’s Institute for Music in Human and Social Development (IMHSD).

On Tuesday 2nd November, I attended a talk by Professor Bob Ladd entitled Suprasegmantel phonemic distinctions in Dinka speech and song. The Dinka people form the largest ethnic grouping of Southern Sudan. Allow me to quote Professor Ladd’s own summary of Dinka song tradition:
Making and singing songs is an integral part of Dinka culture. Songs are used to chronicle all aspects of individual and communal experience: to tell stories, to insult rivals or enemies, to praise family or cattle, and so on. Songs are typically sung solo or in unison, accompanied (if at all) by clapping or simple drumming. Rhythm is generally a simple regular pulse, and song segments or phrases may be of different lengths with no overarching metrical structure. Scale is uniformly pentatonic.

For those who, like me, are interested in languages but are a little vague about the vocabulary of the science of linguistics, permit me to attempt to unpack the title of the talk – Suprasegmental phonemic distinctions in Dinka speech and song:
  • Segment – the individual sounds which make up speech
  • Phoneme – the smallest segment is known as a phoneme e.g. the word bad has one only syllable, but three phonemes: b – a – d
  • Suprasegmental – a phenomenon can be described as suprasegmental when it takes place over two or more segments e.g. prosody, tone, stress.
Professor Ladd described to us his work as part of a wider project – Metre and melody in Dinka speech and song . Specifically, he and his colleagues are exploring how a language which relies on musical phenomena (pitch, duration, timbre) for meaning is set to music. Do the two languages intuitively come together? Is there a clash of pitch and duration imperatives? If so, which one yields and when?
Three musical components of Dinka prosody (a Nilotic language) were featured:
  • Tone – there are four tone phonemes – high, low, rising, falling
  • Quantity – there are three lengths of vowel – short, medium & long
  • Voice Quality – there are two voice qualities – modal (normal voice) and breathy (somewhere along the journey from whispering to normal speaking)
The combination of these sound options, when mixed with seven possible vowel sounds, allows for 168 possibilities, most of which occur in regular usage. At first glance, it would be impossible to believe that such a spectrum could be reduced in any way without meaning being compromised.
One further feature essential to understanding the rhythmic aspect of setting of words to music is that most stems are monosyllabic – consonant-vowel-consonant or consonant-glide-vowel-consonant.
Here is some example of such singing:[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/lz6aPMsdY5I?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Despite the many musical features of this language, it would seem that linguistic constraints are over-ridden by musical ones, without any obvious loss of understanding. Professor Ladd’s own parallel with this was that we can easily understand people when they whisper, despite the loss of pitch and timbre involved.
I found myself wondering whether – given the monosyllabic nature of the language, and the prevalence of the pentatonic scale – there was a tendency to align important words e.g. verbs with structural notes of the scale (do-mi-so) and less important words e.g. prepositions with the less important ones (re-la). It seems that this hasn’t (yet) been explored.
I found this a thoroughly engaging talk, not least because it made me realise how much we take for granted in the field of word setting. Possibly, this is because our culture is one which leaves word setting to experts. I look forward to discovering more about the project.

American Suite

The perfect CD (track), for me, has to have a holy trinity of ingredients: great composition/arrangement; great performance; great recording. This HD & HQ recording of Marek Pasciezny’s American Suite is video’s equivalent. I particularly like the subtitle – tribute to harmony – as the harmony is far more adventurous than your average guitar composition. The playing is virtuosic, adventurous and sensitive. I’ll be recommending this to pupils!

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/eD1qPbJokNQ?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

International Guitar Night

As part of next weekend’s Edinburgh International Guitar Festival, there will be an International Guitar Night in Duddingston Kirk (map here). The concert will features solos and ensemble pieces by:

Pino Forastiere:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/qOgNfxURpzw?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Alexandre Gismonti:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/T1Z_bxJD4WE?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Brian Gore:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/flys8VqaszM?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Why not forward this poster to anyone you feel might enjoy this evening?

IGN poster

Sato No Aki

A friend (Marek Pasieczny) put up this video on Facebook this evening – his fantastic performance of a recent and captivating composition. I’ve found myself playing it several times through the evening. Perhaps you’ll like it (especially the passage of harmonics at 4:06):

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/6WcYYWDYir8?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Free Classical Guitar Recital

Years ago, when Lothian Region was still in existence, the Lothian Region Guitar Ensemble used to enjoy rehearsal weekends in Biggar or West Linton, preparing for concerts. One of the promising young players involved was Adam Brown. Now an even more accomplished performer, Adam is to give a free recital on Fri 5 November at 1:10 in Edinburgh’s  St. Cecilia’s Hall (map here). Here is the programme:

Antonio Lauro: Virgilio
Alfonso Montes: Preludio de Adios
Leo Brouwer: Cuban Landscape with Bells
Fred Hand: Missing Her
Barrios: Julia Florida; Waltz No. 4
Jimmy Van Heusen: Like Someone In Love
Lorenz Hart: My Romance
George Shearing: Lullaby of Birdland

You can visit Adam’s website here, where there are links to some YouTube performances.

