African Musical Symbolism In Contemporary Perspective: by John Collins

By John Collins

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Extra resources for African Musical Symbolism In Contemporary Perspective: Roots, Rhythms and Relativity

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One is the mbira hand-piano of Shona diviners, which is given an extra vibrational buzzing quality by small pieces of metal being loosely attached to it that are believed to create the actual voice of the ancestors or Soul of the Mbira30. Another African Here we are not treating a gestalt as a product of a single figure/ground or sound/silence relationship, as depicted in the earlier faces and vase diagram, but rather a polyvalent product of multiple figure/grounds. Or put another way, as a gestalt of all the combined sounds of the various cross-rhythms on the one hand and all the relative silences on the other.

Cross-rhythms are like the cross-webbed threads of the fabric that, if one looks closely enough, are full of gaps between the webbing. The following Figure illustrates this analogy. Figure 11: Enmeshed space within criss-crossing threads of cloth or strands of rhythm The second example is the three dimensional one of the architect who uses stone, metal, glass and wood to construct a building, whose main purpose is, of course, to create living and working room. Similarly the African musician uses polyrhythmic structures to create sonic space.

We shall return to the hidden spaciousness enmeshed between overlapping polyrhythm in more detail later, but first let us look at the spacing of individual sub-rhythms. Rhythmic Syncopation This topic has been touched upon already in connection with Hornbostel’s observations that African drumming has twin components; namely the heard acoustic downstroke and the silent motor upstroke. In fact he claimed that one of the major differences between the Western and African approaches to rhythm was that, whereas Europeans emphasise the heard aspect, Africans put an equal stress on the silent gaps, when the arm is moving upwards in preparation for the following downbeat.

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