Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Adrift in the musical cyberseas of the New Year

Warm New Year's greetings to everyone who reads this!

I spent the past month in India in what was very much a musical environment in the countryside outside the city of Bhopal, but which was also in isolation from the Internet, with the result that I could not continue my blogging on this site as I had expected. The bad luck which besieged my travels during this period (delayed or canceled airline flights, much delayed and prolonged train travel due to fog) seems to have been transferred to my connectivity. I returned this morning to my VOA office hoping to post two previous blogs from my Macintosh laptop, only to have the machine crash shortly after my arrival.

So turning to the mail accumulated during my time away, I perused the latest calendar from the Freer and Sackler Galleries here in Washington, with whom I have enjoyed nearly twenty years of musical collaboration (including the arrangements for the inauguration of their series of concerts of classical Indian music with a performance of the late Ustad Vilayat Khan in 1987, as well as subsequent appearances by a variety of prominent artists, including, most recently, the Hindustani vocalist Subhra Guha and sarangi master Ustad Sultan Khan.)

The calendar included a listing for "Five Directions: A Korean and American Jazz Excursion", which took place in December while I was in India. Among the performers in that program I found the name of Ned Rothenberg, performing on clarinet and shakuhachi. I paused, momentarily confused, because when I was teaching at Harvard I had a student, also a clarinetist pursuing new musical avenues, named David Rothenberg, and wondered whether he had changed his stage name. But a quick check of Google took me directly to David's own Webpage, and I was reassured to find that he is continuing his activities, as before very much in the realm of environmental consciousness. I would have called him to re-establish contact, but with his telephone number inaccessible in my sulking computer, I was forced to follow his activities on the Web. Hence a full posting on him will come later. . . .

In addition to an interview with David on NPR's All Things Considered, I was pleased to find samples of his music on his MySpace page, and while I was listening to these I scrolled down casually over "Friends' Comments," only to stumble upon a message from one Lukas Ligeti--a name which caught my eye because of the surname being the same as that of the great twentieth-century composer, Gyorgy Ligeti.

Once again, upon searching for more information about Lukas Ligeti, about whom I'd heard nothing previously, I found yet another western composer who is integrally involved in non-western music--in this case, the musical traditions of Africa.

Ligeti's MySpace page includes two examples of this involvement. The first, "Ligdi", is from the 2006 debut CD, "Paspanga," by Burkina-Electric, a ground-breaking ensemble Ligeti formed with a number of musicians from Burkina Faso. The song "uses the waraba, a traditional rhythm of the Mossi people"--the quote being taken from an extensive, thoughtful paper by Ligeti on "The Burkina Electric Project and Some Thoughts About Electronic Music in Africa." The group's Web page includes one of their music videos.

”Rain Turns Red Gold”, another piece based on African music, may be heard on Ligeti's MySpace page. The track is from "Shadowglow," a 2003 CD on Finland's TUM Records in which Ligeti collaborates with guitarist Raoul Bj√∂rkenheim; a thoughtful online review on www.allaboutjazz.com observes that the piece "has Bj√∂rkenheim on a Tri-sonic steel guitar chiming out cyclic patterns of metallic tones, born up by Ligeti’s prepared log drum and atmospheric percussion palette."

Well, so much for today's musical wanderings and serendipitous discoveries. More to come, as I ramp up for the New Year.

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