Friday, December 27, 2019

One man's music is another man's noise


Earlier this month UNESCO added Gnawa to the representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. As the UNESCO citation explains, Gnawa refers to Sufi brotherhood music performances and therapeutic rituals mixing the secular with the sacred, and I was privileged to experience one of these all-night rituals during a visit to Morocco in 2016. One of many distinguishing features of gnawa music is its propensity for adapting to other musical forms: most notably with another genre origination from Black Africa, jazz. This adaption is evidenced by the genre-bending Gnawa master Hassan Hakmoun who contributes to the Garland of Ragas - Ragmala double CD seen above with the Go: Organic Orchestra and Brooklyn Raga Massive. (The latter ensemble's take on Terry Riley's In C has featured here previously.)

One of the disturbing classical music trends in 2019 was the increasing intolerance of any music outside the classical canon. It seems that without diversity we cannot survive, except when it comes to the music itself. Just as the classical community pays mere lip service to diversity, so it pays mere lip service to John Cage's abundant wisdom. Performances and videos of Cage's silent piece 4' 33" are piously trotted out at opportune moments, but his core teaching of the importance of ambient sounds is conveniently overlooked. Non-classical is the ambient soundtrack of the zeitgeist - remember Frère Jacques in Mahler's First Symphony.

Ragmala: A Garland of Ragas is the brainchild of Adam Rudolph. His Go: Organic Orchestra is a 21st century vision of a 'future orchestra': it uses a non-linear score with rhythm as the seed material, with conductor Rudolph encouraging the improvising musicians. An earlier post quoted a reader's observation that "Classical has made its own fate, and is just failing due to its own ossification and rigidity". The increasingly ossified classical music community could learn valuable lessons by opening its ears to Gnawa, the Go: Organic Orchestra and much else from the non-classical world, not least that one man's music - Mahler or Maroon 5 - is another man's noise.

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