Friday, January 12, 2018

Vagina Dentata

Tattooed Ainu woman
9.5 x 6 inches, oil on board, 2018

Tattooed Ainu woman
9.5 x 6 inches, oil on board, 2018

From the Koryak of Kamchatka to the Ainu of Hokkaido, the top 100 continues to locate itself in Northeastern Asia. It's a long 810 mile boat ride but it can be done by hopping the 56 islands of the Kuril chain. It'll be a beautiful boat ride but rather cold. And while you're hopping and dressed for the cold you can continue to hop the Aleutian Islands and arrive in Alaska and you take a train to Fairbanks and from there (I wouldn't know how) to Canada's Arctic Bay which will be the next destination of the top 100. The route follows the trail of female throat singing duets. I've made the journeyat home through cds in warm and cozy Florida: Japan: Ainu Songs on Unesco (Musiques et musiciens du monde), Sibérie 4, Korjak, Kamchatka: Tambours de danse de l'extrême orient-sibérien (Musique du monde), and Canada: Jeux vocaux des Inuit (Inuit du Caribou, Netsilik et Igloolik). I've painted Ainu women before back in 2006. I remember commenting on the hairy features of the Ainu people. I've read that the Ainu are indeed obsessed with hair and the characteristic women's tattoos represent mustaches. A facebook friend posted some pictures recently and commented: "The lips lips look like labia. Women adapted this look to lure men to oral sex in order to keep from getting pregnant every year. This is just the theory of an uninformed idiot. I’m not an anthropologist." (Thank you Barbara) I love this interpretation! The vagina dentata, one of Jung's archetypes, metaphorically designates the Freudian fear of castration.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Koryak (2)

Tamara Ivikovna Sajnav (cover image of Sibérie 4)
20 x 16 inches, oil on canvas, 2018
The 'Music du Monde' cd Kamchatka: Tambours de danse de l'extreme-orient Sibérien featuring music by the Koryak continues to be loaded in the cd-drive of my computer. It's becoming a sing-along disc. The language used by Tamara Ivikovna Sajnav on a song about the tundra is Čavčuven, which belongs to the Paleo-Siberian family. Needless to say that I don't know what I'm singing about when I sing along (besides that it's about the tundra). The musicians are not very forthcoming when asked about lyrics, they argue that the meaning of the song is in the timbre, not in their words. I agree. (I never pay attention to the meaning of song lyrics much, never did. When I sing "hop-hop" along with the disc, I think I understand the song.) With song, as with image, a deeper understanding is gained in the process of copying. In copying the cover image of the cd, the photograph of Sajnav (probably taken by Henri Lecomte, who also recorded the music) a level of empathy is established. Tamara Ivikovna Sajnav was born in 1928 in Aklan, her Koryak name is Ejgili, which means small stone. She is a small woman with a big drum (zja zjaj frame drum), 65 years old when the photo was taken. Her face in the painting was done with just a few brush strokes and looks younger than in the photo. I left it that way.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Koryak of Kamchatka

Irina Khristoforvna and Anna Vasilevna Kolegova
16 x 20 inches, oil on canvas, 2018
Kamchatka, the far eastern peninsula of Russia, is mighty close to America. Despite the supposed isolation of native Americans since the last ice age (c. 13,000 BCE), the cultures on either side of the Bering Sea have much in common. No surprise then that the Koryak, natives of Kamchatka, have a competition song tradition quite similar to that of their Inuit neighbors in Canada. Compared to native Americans the history of native Siberians is one of coexistence going back to Viking times. Not to say that Siberian (shamanic) traditional cultures weren't threatened in their existence, far from it. As Russians before the Revolution were perhaps more homogeneous as a people than the Americans were, the Communist Soviet period took homogeneity to a further extreme. The villages of far northern and eastern Siberia were considered useless to the Soviet agenda and its people were systematically displaced, villages were closed, and their traditional way of life persecuted. Shamans went in hiding. Just before the new year I received the cd Sibérie 4, Korjak, Kamchatka: Tambours de danse de l'extrême orient-sibérien in the mail. The ordering was quite an ordeal as no English language sites seem to have the item in stock. From the cd, the Chant de compétition, performed by Irina Khristoforovna Kolegova and Ana Vasilevna Kolegova, is the last top 100 entry of 2017. The list now, I decided, continues to run through 2018.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Waiting Room

