South Africa

Traveling around South Africa has been pretty amazing.  From Cape Town (after flying from the Namibian coast) driving up to thus far to Grahamstown where the ILAM (International Library of African Music) is.

The ILAM has a collection of instruments and writing and recordings started by Hugh Tracy in the early 20th century.  There is a huge amount of documentation there of musical traditions and tunings ( 🙂 ) of which many have changed or disappeared since then.

In the week I have been year I have been talking with ILAM director Dr. Lee Watkins, and the Tracy family about African music, tuning, and the past and the future.

When speaking about microtonality today, the point emerged about “alternate tonality” as a more tonal based way of describing microtonality, at least as I see microtonality.  The word microtonality, to me, brings up ideas of 20th century serialism, atonalism, and dissonant experimentalism.  Which, while great and interesting, does not really cover the usage of near 7 equal scales used by the Chopi timbila musicians of south-eastern Mozambique (who I will be visiting soon).  Standardization has been a very devastating occurrence to many musics of the world, and a microtonal/xenharmonic/free-pitch view point could help to once again free this part of the artistry (begin dialogue of if tuning can be an art in itself) and help revitalize traditional tunings which are tuned uniquely and be memory of a tradition.  A unique tuning, which are theoretically infinite, can help define a community and a tradition.

We will see in these travels to come, as I make my way north to Egypt, if I can generate a case for microtonal music for its use of both preserving musical traditions of the past, and generating new musics for the future, as well as the synthesis of this as cultural traditions fuse with each other and share and morph defining characteristics with each other.

Also, there is much new music in the works from me.  I am starting a crowdfunding platform with which to share my own playing and composition and improvisation during these travels, and afterwards.  Please consider supporting for $3/ month for 2 songs per week.


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