Friday, January 16, 2015

If it's muck or mysticism, I'm on the side of the mystics

It is pleasing to see my gentle advocacy of Raga Virga, a fusion of Indian Dhrupad songs and the chant of Hildegard von Bingen, reaching a wide audience via Facebook. My co-advocate is Paul von Wichert who hosts a programme on Winnipeg's Classic 107, and in a comment about Raga Virga Paul says: "I hear a little Tibetan influence in O Splendidissima Gemma". Which prompts me to share another discovery with readers.

Mozarabic Chant was the liturgical plainchant of the Mozarabic rite of the Roman Catholic Church practised by Christians living under Arabic rule in medieval Spain, and it is important as a product of those far-off times when the three religions of the book co-existed in harmony. A pioneering recording of Mozarabic Chant was made by Ensemble Organum directed by Marcel Pérès for Harmonia Mundi in 1994, and this remains in the catalogue today. But, excellent as it is, the Ensemble Organum interpretation is really too hair shirt to reach a wide audience. So enter a more recent performance by Música Antigua titled Canto Visigótico-Mozárabe. This is masterminded and directed by Eduardo Paniagua whose innovative approach to early music was featured here in Multiculturalism beyond Big Music. Eduardo Paniagua subscribes to the admirable school which says that authentic performances are in many ways a silly tradition, and mixes rigorous scholarship with liberal interpretations. Eduardo Paniagua points to a 12th century account of Mozarbic liturgy that describes how "the sound of the bells filled [the] ears", and, based on this, accompanies two voices singing the chant with not only period instruments but a range of bells, including, notably, campanas-cuencos, these are the singing bells better known as Tibetan singing bowls.

Tibetan singing bowls have featured On An Overgrown Path several times previously, notably in the music of John Tavener and Alain Kremski. One of many fascinating books that I read in 2014 was Frank Perry's Himalayan Sound Revelations, subtitled The complete singing bowl book. Frank Perry was a progressive jazz percussionist in the 1960s; he has gone on to become an authority on singing bowls, and has made one hundred and five recordings with a variety of bowls. His substantial volume ranges across biography and performing techniques, music therapy, and on into the more arcane reaches of mysticism. Many paths converge here, including the importance of vibrations as explained by Hazrat Inayat Khan and Jonathan Harvey - Jonathan's Jubilus is scored, inter alia , for Taiwanese temple bowls. In the music of John Tavener, Jonathan Harvey, Frank Perry and others, as in Eduardo Paniagua's Canto Visigótico-Mozárabe, the Tibetan influence extends beyond the sonic into the mystical, reminding us that all the great traditions, including music and faith, come from a common route.

I make no apologies for the continuing drift of these paths towards the mystical. Music writing is rapidly polarising between muck and mysticism; with the latest offering* from the exemplar of future music journalism reading: "Diva’s tales: I binged on food. Then booze. Then men..." So if it's a choice between muck or mysticism, I'm on the side of the mystics. Campanas de Ritual from Canto Visigótico-Mozárabe can be sampled here, and the Pacem Meam here.

* All links to Slipped Disc are indirect to avoid swallowing click bait; the cited reference should appear at the top of the Google search results. No review samples used in this post. Any copyrighted material is included as "fair use" for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

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