Monthly Archives: August 2012

A Look at African Pygmy Music


My initial opinion when listening to African pygmy music for the first time was that I felt it was a strange and disorganized noise of random voices shouting and instruments playing without any type of identifiable pattern. It was very difficult for me to sit through and enjoy it.

I thought it was just as strange when I heard it in Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man”, but when I listened to it in Madonna’s “Sanctuary” I only recognized it because it was pointed out and it was more vague than the other copycats.

I am trying to be as open minded as possible about some of the music we’ve had to study, so I began listening more closely to the pygmy music and realized that although it is spontaneous, it has its own organization of rhythm, harmony, and unity.

I was especially entertained at the Pygmy’s use of natural items to create instruments such as the mondumu and geedal ieta, but my personal favorite was the liquindi water drum.

When other musicians insert African pygmy music into their own mixes, I feel it takes away from the authenticity of the music, and quite frankly seems to be a ripoff. Baka Beyond sounds more like island music and takes away from the origin of the pygmy’s creation. I would have to question why they think adding electronics to natural sounds makes the music “better”. And I have to wonder how successful Deep Forest would have become had they not ripped off the pygmy’s own voices. Considering the pygmies are already fighting to keep the forests (their homes) they so love, why would anyone want to take away the pygmy’s musical heritage and use it to their own benefit? It seems selfish to me.

DNA Testing – Some history, mental illness, and chimeras

I researched information about DNA testing for a script I’ve been working on for some time. Part of writing requires research in order to fully develop a character. One of my characters is a twin, and the other is a chimera.

For about the last two decades, DNA testing is commonly used in forensics, paternity testing, and within the medical community. Before modern DNA testing was introduced in 1985 by Dr. Alec Jeffreys (Butler, 2005), the general public relied on blood typing in the 1920s, serological testing in the 1930s, and human leukocyte antigen (HLA) testing up until the early 1980s (History of DNA, n.d.) . Two different DNA testing techniques have been used since Dr. Jeffreys’ discovery, but the one used today uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology, because it is more reliable, quicker, and less invasive than previous methods, claiming to be 99.99 percent accurate (DNA Testing Using PCR Technology, n.d.) in paternity testing. Modern DNA testing has revealed that there are links between family members with mental disorders, such as bipolar and schizophrenia (Boyles, 2009).

Despite the fact that DNA is almost considered “foolproof” by the United States government, there have been some incidences that prove otherwise, especially related to a condition called chimera.

Chimera has only been documented in approximately 40 people on earth (Weird or What, 2010). When a woman named Lydia Fairchild applied for state aid for her family, she was required to have DNA testing. After four tests determined that her husband was the biological father, but that she was not the biological mother of her own children, she had to endure the rigmarole of courts and humiliation, because she was accused of trying to defraud the state and having emotional issues. It was later determined that Lydia inherited two sets of DNA, which happens when two separate fertilized eggs fuse in the womb. Lydia was supposed to be a twin, but instead became her own twin – known as chimera (ABC Primetime, 2006).

Sources:

Butler, Dr. John. (2005). Forensic DNA Typing: Biology, Technology, and Genetics of STR Markers (2nd Edition). Retrieved from: http://www.dna.gov/basics/analysishistory/

DNA Diagnostics Center. (n.d.). History of DNA Testing. Retrieved from: http://www.dnacenter.com/science-technology/dna-history.html

DNA Diagnostics Center. (n.d.). 1990s DNA Testing Using PCR Technology. Retrieved from: http://www.dnacenter.com/science-technology/dna-history-1990.html

Boyles, Salynn. (2009, January 15). Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder: Gene Link? Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder/news/20090115/schizophrenia-bipolar-disorder-gene-link

ABC Primetime. (2006, August 15). She’s Her Own Twin. Retrieved from:
http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/story?id=2315693

“Tetragametic Chimera.” Weird or What. (2010, June 9). (Video). Retrieved from:

An Interpretation of Huun Huur Tu

The purpose of me taking a World Music class is to learn about something I don’t know. Tuvan “throat singing” is definitely new to me. I wasn’t sure if I could tolerate it at first, but I actually came to like it so much that I am listening to the concert again as I blog. The instruments remind me of the music I’ve often heard at Renaissance Festivals. The throat singing isn’t anything I’ve ever heard before or could possibly begin to explain, but the experience felt spiritual.

