13 September 2006

Learning to Listen (and Play) Polyrhythmic

I've started doing an African drum ensemble this year; the first thing we're doing (besides trying to get used to a polyrhythmic setup) is Ewe music, then we'll go to Dagbanli next semester. Learning how to function in a polyrhythmic ensemble is a cognitive challenge--we spend maybe a third of our time talking about where the one is and what the basic beat is (it isn't the same to an African ear as to a Western). It's pretty obvious who the proper musicians are and aren't in the group (I'm sure not, dammit).

I'd gotten the Kronos Quartet's Pieces of Africa a while ago, listened to it, and didn't quite know what to make of it. Listening to it now is quite different, having a conceptual base for it. Kutambarara is my favorite track at the moment, because it's the most similar to what we're playing. It sounds damned different when you're sitting in the middle of the whole thing and trying not to lose your beat or encroach on your neighbor's; I'll always wonder how it sounds different to a native listener, though.

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