Other Voices, Other Rooms

In my very first post of the fall semester—disturbingly, this was two and a half months ago—I mentioned that I’d be playing in an

Afro-Brazilian band, a rather drastic divergence from the live-electronics gangs I’ve tended to run with over the past few years. I didn’t expect that singing “Aquele Abraço” would figure into my course of doctoral study, but I’m very grateful that it has. We do some samba, some bossa nova, and even—when the electric instruments

come out—some tropicália (for which I’m still looking for an

appropriately psychedelic outfit).

It’s well recognized that taking part in music-making outside the Western concert tradition is a salutary practice for classical musicians, but I wonder whether there’s as much agreement about why this is: For me, much of its value lies in the challenges it poses to musical “common sense.” For instance, when we take up the surdo, caixa, or tamborim, we enter a space characterized by rhythm but not, in the sense to which we’re accustomed, meter. First-call Twin Cities Brazilian percussionist Eliezer Santos, who’s doing his best to whip us into fighting shape, will count off—1, 2, 3—but his 1, 2, and 3

might to our ways of thinking be the “ands” of 3, 4, and 1. Or he won’t count off at all, instead playing a break on the repique to indicate our entrance. We’re learning to interpret this conventional signal and come in at more or less the right time, but the further into batucada we get, the more sensitive we become to very fine rhythmic relationships we still have to tighten up, so—in a positive

and stimulating way—the goalposts keep moving.

At the same time, though, we have to be careful not to reduce what we’re doing to a series of trivial musicianship exercises. This music comes to us through the tradition of Bahian Candomblé, which is serious business. We strive for a relationship to samba that goes beyond cultural tourism; all we can do is take it seriously and hope we don’t embarrass ourselves without pretending to be anything more than dilettantes. I’ll report back after Carnaval, when our first major performances are likely to take place. Until then, I’m eager to hear from any other would-be sambistas: How’d you get into it, and where has it taken you?

***

The New Music Scrapbook is still kickin’—and what it kicks, most recently, is a conversation among several CMW members regarding that ensemble’s upcoming performance of Ylem, the creation of the universe as imagined by noted Sirian composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. What goes into preparing a piece like Ylem? Five composers and a conductor elucidate. Enjoy.

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