Ian MacKaye (Fugazi)
12 x 6 inches, oil on board, 2017
Fugazi was really popular among the squatter crowd that made up my social circle in the early 1990s. The band never, however, made it into my top 100 in those years. I don't know if it's nostalgia but the band makes its first appearance in the top 100 in 2017 after Minor Threat, MacKaye's previous band, was only listed for the first time in the last top 100. The song in question is Waiting Room, perhaps the most iconic off all Fugazi's material. It originally featured on the their first release, the self titled EP sometimes called 7 Songs in 1988. There's a really cool live version of it on YouTube. There's some discussion among fans concerning the meaning of the band name. Why does nobody bring up the name of the legendary 60s anarchist band the Fugs? The lyrics to Waiting Room ring home once again: "I don't want the news, I cannot use it."

Monday, December 18, 2017

Tanya Tagaq

Tanya Tagaq
16 x 20 inches, oil on canvas, 2017
Tanya Tagaq (b. 1975, Nunavut) is a Inut Canadian throat singer who has released three albums since her first one, Sinaa, in 2005. Animism of 2014 is the most acclaimed of the four. It's a bit more theatrical than her second Auk/Blood (2009). On her latest album Retribution (2016) she expanded yet further into modern recording practices and the album seeks to entertain a larger audience. Animism was awarded the prestigious Polaris Music Prize and for the reception she performed the first two tracks, Uja and Umingmak as one. I tell you, it's a treat.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The origin of Music (6): Bibliography


Bataille, Georges. Inner Experience. Translated from the French by Leslie Anne Boldt, University of New York Press, 1988. Originally published as L'expèrience interieure, Gallimard, 1954.
Bergson, Henri. An Introduction to Metaphysics. Translated from the French by T.E. Hulme, The Library of Liberal Arts, 1949, 1956. Originally published in 1903.
Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion. Translated from the French by Williard R. Trask. Harcourt, Inc. Orlando, 1987.
"Ethnopoetics," Ubu Web, curated by Jerome Rothenberg. No longer available.
Graham, Dan. Rock My Religion. Video documentary, running time 55:27, 1983-1984, MoMA collection, NYC.
Lawrence, Mark. Kronos Quartet and Tanya Tagaq: A String Quartet in Her Throat. Video, running time 7:16, 2006.
The Origins of Music, Nils Lennart Wallin, Björn Merker, Steven Brown. MIT Press.
Rothenberg, Jerome. Technicians of the Sacred: A Range of Poetries from Africa, America, Asia, Europe & Oceania. University of California Press. 1968. Revised edition, 1984.
Sheldrake, Rupert. The Sense of Being Stared at and Other Unexplained Powers of the Human Mind. Crown Publishers, New York, 2003.
Shamanism: An Encyclopedia of World Beliefs, Practices, and Culture, by Mariko Namba Walter and Eva Jane Neumann Fridner, editors, ABC-CLIO, Inc. 2004. Foreword by Lawrence E Sullivan.


Burundi: Musique Traditionelle. Ocora, 1967, recorded by Michel Vuylsteke.
Deep in the Heart of Tuva: Cowboy Music from the Wild East. Annotated by Ralph Leighton, Ellipsis Arts, 1996.
Namtchyluk, Sainkho. Lost Rivers. FMP, Germany, 1991.
The Photographs of Charles Duvelle. Disques Ocora and Selection PROPHET, 2017.
Qwii: The First People. Clear Music (South Africa), annotated by Robin Hogarth, 1999.
Tagaq, Tanya. Animism. Six Shooter Records, 2014.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The origin of music (5): Tanya Tagaq

