on singing while playing the cello (part 5: singing in multiple languages)…

Jon Silpayamanant with Secondhand in St. Louis singing a song in Azerbaijan (March 10, 2013)
Jon Silpayamanant with Secondhand in St. Louis at 2720 Cherokee singing a song in Azerbaijan (March 10, 2013)

One of the questions I often get after shows is how I manage to sing in so many languages. Even for those who do regularly sing this can seem like a herculean task, but really it isn’t. Singing while playing doesn’t come naturally to me and I’ve never had the type of training that most singer/songwriter types do so I had to learn things as I go. The benefit to this is that it is really no more difficult for me to learn lyrics in English than it is in any other language–they are all equally difficult for me to do.

This applies to Conlangauges (Constructed Languages) too–doesn’t matter if it’s Ewok, Shyriiwook, Klingon, or any other. It’s simply about the choreography of the mouth (my next post will talk about Music as Choreography) which is really no different than the choreography of any other part of the body. You move or you manipulate your body in various ways to make a sound. Sometimes that sound comes from your body (e.g. your voice), and sometimes that sounds comes from some external device that your body is interacting with (e.g. musical instrument) — either way, it’s the movement of the body which creates the sound (unless we’re talking about Alvin lucier’s Brainwave Music).  Getting hung up on the end result can seriously compromise the understanding that it is all just a series of physical movements.

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on learning drum solos and how to speak “percussionese”

Raks Makam (from l. to r.) Jessica Hamilton, Jon Silpayamanant, Jo Hadley

So today, after several exhausting days with little sleep but much exciting activities (see my previous post for some details) I went to rehearse with Raks Makam for our upcoming performance this Friday.  My brain is still a little bit fried and with little sleep I was making more mistakes than I think I would normally.  Granted, the Uzbek doira is still a relatively new instrument to me and I don’t have one of the best instruments but mostly it’s my skill level (and the mitigating physical circumstances) that got in the way.

I almost want to say this instrument is far more difficult than, say, the Egyptian tabla which I also play regularly in a couple of groups but I’m not entirely sure that’s ever a useful type of comparison to make.

What I will say that the standard rhythmic patterns are very different than what you might find in the Middle East (or in any other region for that matter) and even the inter-Central Asian countries differ to a significant degree.  There’s tons more finger work and as many patterns in three beat measures at duple/quadruple beat measures, if not more, than what you might find in the Middle East.  And the phrasing–that’s the kicker–as many in multiples of three as not!

The piece I’m learning is called “Doira Dars” which almost literally translates as “Doira Study” or what classical trained musicians might call a “Doira Etude.”  And it is just that–an exercise for drummers that uses many of the basic rhythms found in the art dance music of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

But it’s not just a study piece for drummers–it is designed as a training or warm-up piece for dancers as well. By going through the rhythmic patterns–roughly 12 or 14 depending on how the Uzbeks would count them; and about a handful of different shokh (transitions); and the intro and ending–a dancer will have an opportunity to use a great number the moves in the repertoire of the dance.   Now, 12 (or 14 depending) different rhythmic patterns may not seem like a huge amount but keep in mind that many of the (non-native) Middle Eastern drummers here in the US will rarely learn more than 10 different rhythms for the entirety of the repertoire they might play.  Unless we’re talking about the art music, e.g. Ottoman classical music which has several dozens of rhythmic modes used for the repertoire.

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Language Affects Sound Perception

This post originally posted here.

by Noiseman433 on Sat Dec 20, 2003 1:17 pm

I’ve always thought this was the case, nice to find some research has been done with it.

NEWPORT BEACH, CALIFORNIA–Neuropsychologists may owe a debt to the devil. At the 140th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America here last week, University of California, San Diego, psychologist Diana Deutsch demonstrated that an auditory illusion based on the tritone–also known as the “devil in music”–is perceived differently by listeners with different linguistic histories. And those perceptions might help psychologists understand how the brain rewires itself during childhood.

Played together, two notes a half-octave apart (such as C and F sharp) sound jarring; medieval musicians considered this combination, a tritone, so discordant that they dubbed it the “diabolus in musica.” But a tritone is music to Deutsch’s ears. For more than a decade, she has been studying an auditory illusion–the acoustical equivalent of an optical illusion–based upon the tritone.

With a computer, Deutsch created ambiguous notes by superimposing tones from many octaves and carefully shaping the relative loudness of the higher and lower frequency components, masking how high or low the note is. Although listeners can perceive one of these notes as, say, a C, they can’t tell its octave, whether high C, middle C, or low C. Indeed, the tone doesn’t really belong to any octave at all.

Things get interesting when people compare tritone pairs of ambiguous notes, such as an ambiguous C with an ambiguous F sharp. Even though neither note is higher or lower than the other–because higher and lower don’t have any meaning with ambiguous notes–people consistently perceive one tone as high and the other as low. But strangely, they don’t agree which is which. “The musical illusion is perceived very differently by different people,” says Deutsch. This is the tritone paradox.

Things got even weirder when Deutsch played ambiguous tritones to different groups of people. In 1992, she noticed that people from California and people from Southern England hear tritones in the opposite way; if a Californian thinks that a C is above an F sharp, the Britisher will swear that the F sharp is higher than the C. This led some psychologists to believe that a person’s perception of ambiguous tritones depends strongly upon the intonations of the language he learns as a child. Since then, psychologists have been trying to prove it.

At the Acoustical Society of America’s meeting last week, Deutsch described her latest experiment, in which she played ambiguous tritones to two groups of subjects who had emigrated to California from Vietnam. The first group came to the United States as children, and although Vietnamese was their first language, most no longer spoke it fluently. The second group, on the other hand, arrived in the United States as adults and spoke little English. The two groups perceived the tritones in the same way–but differently from their California neighbors. “This study presents strong evidence, we believe, that individual differences [in perceiving the tritones] are caused by individual speech patterns to which [the subjects] are exposed early in infancy,” says Deutsch.

“It reinforces the idea that early linguistic background affects perception,” says Magdalene Chalikia, a psychologist at Minnesota State University in Moorhead, who has shown that Greek speakers and English speakers perceive tritones differently. The tritone paradox gives neuropsychologists intriguing hints about the effects of training on the brain. The results suggest that as an infant learns its first language, the brain may adjust its neural connections in a way that affects the perception of sounds. But for the moment, scientists have little idea which languages cause which interpretation of the tritone paradox, much less how each language rewires the brain differently. “You can’t make predictions,” sighs Chalikia. “It’s frustrating.” The devil, it turns out, is in the details.

from http://web10.epnet.com/citation.asp?tb=1&_…cf=1&fn=1&rn=4&