Tag Archives: Music

Mathew Ngau Jau – sape master

In the mid 1990s I traveled throughout the Malaysian state of Sarawak in northern Borneo recording traditional music for what became the CD Sawaku, on Pan Records.

I went to Long San, a Kenyah longhouse up the Baram River in eastern SarawaMathew Ngau Jauk to attend the first traditional naming ceremony to take place in many years. I was hoping I might hear and be able to record some traditional music there.

I had arrived a couple of days early as a guest of the Wan Ullok family and was left to my own devices as the family became very busy with preparations. I asked around the longhouse for anyone knowing about traditional music and someone mentioned that a good place to look was at the next longhouse up the river. I heard of a longboat going up river so I hitched a ride. Arriving at the longhouse I was told that there were no traditional musicians left, so I caught the boat back to Long San. That was when a young man with a traditional haircut asked me what I was doing, and when I explained my search he said that he played sape (the traditional boat lute) and would be happy to play for me once we got back to Long San. We had a great conversation on the way down the river, but arrived too late to visit him, so I went over the next day.

This was the first time I heard Mathew Ngau Jau play the sape and the first time I had ever heard anyone sing with it. I was quite familiar with the sape as I had recorded Tusau Padan the most well know sape player in Borneo many years earlier, and Mathew knew the traditional repertoire well. However his passion was in his arrangements of traditional songs with the sape, and new pieces he had written within traditional styles. These were quite innovative and yet seemed natural extensions to the tradition.

Over the next couple of days Mathew and I became friends and he was very helpful in arranging for one of the elder women of the longhouse to sing and play a bamboo zither for me to record. I found out that he actually lived close to Kuching the capitol city of Sarawak, where I was staying. He was a full time teacher, but was obviously very connected to his culture. Very few men retained the traditional hairstyle as Mathew did, and those that did were either working in the tourist industry or were elders in longhouses far upriver. At that time having a traditional hairstyle could be result in ridicule or even harassment, and yet Mathew wore it with pride.

After a few days with Mathew I was very impressed with his dedication to his culture and music. After arriving back in Kuching I met with him a few more times and became even more impressed. I asked him if he was interested in performing more and possibly going on a couple of tours, and he said yes. I then talked about him to the Sarawak Tourist Board as I knew that Uchau Bilong, who they had been sending overseas, and whom I took to Marseilles, was getting to an age where travel was no longer easy. I put in a very strong recommendation for Mathew at the Tourist Board. Mathew also put effort into this radical lifestyle change, and although the wheels of government work slowly, eventually they hired Mathew as their representative musician and started to take him around the world on tourist promotions. This enabled Mathew to leave his school teaching and become a fulltime artist.

Mathew began to flourish. He started to build and paint sapes regularly, then revived that art of making and decorated traditional bark clothing. After that he revived traditional rock sculpture. Now Mathew has become the grand master holding the culture as Tusau and Uchau did before him. He has made a substantial contribution to his culture as well as educating the modern world of its value. His likeness is the logo for the Rainforest World Music Festival.

If you go to Sarawak, he has a B&B at his house and you will be treated to great music, great hospitality, great stories, and to meet a living legend. Mathew named as National Heritage

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Houston and the World

Leaving Houston after a gig, I get a taxi to the airport from my hotel. In the cab after stating my destination, the cabbie and I start a light conversation…where you from, where you going….the usual things. I note that he has an African accent and ask where the accent is from. He tells me that he was born in Ethiopia, and I immediately ask him if he ever listens to krar or beganna music, two of my favourite but radical different forms of harp music. He explodes in delight and we start an intense conversation of music, travels, family, and life. He lived in Eastern Europe for 6 years before coming to the US. He loves Houston. He goes back to Ethiopia every year to see his family there and to take them money. I talk about my life and career. Back and forth, we talk the whole trip. At the airport, after paying him and getting my bags we both express our joy in meeting each other, and we shake hands, and we both naturally do the handshake I learned from my west African friends that ends with a finger snap. His delight with me rapidly and smoothly doing this handshake with him turned into a giant and deeply affectionate hug. Although we just met, this old longhaired white musician is hugging a middle age Ethiopian cab driver at the airport with joy. This is the world I live in. This is what the world can be.

This video is of my old friend Alemu Aga playing the beganna.

Noh 1

Noh1
for ichigenkin, Noh actor
or any other performer

The ichigenkin is a one string Japanese zither, which I have studied for many years. Ichigenkin philosophy reflects both those of Zen and Shinto. Noh is a form of Japanese drama.

The Japanese concept ma is an underlying element of this score, and both the practice of ichigenkin and Noh make extensive use of ma. Ma is emptiness that is full. It is the white space around a Japanese painting. It is the empty space in a flower arrangement. Ma is an extended pause in Japanese music that is full of tension or anticipation. Ma is the small recessed section of a traditional Japanese room used for hanging a scroll, or placing a plant.

The Notes to the Score:

1. Express one sound, one step, of any duration in one second, minute, hour, day, week, month, or year.

  • The score displays the number one written in traditional script. One is the second theme of this score and forms a paradox with ma. Ma needs two opposing elements, a duality: something and nothing, sound and silence, form and formlessness. One is singular. In Taoism and Zen, dualities form a pair linked in their opposition, and together become one. Hence there are two participants indicated and one action. There are further dualities in the suggested participants: one who sits – one who steps, one that is silent – one that creates sound, etc.
  • Time is of no consequence in this score, although it is an integral element. The suspension of time carries the ma in movement and music. Yet the duration of the ma is not specified and can in essence be held indefinitely.

2. No essence of being or the absence of being should be left unexplored.

  • The score incorporates everything, and nothing, combined.

3. No aspect of sound and silence, nor the absence of sound and silence should be left unrealized. 

  • The duality of sound and silence create a pair, in mathematics a set. If we can define a set, then there is an absence of the set that defines it. That absence can be full of ma.

4. One is exclusive, inclusive, both, and neither.

  • One is exclusive: there is only one. One is inclusive: all is one. They can integrate, or negate each other, or both.

5. Existence should be neither regarded nor disregarded.

  • This might be self-evident. Whether or not the score, participants, this discussion or this world exists or not is inconsequential. However keep an eye on it nonetheless.

Randy Raine-Reusch
02/13/2013

R3NOH1

Premiered Aug. 10, 2014
by Redshift Music, Vancouver, Canada
Colin MacDonald – Baritone sax

 

 

Rubber Time in Java

Indonesia was my first experience immersing myself in a new culture, and it opened my mind to a world of thousands of different musical perspectives. This is where my musical education kicked into high gear.java rebab

I arrived in Java in time to attend a performance of an ancient court gamelan at the old palace in Jogjakarta on Eid, the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The courtyard was filled with big crowd eating and socializing. I was not surprised by the casualness of the event, as I had attended other events in Bali that were also a combination of ritual ceremony, formal concert, and casual social gathering.

This balance of formal and casual was also present in the music. Gamelans are performed in interlocking parts at a slow to moderate speed in Java and at a lightening speed in Bali. Yet, that day I heard an old piece that was far slower than I had ever heard before. So slow in fact that there was a repeating section where a number of musicians that in theory should hit a note at the same time, but in practices they all hit the note at a slightly different time, creating a sort of haphazard staggered effect. This was a shock to my organized western mind and I initially thought they were a bit sloppy. But as they continued to play, I began to hear the beauty in this effect as it sounded very much like rainfall.

The gamelan orchestra was split into two parts on either side of the courtyard, and would play sometimes separately and sometimes together. After going back and forth between them for a while I decided to just sit on one side and listen. I sat in the shade very close to the gong player, and had a good view of the orchestra. In some pieces the gong is played quite often, while in others the gong cycle is very long and the gong is seldom heard. I was watching the gong player during one of the latter pieces, where the time between gong strikes was almost ten minutes. The player struck the gong, and then casually turned around to his friend behind him and started a conversation, he then lit a cigarette, talked for a while longer and then got up and walked off. I saw him occasionally walking through the crowd stopping to talk for a while and then disappearing again. Hearing the gong cycle coming to an end I noticed him casually return and sit down, but with his back turned to the gong. He started talking passionately to his friends while pulling out his lunch and beginning to eat. He seemed to be oblivious to his rapidly approaching cue, as he became further involved with his conversation and meal. I became quite anxious at his apparent lack of concern and wondered if he knew how close his cue was, and there it was, and he hadn’t heard it! I was surprised no-one called to him to quickly hit the gong when he stuffed some food in his mouth to empty his hand, reached for the mallet, and casually leaned over and hit the gong over his shoulder at the exact “right” late moment. The mother gong is often played after the end of the rhythmic cycle, which in the west we would consider late. Sometimes in Indonesian music such a musical marker might be far later than a western musical mind would ever expect, and in this piece it was even later still.

There is an expression in Indonesia called “rubber time” as time is a very relative concept there, stretching like rubber, and this certainly applies to music there. That day I realized that the strict adherence to time so important in the western world was not always necessary for music.

© R. Raine-Reusch 2014