Tanya Tagaq
9.5 x 6.5 inches,
ballpoint and color pencil in notebook, 2017

I've changed my mind. Change is good so they say. It's a strange thing that when you believe something, have an opinion, how hard it is to let go. Beliefs are a stubborn thing. Beliefs close doors, never knowing what's beyond. Your thinking is not always objective. I believed, until today, that I wasn't interested in "new-age" music, or rather fusion of traditional and modern music. I thought of it as faux spirituality. I  concede and tend to an opposing belief: Under the umbrella of new-age are a myriad of experiments that allow an opening to investigate music's origins. Music, as art, is now probably in closer harmony with its own essence that it has been for centuries. The revelation came (as it should have come years ago) watching a YouTube video of the collaboration between Tanya Tagaq and The Kronos Quartette. Tanya Tagaq's background is in Canada's Inuit throat singing tradition, a tradition much celebrated in these pages. She went through art school and established herself as an experimental avant-garde musician. The Kronos Quartet, for the reasons I reject new-age stated before, I never paid much attention to. This YouTube performance open my eyes to the possibilities of modern production techniques and electronics combined with traditional forms. The avant-garde—ethnopoetics—approaches a communion with the eternal spirit. Energy & intelligence (=imagnation.)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Origins of Music (4): Shamanism

The image on top is a photograph from an installation of my paintings at Tempus Projects earlier this year. In the exhibition over 300 paintings were shown organized into blocks of 10, top 10s. The detail here is the top 10 dedicated to shamanic music. Number 9, a Tuva shaman, is a fairly new painting and I still owe a better picture and more info on that one. The Top 10:

1. Chukchi Shaman
2. Shamanic costume
3. Veteran Minnasie Chief and Daughter-in-law
4. Maria Sabina
5. Bernard Tobal
6. Chukchi Shaman
7. Gran Chaco Indians
8. Kubu People
9. Tuvan Shaman
10. Siberian Shamanism

1. Top 100 2011, #23: Chuckchi Shamanic Ritual
I'm quite pleased with this tiny little painting of a Chukchi shaman playing his drum sitting by some palm trees at Billie's Creek that runs behind my house. It got a spot on my wall directly next to my last Siberian shaman painting that I did precisely ten years ago. Certain genetic theories have it that about 15,000 years ago a group of less than twenty Chukchi crossed what is now the Bering Street into America. They are the ancestors of the native Americans who spread as far south as South America. So this Chukchi shaman of Arctic Siberia may well have a similar genetic code as Billie Bowlegs, the Seminole after whom the creek was named and who might have very well been sitting once at the very spot as where I placed the shaman in the painting. On YouTube there exists a beautiful film of a shamanic Chukchi musical performance. If you decide to watch it please watch it until the end because the last thirty seconds features a very intriguing type of breathing-singing that made the recording propel into Top 100 land.

2. Top 100 2001, #49: D. Kosterdine – Morceau de Khe I Kheri (Musique Nganassane)
From the CD: “Voyage en URRS, Vol. 6: Caucase du Nord, Volga/Oural, Siberie, Extreme Orient/Extreme Nord”, Le Chant du Monde. Recorded in Siberia. Khe is a ceremonial (shaman) costume worn on important occasions, and upon which sixty to seventy rattles were sewn which made a noise with each gesture. On the  recording, the music of this dress is supported by the droning of the khieri, made of wood or bone, or even of the tusks of fossilized mammoths.

3. Top 100 2010, #14: Torres Strait Death Wail (Rec. by A.C. Haddon, 1898, Australia)
Recently the BBC made their complete sound archive library available for anyone to listen to.  It would take years to listen through everything so I figured I’d just start at the beginning, I have time. The beginning, of course, is the most exciting part anyway: a collection of wax cylinders from before 1900.  This one is from the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition led by Prof. A.C. Haddon of 1898, just 21 years after Edison managed to record sound.  Because it’s a wail, I assumed it was a woman (or women) singing but this assumption may be false.

