The China Project

The recordings of these three mountain songs are particularly fascinating because they show the subtle and nuanced musical differences between the three ethnic groups found in the Guangxi province: Zhuang, Yao and Han. Each group brings their own 'colour' to the music and equally their own very distinctive clothing - also largely distinguishable through colour. However the most revealing aspect of hearing this vocal music, regardless of which ethnic group, was to realise anew, the balance between that which we have lost through western classical music's push for perfection of sound production and that which we have gained.

 

Three points were most striking to me: Firstly, there is a very unique quality to the way the sound is vocally produced, with much less support from the diaphragm. Secondly, the miniature microtonal colours that are organically produced by the voice - much of these we discard through trying to sing 'clean' notes, or sing 'in tune.' This presupposes that certain colours are literally 'out of the tune' and as a result we place some limitations on ourselves. Thirdly, the way that single melodies are not perfectly synchronised, though rather exist at once independently and symbiotically, in constant play with one another.  

Among these recordings is an example of instrumental music, vocal music for more than two voices and a beautiful song for solo tenor (interestingly most of the vocal music I heard was for female voice.)  The instrumental music was intriguing, though perhaps more so based on my interactions with the musicians themselves, rather than the intrinsic nature of the music. From what I gathered the notion of 'The Musician' is understood in what seemed to me a fundamentally different way to how I have grown up to understand it, and to how it has become to be perceived and taught in western Europe - this is in my view an essential topic and relevant for the development of music in the west (I have a blog post on the subject.) This aside one musical point did catch my attention and I used this in my own composition: the tempo and often new melodies were almost always decided or announced by a wood block and cymbal introduction. 

As a Cave Cries

A chamber work for two Sopranos, Viola, Cello, Oboe, Piano and Wood Block.
                                                    Composed by Hector Docx
Intoduction to the piece:

These two recordings were the main forces of inspiration for the piece and it was inside this Buddhist cave that the first conceptual ideas arose. The sound of plainsong shimmering through the white noise of rushing water gave the impression of a blurry, fragile beauty that if one were to breathe too loud, would be lost. Hearing the two sopranos at the time, I instantly recognised that I should write for voice. Their performance will always stay with me, the sharp dissonances which they unashamedly hold, the light lyrical pentatonic melodies and the beauty of their un-synchronised ornamentation. It was these characteristics that I wanted to bring into direct contrast with the church modes and renaissance harmony of western Europe - to bring these two aesthetics of music into collision with one another. Towards the middle of the piece the renaissance music takes hold only to be overthrown by a direct musical citation of the duet the two sopranos sing in the recording. The text used is the name of the cave; "Shui Yuan Dong" and the word "Lacrymae", both being bound by the motif of water: "Shui" can be translated as water and "Lacrymae" as tear or weeping. 

The Musicians:

Soprano: Johanna Will

Soprano: Marie Rihane

Piano: Marta Leiva

Viola: Mari Viluksela

Cello: Tristan Xavier Köster

Oboe: Freya Obijon

Wood block: Seonghyun Jo

 

Composer/Conductor: Hector Docx