Gerhard Kubik Small Voices Doomed

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  • 7/28/2019 Gerhard Kubik Small Voices Doomed


    Small Voices Doomed: A KeynoteAuthor(s): Gerhard KubikSource: Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 40 (2008), pp. 1-7Published by: International Council for Traditional MusicStable URL: .Accessed: 16/06/2013 16:25

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  • 7/28/2019 Gerhard Kubik Small Voices Doomed



    by Gerhard Kubik

    "Small Voices Doomed" is the symbolic title f my presentation. I could have said"Soft Voices Doomed" to express the fact that we are living in an era inwhichloud nd persistent oices tend oprevail. echnologies or he mplification nd

    multiplication of messages were, of course, developed by "soft voices," i.e., by afew ndividuals ith xtraordinarycientific alents.ut their nventions avebeenhijacked by others who neither match up to the talents of the former, nor would

    they share their profits with them. The pertinent question therefore is how to dealwith the nsuing ollution.

    So far, there is one place known to me, where something has been done recentlyto diminish at least the impact of visually encoded pollution, if not auditory pollution. It is the mega city of Sao Paulo, with 11million inhabitants, South America'slargest and most prosperous metropolis. A new "Clean City" law approved by the

    City Council last September prohibits all kinds of outdoor advertising, includingbillboards, eon igns, ndelectronic anels.

    When we were playing with our jazz band there at the Third International

    Encounter f the Brasilian Association of Ethnomusicology III EncontroInternacional aAssocia9aoBrasileira de Etnomusicologia), 1-24 November2006, the billboards were still in the streets, except for some green enclaves such asa tiny park near our hotel where we would relax. But the new law has taken effect,starting 1 January 2007, and I hear from colleagues that it is being implemented,and Sao Paulo has become more tolerable (Rohter 2006).

    Excessive amplification of visual and aural messages can become self-propelling, thereby erasing all other messages. In 1977, the musician-composer Donald

    Kachamba and I,while on tour in the Congo, met a young Luba-speaking guitaristinKinshasa, Kalabo Mupanwa was his name, who had developed a very personal

    guitar tyle, ifferent rom he ontemporaneous opular, lectrically mplifiedguitar music by groups such as Rochereau Tabu Ley or Franco's 0. K. Jazz. Theyoung man told us that his music had no chance on the record market which wascontrolled and monopolized by a small group of entrepreneurs. "The market doesnot honour dissident behaviour," he said tome.

    Even one of the greatest historical guitar music composers in the Congo, the lateMwenda Jean Bosco, when invited by festival organizers toKinshasa in the 1970s,found himself competing with junior groups struggling to cover up their lack ofinstrumental skills with excessive amplification. He told me inVienna in 1982that Franco had personally ordered the technicians to switch off the microphonesshortly before he was supposed to play. Obviously, Franco was feeling threatened.

    When Bosco appeared with his acoustic guitar for solo performance, simply nothingwas heard of his music through the loudspeakers by some ten thousand peoplein the stadium. Very soon some youngsters became angry, not even realizing who

    Yearbookfor Traditional Music 40 (2008)

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  • 7/28/2019 Gerhard Kubik Small Voices Doomed



    thisman was, and they demanded that the incompetent, mute performer should beremoved from the stage.

    We can tentatively divide the planet's musical universe today into two categories: commercially promoted music and music not disseminated by the massmedia. Of course, these are the extreme points on a scale that is, in fact, graded,and the commercial value of a performance or a piece of music is also unstable; itcan change by the second, just like the value of some shares on the stock exchange.In 1994 Charlie Parker's estate including the saxophone he had played in a 1953concert with Dizzy Gillespie was sold at Christie's inLondon for some 150,000 USdollars (Zwerin 1994). I cannot predict for how much itwould sell today.

    Earlier, by the mid-twentieth century, musicologists were still dividing the musi

    cal universe into artmusic and folkmusic. "Folk" was later replaced by the lexicalitem "traditional." Jazz and blues were somehow on the fringes. The idea was thatfolk or traditional music was essentially a community product, orally transmitted,

    while artmusic was the (written) work of (great) composers.I did not partake of those beliefs when I started research. Nor did I believe that

    music in some cultures should be studied exclusively as a community product, letalone as an ethno-specific expression. I didn't even believe that society was capable of teaching us anything. I rejected the idea that creative individuals representeda society, or a culture or a nation.

    Society was for me just an abstraction. Itwasn't an agent capable of action,capable of triggering reactions. Individuals were the agents who would then teach

    me, answer many of my questions, and even anticipate other questions that werenot yet on my lips.

    Such observations are probably anathema to political scientists and sociologistswho think they have privileged access to the understanding of society, like parapsychologists believing in a special ability for extra-sensory perception. Imyself lackany such abilities. I interact and exchange information with physical entities suchas persons, dogs, colleagues, even the little mosquito sitting on my arm while I'mplaying Thelonius Monk's "52nd Street Theme" on the clarinet. What to do about

    themosquito? If I chase it away, I'll miss the-bridge, if I leave it unharmed, it willspoilMonk's main theme.

    So that is a real dilemma! And a good reason forme now to communicate withyou through images, giving the left hemisphere of our brains a little rest.

    DVD example: Dena Pikenien, c. 35 playing the pluriarc. Video-recorded atStrydom farm, near Gobabis, Namibia, 25 November 1991 (figures 1-2). 1

    This was Dena Pikenien with her pluriarc or bow-lute, a Ko-speaking woman inher thirties, who was working as a housekeeper on a farm northeast of GobabisinNamibia in 1991, on the edge of the Kalahari semi-desert. In her free time sheused to sit under a tree in the compound playing her instrument in solitude, with

    1. CopiesoftheDVD examples shown duringthe ecturehavebeen epositedatthe nstituteof Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology at theUniversity ofMusic and PerformingArts in Vienna.

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  • 7/28/2019 Gerhard Kubik Small Voices Doomed



    Figures 1-2. Denia Pikenien playing the pluriarc photo from ideo recording, 991)

    no audience. We found her by mere chance. The evening before we had recordedvarious group performances, then, late in the morning, inour quarters on that farm,we suddenly heard strange sounds from a distance. So the three of us fieldworkers,Moya A. Malamusi (1994), his five-year-old son, and I rushed there and asked

    whether she would allow us to videotape her performance. She agreed, but insistedupon retuning her instrument irst.

    You may have detected by ear the kind of tonal system that is behind her singing and the tuning process. It iswhat the so-called Bushmen discovered thousandsof years ago, before European polyphony was developed: the sound relationshipsbased on the use of the natural harmonic series. Percival R. Kirby (1961) and mygood friend David Rycroft (1981-82) could have told you much more about that,if they were still alive. The discovery was made on hunting bows converted to

    musical bows. Dena uses a range of tones, produced alternately with head andchest voice over a single fundamental up to the tenth artial. Most promi