4. Top 100 2017: Maria Sabina – Sacred Mushroom Chant
More ethnopoetics from Ubuweb: María Sabina is a Mexican Mazatec healer, a shaman, who became a notoriety because of a visit by American ethnomycologist Gordon Wasson who published his experiences in Life magazine in 1956. In the 1960s scores of Westerners flocked to the little village where Sabina was practicing a healing ritual that included the use of magic mushrooms. Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Keith Richards are believed among those seeking audition. Wasson recorded Sabina during one of those nightlong ceremonies in 1956 in the Oaxaca province. Recordings appeared on the Folkways label the following year. The 8:06 minute Mushroom Chant that appears on Ubuweb was made during these sessions.

5. Top 100 2007, #55: Bernardo Tobal - Warao male Wisiratu shaman’s cure

6. Top 100 2011, #23: Chuckchi Shamanic Ritual
Certain genetic theories have it that about 13,000 years ago a group of less than twenty Chukchi crossed what is now the Bering Street into America. They are the ancestors of the native Americans who spread as far south as South America. So this Chukchi shaman of Arctic Siberia may well have a similar genetic code as Billie Bowlegs, the Seminole after whom the creek behind my house was named and who might have very well been sitting once at the very spot as where I placed the shaman in the painting. On YouTube there exists a beautiful film of a shamanic Chukchi musical performance. The last thirty seconds of the shaman recording features a very intriguing type of breathing-singing that made the recording propel into Top 100 land.

7. Top 100 2002, #90: The Musical Experience of Shamans, Gran Choco Indians
From a cassette on Lyrichord Argentina: The Indians of the Gran Chaco) with wonderful titles such as The musical therapy of the Shamans, Control of atmospheric phenomena and such. In the musical expression of the Chorote shaman the world is conceptualized. By way of ecstasy shamans communicate with powers beyond.

8. Top 100 2017: Kubu shamanic healing ceremony (Kubu People, Palembang, Sumatra)
A track from the album (3CD set) Okkulte Stimmen Mediale Musik: Recordings of Unseen Intelligences, 1905-2007. The 1905 in the CD title refers to recordings the German anthropologist Bernard Hagen made in 1905 near Palembang in Sumatra. Two CD features three recordings by Hagen. Two of those are of healing ceremonies by Kubu shamans.

9. Top 100 2017: Oleg Kuular – Collection of Höömeï Styles (Tuvan Shaman)
From notes to the CD Deep In the Heart of Tuva: Cowboy Music From the Wild East
    German Explorer Otto Mănchen-Helfen observed the practices of Tuvan Shamanism in 1929. "The shaman is not a priest," he wrote, "He does not belong to a separate caste, and enjoys no separate priveleges. He is a herdsman, just like his relatives and neighbors. There are no 'professional' shamans: each shaman merely feels himself called upon to mediate between humans and spirits–and each is a very personal mediator."

10. Top 100 2000, #73: D. Kosterdine - Musique Nganassane: Morceau pour l’arc qui chante (corde pincee), Morceau pour l’arc qui chante (lancer de fleches)


The presumed origin of music, situated at the onset of the evolution of our species, is closely linked to that of language. Communication seemed to have played an important role in music's beginning. Be it as the communication of a mother to her child—singing to the child when she had to put the it aside because she needed to use her hands for daily chores—between members of a group, as mating calls, to accompany work, or as communion with the spirits, music was essential to the characteristics that make a human a human. The part I like to elaborate further on is that of communion with the spirits. As we've seen in art too, the impetus, the acknowledgement of death, birth, and rebirth–eternal life in essence–is the communion with that what is eternal, the spiritual realm. To commune with the spirit, to become the spirit, solves the mystery of temporal life. To become the spirit one has to overcome the ego, to emancipate ones eternality from ones temporality. Trance is vehicle to do so. Whether achieved through narcotics, dancing, chanting, or (en)acting the spirit, a trance will let you explore the realms not available to everyday chores and existence. The shaman traditionally had the function to deliver the group members to the sacred.

