"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Culture Break: Ancient Music

Ever wonder what the music of the ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, or Greeks sounded like? We don't know for sure, but musicologists and music historians have come up with some possibilities.

This article from Raw Story, reprinted from Newsweek, describes one such attempt, by composer and musician Stef Conner, to reconstruct ancient Babylonian music:

But the words on the paper, the modern incarnations of these mineral etchings, were not enough for Conner. She wanted to know what these languages sounded like, to summon life from stone. Many of these poems and snatches of writings were sung and chanted, according to historians. The tunes played an important part in rituals in Mesopotamian societies, from funerals to lullabies, Conner says.

So she teamed up with Andy Lowings, who reconstructs ancient instruments and plays a mean lyre, a musical instrument with strings that resembles a harp. The two set out to create music that brings ancient Babylonian poetry to life, and The Flood is the result.

We tend to forget, at least we in the Western world, that most cultures didn't have what we call "concerts" -- music was part of what can only be described as theater/ritual/performance. Opera's really the closest we come, and that misses what is often the religious significance of performance. (Unless, of course, you're a diva fanboy.)

There's a soundtrack at the article that I can't embed here, but it's worth a listen.

The music itself reminds me a little bit of the musical form known as "gharnati," from medieval Iberia, as reconstructed by Jon Balke and Amina Alaoui and presented in the album Siwan, although there's obviously a much stronger Arabic influence here. (Although I can't help but wonder if the Babylonian original might not sound closer to this -- there's often an emphasis on the kind of embellishment in singing of the sort that Alaoui engages in here in non-Western music, particularly in the Middle East, and there's no telling how far back that tradition goes.)

We're on slightly firmer ground with ancient Greek music -- the records are better, we know more about the instruments and about the context. Here's a piece from Conrad Steinman's ensemble, Melpomen, from the album of the same name:

And of course I've reviewed some of this stuff:

Jon Balke/Amina Alaoui, Siwan

Conrad Steinman, Melpomen

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