David Darling & the Wulu Bunun, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
The Klezmatics, 'World Routes', BBC Radio 3
Tuesday 08 June 2004
A big welcome this month for the latest classical musician to have found a way of jamming with the exponents of a remote music.
A big welcome this month for the latest classical musician to have found a way of jamming with the exponents of a remote music. And since the sound of the cello is closer to the human voice than that of any other instrument, the premise of David Darling & The Wulu Bunun (TUGCD1032) makes good sense. Take a group of singers from the Taiwanese Bunun community and lay multiple cello tracks under their songs: the resulting symbiosis seems at first merely a warm bath of sound, but closer listening reveals it to be a mine of harmonic complexity.
So much for the CD. But the concert to promote it raised different questions. Darling had brought a string quintet that opened the proceedings: when a village cry sounded warmly from the wings, two musical worlds seemed to dovetail sweetly. Then, on came the Taiwanese: a line of barefoot men with peaceful faces and sturdy legs, who swayed in time with the quintet's gentle pulse.
They formed an in-turned circle with interlinked arms, the strings fell silent, and a low growl sounded. The circle shuffled round; the growl intensified. Then, a solo voice gave intermittent musical sighs over the unison voices of his friends. Next, the unison split into two to make a pentatonic interval, and you were aware of the pitch rising. No words, no melody, but an edifice of sound, in which you gradually discerned a wealth of microtonal variation.
The turning circle and the ever-rising pitch became a veritable tower of music: where would it end? It ended with the breaking of the circle, and voices supplanted by strings: village magic replaced by Western sophistication. The Taiwanese liked this conjunction, but one sensed something had got lost. On came Bunun women with more songs, one of them extraordinarily similar in structure to Pachelbel's Canon. Then it was time for Darling and his friends to show off. He sang a wordless song that sounded moderately Taiwanese, then launched into a showy solo, then led his band in a piece of neo-Bartok.
Musicologists have long been fascinated by the music of the Bunun, which suggests that our traditional view of musical evolution is misconceived: with a little less vanity on Darling's part, the concert might have revealed a lot more than it did.
Meanwhile, Radio 3's World Routes brought us a concert from Belfast, where the Klezmatics did their rhythm-and-Jews bit to ecstatic applause. They exuded a relaxed professionalism more suggestive of the West than of beleaguered old Central Europe, but since they hailed from New York's East Village, that was to be expected. They delivered ancient laments and wedding dances, and explained the September 11 genesis of a new number, "I Ain't Afraid (But I am of what you do in the name of your God)".
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