The shaman has a deposition towards the sacred. He (or she) was different from the others, an outsider in the community. Psychotic tendencies, sexual ambiguity, whatever differing traits were exposed as a child, the future shaman was predestined and celebrated for the role of priest, healer, and artist for the sake of the wellbeing of the community. The shaman could, or is expected to, transgress the norms and taboos of society.

Before the iron age the shaman's drum and clothing would not have metal rattles attached to them. Music is incorporated into the shamanic ritual. So are theatre and art. The shamanic ceremony is a gesamtkunstwerk. As time moves forward the field of academic research is closing in on the original condition. The term ethnopoetics, the field that is approaching the original condition, was coined in 1968. Crucial for this field of study is the communication with anthropology and ethnography. At the center of ethnopoetic investigation is the shaman and the relation to the sacred.

The shamanic ritual: speaking in tongues, at times rhythmic with the aid of the drum and rattles; breathing, increasingly deeper and faster. As the ceremony intensifies the shaman's pitch rises, the movements become increasingly erratic. The shaman transgresses the empirical world and becomes spirit, becomes eternal. His empirical state is (near) dead. There's no heartbeat, no pulse, no breathing. Audience participation: As by infection the audience is moved, they participate in music and dance. The shaman has aides, they make sure he has the tools available to make the journey into the spirit world, the catch him when he collapses, and they animate him back to life.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Origins of Music (3): The History of Sound Recording

Fred Gaisberg and William Sinkler Darby
12 x 7 inches, oil on wood, 2017
Sound Recording

Sound recording began in 1860, when Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville recorded Au Clair de Lune, a French folk song of the 18th century. At the time the recording could be seen but not heard. In 2008 researchers were able to produce an audible transfer of the recorded data and is now the oldest recording of the human voice. Another Frenchman, Charles Cros, is credited with the invention of recording with play back in 1877, the same year Thomas Edison recorded (and successfully played back) the 19th century American nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb. Arthur Sullivant's song The Lost Chord was recorded in 1888 and is considered the first musical recording. A recording from 1898 made by A.C. Haddon of the Torres Strait Islanders Aboriginals of Australia is the oldest ever to feature in the top 100. Emile Berliner started the Gramophone Company in Washington D.C. in 1894 and music recording quickly became big business. In the early 20th century adventurous music recording pioneers travelled all over the world and recorded the sounds of cultures that were rapidly disappearing.

Ethnomusicology is a term coined in the 1950s by Jaap Knust who recorded extensively in Indonesia. The term is usually applied to the study of the music of non-western cultures. The history of musicology starts in 1839 when Oskar Kolberg started collecting Polish folk songs. Ethnomusicological recordings, combining the fields of ethnology, anthropology, and musicology, differ from commercial recordings by delivering context. The history of the world was being mapped and recorded. One such pioneer (this is a good opportunity for a tribute) was Charles Duvelle, whom I recently wrote about. Duvelle is "one of the most important contributions to the human understanding of the rich biodiversity of our planet’s music and language." [Sublime Frequencies, who published a sort of retrospective on Duvelle's work earlier this year.] Duvelle died a few weeks ago at the age of 80.
Charles Duvelle
16 x 12 inches, oil on canvas paper, 2017
While Duvelle provided great context, he not always provided the performers' names, let alone biographical data. He often photographed them though (an invaluable asset in the context of the top 100 paintings.) The commercial world of ethnic recordings is much sloppier than that of ethnomusicology, but provided an abundance of sound recordings in the twentieth century. When names of musicians are given, they are often misspelled or misattributed. Recordings are often made in professional studios rather than in the field, and the distributers were not always upfront about the origin of the recordings. Data stored in long abandoned warehouses that once housed recording companies tend to disappear. Websites like Excavated Shellac are researching the origins of many such recordings from the earlier part of the last century.

It's Excavated Shellac who recently published the research into a 1904 disc recorded in Tbilisi, Georgia. The label on the disc from the Gramophone Company reads "Kabardinskiy Tanetz" (a dance from Abkhazia.) The identity and whereabouts of the performers is not known but host Jonathan Ward is able to retrace the history and context of the recording made by William Sinkler Darby, companion of Fred Gaisberg. Gaisberg and Darby met at Berliner's studio in Washington in 1898 to become partners at the English branch of the Gramophone Company. The company became EMI after the merger with Columbia in 1931, one of the biggest record companies in the world. The source for the above painting comes from the EMI archives and show the two Brits in furs characteristic of Central Asia. The recordings were made in February of 1902, it must have been cold in Tbilisi!

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Origin of Music (2)

Rundi women performing "Ubuhuha"
12 x 16 inches, oil on wood, 2013

We may assume that when Homo Sapiens evolved they built shelters, made art, and made music. The oldest known instruments, flutes made of femur bones of bears with holes drilled into it, were found in caves in Europe alongside the earliest known figurines. The problem with music history is that there was no sound recording available until the end of the nineteenth century. What we know of music before sound recording is musical notation, instruments that survived, literature on music, and images of musical performances and instruments in art. The earliest known example of musical notation stems from around 2,000 BCE, written in the cuneiform script of Mesopotamia. There are scenes of musical performance depicted in the art of Ancient Egypt that give us an idea of their music. A pottery chard found in Israel containing an image of musical performance related to a wedding ceremony dates from 5,000 BCE. Vedic literature contains theory of music alongside that of acting and dance. Before sound recording  came around, music was a temporal form of art and how it sounded can’t be recaptured and remains guesswork. Music can be reconstructed from non-temporal information but this is usually not without bias. The temporality of music compared to the materiality of art makes the study of music history less objective. Another difference between art and music is that folk (secular) music has a more prominent place in music history than folk art does in art history. It also appears that traditions in music are more persistent than traditions in art. Traditional music could be compared to oral poetry. Oral traditions remain virtually unchanged throughout centuries, perhaps even millennia. Towards the end of the nineteenth century when sound recording became widely available, ethnomusicology (the study of the music of various cultures) was an uncharted field. Over the next decades musicologists went around the world to record musical traditions of the various cultures they came across. The recordings of cultures that had lived in total or relative isolation are of special interest because their music provided a glimpse into the music of a distant past. The numbers of living cultures displaying characteristics typically associated with Paleolithic or Neolithic cultures were dwindling fast in the twentieth century, making the early recordings of immeasurable value.

There’s no definite answer to the question of how music started. Various hypotheses have been forwarded and debates have been going on for more than a century. Did music start from percussive or vocal traditions? If vocal, did it arrive from language or from animal imitation, or was it an autonomous evolution? If percussive, do the rhythms stem from work or from dance, or perhaps by chance? Is the origin of music ceremonial or secular? These are some questions asked that deal with the origins of music. The answer to these questions appear to be multifaceted, hinted at by recordings that seem to reflect ancient traditions. The enigma of the origin of vocal music for example, seems to lean towards an independent development, derived neither from imitation nor speech. An almost universal characteristic of ancient vocal traditions is that of the distortion of the speaking voice. Techniques include the cupping of hands (as in the 2013 painting above), the use of trumpet like instruments (such as shells) as soundboards, or the use of falsetto by male singers. The effect of voice distortion is an enactment of otherness. Sounds are created that are outside oneself, thereby allowing communion with a different plane of consciousness. The aim of which is the contact with the sacred. Shamanistic chant recitation is often performed in falsetto. The (male) shaman assumes an identity that resides in the spiritual realm. They act in accord with what seems a universal belief that the essence of nature and the ancestral spirit, is hermaphrodite or nonsexual. As in trance ceremonies, an essential and timeless function of music is the attainment of a reality different from the mundane. Some of the older musical recordings referred to here may sound outlandish or simply weird at first, but the weirder such recordings sound, the more it seems to touch a hidden compartment in our brains. There is where the sacred is found, closer to the primal source of humanity than we will find in daily routine. Music is an escape of daily routine. All human beings should start to accept that humanity is, well...weird. To accept that we’re all weird may unburden us from the restraints society puts on us. Let’s debunk the myths of beauty, beauty is an illusion, we’re all beautiful.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Origin of Music (1)

