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Session for Week 4 . Transcription Debate Music of Islam and Middle East Sudan, Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Afganistan (Islamic Traditions) Gamelan. Transcription. The debate over use and methods of transcription has long been a major issue in ethnomusicology.

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session for week 4
Session for Week 4
  • Transcription Debate
  • Music of Islam and Middle East
  • Sudan, Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Afganistan (Islamic Traditions)
  • Gamelan
  • The debate over use and methods of transcription has long been a major issue in ethnomusicology.
  • It exemplifies the old insider/outsider – phonemic/phonetic (emic/etic) problem.
  • Phonemic = importance to insider – shades of meaning in small adjustments of language.
  • Phonetic = how perceived by the outsider. Bartok’s transcriptions were phonetic but meaningless to the insider.
  • Not simply a visualisation of music – but expresses cultural meaning only to those who are of that culture.
  • `all established systems of notation have developed in response to the particular requirements of the tradition they serve …. each one of them is sufficient unto its purpose or, when it ceases to be, is modified or discarded in favor of an improved system.’
  • Origins in formalised signalling systems of memorizing and teaching.
  • Written notation limited to literate societies – but conditioned by social context in that society. Motivation usually as an `aide memore’ in performance and as means of communicating ideas about the music.
  • Either descriptive or presciptive
the symbols used
The symbols used
  • Normally taken from some other existing system.
  • Greeks first to use alphabet for instrumental pitches.
  • Chinese used five monosyllables (written characters) to denote the notes of the pentatonic scale.
  • Signs either phonic (already presentations of sound outside music) or graphic.
  • Notation is perceived visually – provides information corresponding to a musical entity unfolding over time. Different systems give different quantities of information per time unit.
  • 4 basic parameters of music – pitch, duration, loudness and timbre
  • Many secondary ones which may be crucial for definition of style/genre.
  • Each parameter may be represented and each needs some sort of division of scale or quantifiable unit.
western notation
Western Notation
  • Reflects its origins in Plainsong and Church usage.
  • Developed for prescriptive purposes (to play from) it is also reasonable good for descriptive purposes (to realise what has been heard). But this is because we all have a good idea of what the symbols mean.
  • However it emphasis the vertical structure as that is what Western music is mainly concerned with.
transcription and ethnomusicology
Transcription and Ethnomusicology
  • Until 70s all agreed it was very difficult but essential. Skills were practiced hard and highly developed – basic primary skill of the ethnomusicologist of diagnostic and preservative purposes.
  • Adapted Western notation with lots of diacriticals– to move from prescriptive towards descriptive and give sense of style. Transposition to a tonality with as few accidentals as possible – any combination of sharps and flats. Plus and minus arrows for micro-tones. Rhythmic groupings shown by irregular beaming and bar lines. Precise metronome markings important. Variants incorporated into stave. Text accompanied melody and with phonetic transcription of sound and philological commentary.
the problem
The problem
  • Hornborstal’s ideas followed through and rationalised by panel of experts 1949-50.
  • Transcription in generation of Bartok, Herzog and Densmore became high art and produced transcriptions that have never been surpassed.
  • However these transcriptions can never be played from and would be meaningless to native musicians even if they were musically literate.
  • Using a mainly prescriptive form of notation for descriptive purposes.
  • We single out structures and aspects in the music of other societies that resemble familiar structures/features in our music and write them down ignoring things for which we have no symbols or to which our ears are not sensitive.
  • We expect the notation to be read by people who do not carry the tradition.
  • Charles Seegar said `To such a riot of subjectivity it is precocious indeed to ascribe the designation “scientific”’.
seegar s melograph
Seegar’s Melograph
  • Produced in 1959 to give a three-fold photo-graphic display that incorporated 1. Pitch-time graph; 2. Amplitude-time graph; 3. Timbre-time graph.
  • Meant to give more data and be objective – culturally neutral.
  • Gave the whole detailed musical event, whereas traditional notation does not differentiate between stages of musical event – attack, decay etc.
  • Highly efficient for melody but could not separate parts of polyphony.
  • However little used – does not distinguish what is significant.
  • Our hearing is only of a given competence and much of what the melograph records we do not register – too detailed.
  • Physiological aspects of hearing – the brain has to interpret the signals and people hear and see what they expect to hear and see – selective listening.
  • We are influenced by our memories and musical syntax.
  • Great difference between what an automatic transcriber would hear and an experienced listener of a particular idiom .
new notations
New Notations
  • Avante garde music tried to fix all elements of performance in ever more complex notation.
  • Backlash against this set in with 60s experimentalism and free graphic score notations.
  • In Ethnomusicology debate hotted up and all manner of approaches tried. Notations developed for specific genres.
hood s ideas
Hood’s Ideas
  • 1. Give original notation if there is one and learn to use it. Also give a translation of it.
  • 2. