Sunday, June 27, 2010

Sung Poetry of North Vietnam

Performer in Unesco documentary on Ca Trú
10" x 7.5"
pencil on paper, 2010

Top 100 updates: Spring and Summer remain slow. Soundtrack this past month are vuvuzelas, the most annoying instrument on earth. My least favorites instruments used to be Scottish pipes and Peruvian pan flutes but both I've grown to like and have been represented in past Top 100s. I don't think the vuvuzela will ever make it but the Dutch perform well in the World Cup so far and I continue to listen to this annoying instrument. I know people that really love the sounds (of traffic and such) of the big city, and according to the performer the Lord Buckley, the spinning wheel was Mahatma Gandhi's favorite instrument of all India.

I didn't paint for two weeks but today, a nice hot and quiet Sunday, I worked with this image of a Vietnamese performer of Ca Trú, a traditional form of sung poetry. The image comes from a video documentary on the subject published by Unesco. First I tried ink, then I used markers, and on this third one I only used a pencil. I intend to make a painting and the drawing above is a sketch for it. Usually I don't make a separate sketch for a painting but the image, I think, demands it this time. The traditional sung poetry of North Vietnam is a very strict art form. The performance is subject to many regulations. So many that the performances are completely devoid of emotion, sexuality, and spontaneity. The resulting sound (as well as the visual presence of the performers) is delicate, airy, eerie, frail, and contains a strange sense of beauty. The tradition is 900 years old, threatened with extinction, but protected by the cultural authorities, and well recorded. I felt that while drawing the female singer, who also plays a simple percussion instrument, I needed to take very good care of depicting the subtleties of expression and pose. Like the music in which beauty is derived from strict regulations the painting to be also should be executed with the utmost technical preparations. "When singing her mouth should not be opened so widely" is one of the restrictions imposed on the singer. I'm going to paint an image of Ca Trú and I won't open my mouth.

One of the most interesting anecdotes from the world of ethnomusicology I've come across, comes from the great Alan Lomax, who observed that more restricted social mores and behaviors of a society result in a more nasal style of singing. I'm going to paint this image of Ca Trú in falsetto, in a minor key. Where is the pain in painting?

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