This is my personal interpretation of this particular Huun Huur Tu concert:

When I first began viewing the Huun Huur Tu live concert video, I was unsure of how long I could sit through listening to what seemed to be the “same” thing for an hour and a half. However, I quickly learned that it was far from my expectations, and I felt that overall, the concert was more like a musical play that told the story of a spiritual journey. The concert sparked my imagination, as I pictured the images of the music in my mind.

The concert begins with a prayer that sounded much like a meditation (think “Om”), then the music switches to a more fun and freer. I pictured a boy on a mountain praying and then getting ready to set off for something new. In the third piece, the Sygyt, I imagined a boy standing on a mountain and speaking to it (this is taking into the consideration the Tuvan history and relationship with mountains and nature). When he finishes this, the Chiraa Khoor begins, and he sets off on his horse for an adventure. The clopping of the horse hooves and the neighing of the horse are merely instruments being played by the musicians, but add a significant purpose to the piece. Karyraa “spirit of mountains” begins and it seems as if the mountains speak directly to the boy or somehow guide him.

Then comes the love story – Sarylgarlar. It speaks of sadness, and typical of Tuvan music, the winds appear and seem to blow away the memories, sadness, and tears. The mountain (the deeper tones) speaks, the boy answers (higher tones), and the mountain seem to somehow join in the sorrow while the winds join as the song ends.

The Kozhamyk seems to be a more joyful adventure, as the mountains (deeper) and winds (higher) seem happy. Something changes with the Kongurei, a song about people migrating. It is sad, as if people are longing for something (their homes, perhaps?), and the following Camel Caravan Drivers speaks of homesickness.

Time passes and the “wind” (mouthpiece instrument) blows again in Sagly Khalaun Turula Boor, as if it is moving onto the next journey, another love story. Eerbe Aksy is comprised of horse hooves and both high and low tones (mountains and wind) and then suddenly stops. What happens? Does the boy meet the love of his life and settle down? Or is it another sad ending? Is the Orphan’s Lament what this story is all about?

When the woman sings at the end, which is unusual for Tuvan music, the musicians play animal calls, particularly the crane and perhaps an elephant. An electric guitar collaborates with this piece, bringing together a sort of oneness with the boy’s adventure.

The concert ends with Aa-shuu Dekei-oo, a song about the lifestyle of the Tuvans, bringing happiness back into the images once again.

Are Peer Assessments and Grades Relevant?

Where you live on the map may change your perspective.

Those of you that follow my blog know that I’ve been taking free online courses through Coursera.org. I am incredibly pleased with the quality of the lectures and coursework, as they are of the same quality I paid for undergraduate courses at a university. The classes aren’t for credits, but each student that completes a course gets a certificate. By the end of next year I should have a wall full of them. ☺

I completed a Computer Science 101 class a few months ago. It was a very basic course on how computers work, and even though I’ve been operating them since the Commodore 64 came out in the 80s, CS101 made me realize I didn’t know squat about how a computer actually works. There were no grades in the class, just self-guided quizzes at the end of each section, which was good enough for me, because some of the material was completely over my head and through the woods.

The two courses I am signed up for presently do give grades, but they are based on ratings from peers. I appreciate feedback about the topics we are discussing, because it helps generate my imagination. But I don’t feel that peer “grading” is necessary, particularly for classes that aren’t for credits. I don’t prefer receiving grades, because I’m getting what I can out of these classes and putting out what I can. If I am to be graded, I would rather it be by a qualified professional.

Grades are very subjective. For example, my daughter painted a very cute watercolor fish in first grade and was given a “C” by her art teacher. People have said, “How does a first grader get a ‘C’ anyway?” It’s subjective. I loved her little fish painting so much that I kept it for years and finally just had it professionally framed. And it wasn’t because it was because my kid painted it. It was because I am an artist and art teacher, and quite honestly, how can you grade someone’s expression and interpretation? (Plus, the painting really was adorable! ☺ )

Being a teacher myself, I know that grades can make people feel bad. Depending on education levels and field areas, some students will obviously do better than others. Do grades take the fun out of learning? Only if you don’t take them seriously. I know what I am capable of doing and grades are merely other people’s opinions, just like judges in a contest.