Khoisan performer
12 x 6 inches, oil on board, 2017
Like so many other teenagers, music played a pivotal role in my coming of age years. It had a clear social function for me, it established me in a social group. In the 1970s the great lines of division were drawn along disco and rock music. Disco represented the traditional conservative right and rock the progressive left. I was on the left side. The left side claimed a more serious approach to music, whereas disco was just (commercial) entertainment, rock was interested in its own history. (The first major dent in this thought bubble came when, during a discussion in high school, a girl proclaimed that rock was just as commercial as disco.) I certainly was interested in its history and the first major experience for me towards my lifelong path in discovering the origins of music was when I stumbled upon the blues. Mesmerized I listened to original versions of Led Zeppelin, Cream, and Rolling Stones songs. The blues represented an ancient origin of music as if they were the paleolithic, the beginning of humankind. Today I'm looking at traces of music from the actual paleolithic (with the great disadvantage, comparing to the blues, of having no sound recordings available.)

Another factor too was my eventual career choice of becoming an artist, and teacher of (ancient) art history. Like my unwavering search into the origin of music, my other passion of art steered me towards its beginnings as well. Art has a material record that can be traced as far back to perhaps 75,000 BCE, roughly the same amount of time that gives material evidence (a flute carved from a bone) for the existence of music. The origin of both music and art should be dated to yet more distant times. The appearance of art however appears to be linked to our species of homo sapiens (even though there is evidence of artistic activity by Denisovan and Neanderthal cultures) and will not go further back than its appearance in Africa about 300,000 years ago. The first appearance of music is believed to go back to hominid species long extinct, perhaps as far back as two million years. Music furthermore, unlike art, is not reserved solely for hominids as it also appears in the animal kingdom.

Curiously enough both excursions into the origins of art and music lead to an investigation of the San culture in southern Africa. Lewis-Williams, in his research into paleolithic art, found in the San the closest analogy of living customs compared to what he believed customs of the paleolithic cave painters would have been like. The same analogy holds also for musical practices of the San. Thought to be isolated for 100,000 years, the San people are indeed genetically closest to the earliest modern humans. In the painting above a Khoisan woman is depicted who is part of a small group consisting of five women and two men. The group spontaneously improvise a tune, using on the spot devised instruments they hum, talk, and sing along with the rhythms created. Khoisan is a term for both Khoi ans San people who belong to the same Khoisan language branch. The Khoi, or Khoikhoi (plural) originated around what is current day Botswana, moved south into what is now South Africa. The San who live in the Kalahari desert, in Namibia and Botswana, are also known as the Kalahari Bushmen. The Khoi people, their women, and especially Saartje Baartman, known as the Hottentot Venus, caused French archeologists of the nineteenth century to name the abundant prehistoric statuettes found in France, Venus figurines. The San then, in music too, provide perhaps the closest analogy of all living cultures to the music of prehistoric times. 

That music originated in Africa seems beyond any challenge.
(To be continued, soon)

Friday, December 1, 2017

Monk's Time

Thelonious Monk
12 x 6 inches, oil on board, 2017
Lulu's Back in Town by Thelonious Monk is as old as I am (a few months older actually). The tune appears on the record It's Monk's Time that I recently bought at a thrift store, further extending the collection of Monk recordings on the jazz shelf in the back. The record is perhaps not Monk's greatest but the opening tune, a classic written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren and first recorded by Fats Waller in 1935, Lulu's Back in Town is another jewel in Monk's oeuvre. Monk's starting the tune in old fashioned stride piano style before his quartet, with Charlie Rouse on sax, comes in. Monk's characteristic sense of timing sets the tune apart from the great stride piano players of yore and from Waller's version. It is perhaps Monk's unique timing that puns into the album title which more directly refers to Monk's portrait on the cover of Time Magazine that appeared around the same time. That portrait, painted by Boris Chaliapin, is the most famous Monk portrait out there. I wish to compete with Chaliapin's especially now that Time Magazine has been sold to a conservative media outlet. So keep reposting this image to make it happen!