Fight Poverty – Young People’s Song Writing Competition

Short notice, I know, but this just came in today. If you are a young song writer, feel strongly about world poverty, can work quickly then why not consider entering this competition. The deadline is 30 September, therefore I would recommend avoiding complex multi-tracked ideas and opting for a simpler format e.g. self-accompanied singer/songwriter or just a couple of people – voice(s) & piano/guitar. Video entry is the preferred entry format (uploaded you YouTube) and East Lothian schools are well equipped with Flip Video Cameras – intuitive to use – it’s impossible to go wrong. If you are interested and have questions, get back to me on the Any Questions page and I’ll do my best to help out.

The competition is being mounted by Fight Poverty. General details of the competition are here . Details of how to enter are here. Info on prizes can be found here.

Commonwealth Forestry Conference

Yesterday I accompanied a small group of NBHS pupils to the 18th Commonwealth Forestry Conference held in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC). This short promotional video gives some idea of what the conference is about:[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/C4c7_WlS33E?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Our remit was to round the opening ceremony with some culture of the host country and we performed four songs by Robert Burns. As a result of various trips we were reduced to a skeleton crew (4 missing from a group of 7 seniors) and I was really impressed with the pupils’ ability to cope with the extra pressure – not the least of which was the jetlag experienced by one pupils who had returned from a school trip to China the previous evening! This pressure was in no small way reduced by the quiet, friendly and assured professionalism of the EICC team who were fantastic. The sound in the venue was clear as a bell and it was a pleasure to play there.

The Lea Rig:[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/JjBNj8iFDZ0?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

John Anderson My Jo; Ca’ The Yowes; The Deil’s Awa’ Wi’ The Excise Man:[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/Vwtw7grxU8s?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Many thanks to Libby Jones for inviting us to play and to Caroline Davis for minibus driving, filming, recording and general joie de vivre.

Thanks also to Zoë (vocals) who, in her last two years of life at NBHS, transformed the life of the senior Guitar Ensemble members. In that time we’ve done more gigs in and out of school than one could ever have imagined. We’d all like to wish her luck with her musical future.

Bellevue Rendezvous

I didn’t expect, at the age of 50, to discover an instrument of which I’d never heard. This would be understandable if its provenance were a distant continent whose shores my occasionally itchy feet had yet to reach. However, the instrument concerned, the nyckelharpa,

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/V5LwTr-nEm4?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

hails from Sweden, a country I visited on a trip with Lothian Region Orchestra and Jazz Orchestra in 1994. Its haunting sound is produced by four bowed strings, and twelve resonance or sympathetic strings.

Apart from a pre-emptory visit to their myspace page (which features mp3s and video footage), I had, to my shame, little knowledge of Bellevue Rendezvous when I went to see them in The Wee Folk Club, in the intimate basement of one of Edinburgh’s traditional music haunts – The Royal Oak.

I was enchanted by the sound of the trio (nyckelharpa, fiddle, cittern) and by the engaged, joyous musicianship of the its members, Ruth, Gavin, Cameron. Every journey along East Lothian’s roads since then has been graced by their CD, Salamander , which I bought at the gig. It is a fantastic recording – the product of Pencaitland’s Castle Sound Studios. I was also impressed by the beautiful musical arrangements and the eclecticism of the programme which, in addition to original material, featured tunes from France (especially Brittany), Serbia, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, Finland, Macedonia & Poland.

If you happen to be in Edinburgh and free from 12:00 – 13:00 on June 22, 23, 24 then you can catch Bellevue Rendezvous (free of charge) in St. Giles Cathedral.

You can also hear Bellevue Rendezvous on Spotify.

I look forward to seeing them again – perhaps in The Lammermuir Festival 2011 – a trio such as this was made for some of East Lothian’s intimate church acoustics…..

We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For

Thanks to an episode of pinball reading (and its offshoots) which I can now barely recall, I received a free DVD of David Putnam‘s*  film, We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For.

Narrated by John Hannah, it explores the huge problems which today’s young people will inherit and investigates how well or poorly current educational practices across the world prepare them for this future.

The conversations and cast (Sir Ken Robinson, Dr. Cream Wright, Dr. Sandra Leaton Gray, Dame Ruth Silver, Zoë Redhead of Summerhill SchoolHenry Winkler amongst many others) will be familiar to many but I found it instructive to see an extended piece on this topic with input from many countries: UK; USA; Sweden, South Africa, Netherlands.

If anyone in my weekly orbit would like to borrow this DVD, just give me a shout.

*On the sleeve of the DVD the film is described as having been inspired and guided by David Putnam. The directors are Daryl Goodrich and Caroline Rowland.

p.s. re the title – never end a sentence a preposition with 🙂

Stand Up For Scottish Education

This short film, made in North Berwick High School, is a late contribution to Don Ledingham‘s series, Speak Up For Scottish Education:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/8EtykOnn5HE?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]