The Throat-Singers and the Dragon
During the summer, there happened a series of those coincidences which may either be terribly profound or might be simply that - just coincidences. Firstly, I set the Kingston Dragon Dance notes into HTML as part of my morris web-site work. Then I went to Sidmouth Folk Festival and was entranced watching two Basque drummers playing three planks of wood with two sticks each. As someone else pointed out, looked for all the world like the kind of trestle you use for pasting wallpaper and they got a standing ovation. I became more and more interested in the ideas of tunes with very limited scales (though not necessarily limited ranges)
Then in late September, a friend emailed me a link to the Scientific American site which contained an article on the Throat Singers of Tuva. The next day another friend - i do have more than one - sent a (hmm, sorry SciAm) photocopy of the article. I bowed to the inevitable and bought a copy. The tune Arty-Sayir was transcribed:
Arty-Samir: my transcription using "Mozart"
As my friends had expected, I was fascinated by the range, scale and basic style. This is to an extent dictated by the ability of the humand throat to produce formants, but the article makes play of the singers' regular choice of a five-note scale out of their possible range, not due to physical limitations but from artistic or spiritual choice. I looked again at the Dragon Dance tunes, which struck a chord (pun intended). Now, the redoubtable Miss Tongue was a fine folklorist but it appears from the notes that either she was a poor whistler, or she had a poor memory for tunes. If you play them straight out of the box, they all sound much the same. So I took the repeating groups and made a sort of tune out of them. It even has the centre note on Bb2, which would work for most of the resonances in Portel (remember folks, that was where it all started). It loked like this.
The Dragon Tune - all the common bits from the Mendip Ms.
click on the tune for the midi file
Then, at the new year bash, we needed a dance for two. I dusted off a thing I'd had from Roy Dommett years previously, with one long and one short stick. Bang the long stick on the ground, hit partner's long stick with your short one, etc... Instant percussion. Stunning effect. We called it The Whiffler, after the folks with the teasing sticks that dance in front of dancing animals like dragons (Dou-Dou in Mons, for example, or the 'Osses at Padstow). And then I had this idea...
Well, you know how this happens by now. I'd been thinking about making a couple of special sticks, say about four feet long, bundles of split bamboo tied with ribbon. Not quite like the ones at Haxey but sorta similar. This was because I'd done a mickey-take of a ceremonial tradition for the Morris Dance Discussion List, which a couple of people had taken seriously. Anyway, the stick would rattle when you hit them with the short sticks, and the short sticks would make a nice resounding clash.
Things were looking promising already. Then came another email. This was pointing out a BBC science article about the reconstruction of Divje Bave flute.