A Look at Alice’s Character in Wonderland

An assignment in the Fiction and Fantasy course I am taking required reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. I don’t believe I’d ever read the originals, but they are far different from a child’s world of imagination when read as an adult. I really wanted to dig deeper into Alice’s world, however, the assignments only allow us less than a 400-word count, and I could have written 10 pages on just the symbolism alone. This still isn’t my best work, because I was rushed to complete this as well as another course assignment.

As this was my first time ever reading both Alice in Wonderland (AW) and Alice Through the Looking Glass (ALG), I came to the conclusion that Alice was an adolescent going through an identity crisis, perhaps suffering from mental illness, drug/alcohol introduction, and sexual abuse.

The beginning of ALW reveals instances of indulgence and innocence changed – such as the White Rabbit (fertility, innocence), the cake (something sweet), the “drink me” bottle (indulgence), a golden key, orange marmalade (sweet), and later the white roses painted red. Everything in the first chapter presented to Alice is “sinful” in one way or another, and also seemed both keep her innocence, but at the same time reveal it was not so much. Alice has indulged in the “sweetness” of cake and a drink, both of which change both her attitude (“people are pushy”) and altitude (“nothing is the same”) of things to become her. In later chapters, Alice is presented as both a victim and someone unusual (as a possible example of mental illness – remembering this is the 1800s).

In Chapter 2, Alice begins to speak to objects (her own feet) as if they can hear and understand her, and she does this as well in ALG when speaking to the kitten as if it were human (she also bullies the kitten). In both cases, Alice speaks to herself in third person, as if she is someone else altogether, and refers to herself by other names, especially after the Cheshire Cat begins to call Alice “Mary Ann.” Once the Cat tells Alice “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad,” then it becomes clear that Alice is perhaps in a place in which others are not mentally stable. Eventually, Alice admits to playing games with herself, and some of the games enter her dream – even though they may not make sense at first.

A Reflection on Paul Simon’s “Homeless”

An assignment in World Music required us to view Paul Simon’s “Homeless” video from his Graceland album.


Prior to watching the video, I didn’t have much of a view of South African music or life in general, because I’d never really paid attention to it. I have to be honest and say that history was never really a strong subject for me, which is part of the reason for taking this course. After viewing the video, my impression of South Africa is oppression and struggle, yet of Native peoples striving to maintain their authenticity of culture. While they are surviving poverty, they are keeping their stories alive with performance art and appear joyful in doing so.

The South African music and costume is comparable to that of Native Americans and other tribal people that also have struggled against the contemporary world. Their tribal dances are also closely related to that of Native American culture, which both undoubtedly contain movements that mimic nature. Yet the video has blended wardrobe and lighter movements as well as “everyday life”, presumably to accentuate that South African blacks dress just like regular people.

As a whole, I think that mainstream performers have a huge influence on raising political and economic awareness, specifically of apartheid in this case. Depending on the viewer or listener, global pop music performance can educate and inform viewers of political and economic conditions. However, it can also reinforce old views and stereotypes about black South Africans.

Authenticity in the Music of Blind Willie Johnson

Because of my love for learning, I am taking as many free courses as possible through Coursera.org.

Listening to World Music is taught by University of Pennsylvania instructor Carol Muller. Surprisingly, the first week covered an enormous amount of information. Being that my field is not in music, it’s a bit challenging. (I don’t play any instruments, but I do play the radio. 🙂 ) I’ve also had extremely limited internet access, so I can honestly say that I have been unable to put 100% into my assignments. Regardless, I’m going to be posting my work here.

I found that Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul of a Man” displays all three forms of authenticity. Historically speaking, this piece is true of its kind from the 1930s era gospel/blues originating from an African American who had been known for singing and preaching in the streets since childhood. Exhibiting pure emotion in cyclical form, “Soul of a Man” was one of few songs to be produced by Columbia records while Johnson was still alive. The listener can hear the obvious “from-the-heart” tone in Johnson’s voice fluctuations, unlike the copycat versions that are clearly from those who have not experienced the tragedies Johnson faced throughout his life.

“Soul of a Man” original by Blind Willie Johnson:

In the early 1990s, guitarist Bruce Cockburn recorded “Soul of a Man.” Although a great guitarist that added melody to the original song, nothing beats the raw primal authenticity of the original Blind Willie Johnson version, because only Johnson could relay the true emotions of his people.

“Soul of a Man” remake by Bruce Cockburn (live):