Bill Paley (mycroftca) wrote,
Bill Paley

this week's music essay


Upon my initial viewing of the Kalahari Khoisan in the trance dance, I found myself intrigued and excited by the music, especially the women's part in the polyphony. I recognize that Western explorers viewed it as primitive and disdained the Khoisan's accomplishments, but I found myself similarly mezmorized by the ritual. My reaction is colored by experiences I've had with similar trance-like musics. Specifically, I've participated in drum circles on Venice Beach in Southern California, and found myself entranced by the various sounds of the many drummers using a variety of drums and found objects, and how it all began to blend and be shaped in my mind to put me in a reverie that I found spiritually soothing. When I watched the Khoisan clip, I felt myself slipping into a similar mental state, and this continued in repeated viewings.

Although I find Western classical music doesn't give me this sort of response, I do know that it does to many people, and I can see where European explorers in the Kalahari region might sneer at the Khoisan in comparison, say, to a symphony orchestra. However, using the limited items that were available to them, such as voice, bows, or simple rattles, the tribe is able to blend a great variety of sound into a piece of complexity. The addition of the dance may not show the same agility as would a ballet, but the winding amongst the members of the tribe helps bind them together, an important action when very limited resources tax them, and require teamwork and hard effort to survive. Most Europeans who first encountered these tribal rites and who already viewed the Khoisan in a paternalistic way most likely could not accept such deceptively simple actions as deep and complex. I unrelated readings, I'm aware that some explorers were said to "go native", and any such here might have grasped the depth of the rite, but would not have been able to illuminate their peers.

In this particular case, I don't think that the trance dance would translate as well as pure music without the physical aspect being viewed as well. They are importantly intertwined. I don't get the same spiritual response listening to the music that I did with watching the proceedings while hearing the music. I think that being present at the rite would have given it a much more immersive experience.
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