Ancient is not so Old as we think

Yesterday I went to the East Neuk Festival to take in some Mendelssohn, some Debussy and some other more obscure forms of music. While I will speaking about the Mendelssohn in another post, it's the obscure forms that really stuck a chord with me.

There were two groups performing older forms of music, but with striking similarites. Huun Huur Tu is a group of Mongolian throat singers, while the Orlando Consort present their take on chant music pre-Renaissance. The concert was performed in a hardened aircraft shelter out on the RAF base Leuchars, so while the building was modern (post WWII), it provided an excellent acoustic chamber to allow the sounds from these two group to really resonate.

Probably the most interesting aspect was the similarity of the upbeat music by Huun Huur Tu with Celtic "pub" tunes. Having played with a variety of Celtic bands in the past, I was surprised to hear similar chord progressions, rhythms and vocal styles (although the language was completely different) to traditional Scottish or Irish music. I think any pub musician could easily have sat in with this group and easily incorporated the Celtic style into the Mongolian style.

There were differences. The throat singing, droning low tones, or multiple harmonics that were achieved by the Mongolian group that are not indicative of Celtic singing and yet, the drone of the pipes could easily replace the low vocals with tin whistles providing the upper register of some of the harmonics.

At the end of the concert, a piper played a couple of traditional tunes, with the percussionist from Huun Huur Tu playing in. If you closed your eyes you could not tell the drumming from that of a bodhran player.

The Orlando Consort highlighted (for me) the layering of rhythms which is indicative of a lot of modern popular music. One element of jazz and urban music is the multiple layers of different rhythms that make up the final sonic landscape of a piece. With the chants, there were often multiple differing rhythms which came together to create a completely new sound. It's no wonder this group also does work with contemporary and jazz artists.

The layering of the music was not focused on development of harmonic movement, but rather in the interweaving of the rhythm. I really enjoy this sort of rhythmic play and incorporate it into much of my own music. It was interesting to see how ancient this form of musical line integration is and how we have come back around to incorporating it into modern music.

This portion of the festival was only 40 minutes but it could have been several hours. While the audience was standing for the entire performance, no one felt tired or ready for it to end. The applause for all the performers at the end was a sincere testament to how perfect all the elements of this performance came together.

The only down side was there were no CD's available for purchase at the end of the concert. Thank heaven both of these groups have CD's available on the web.


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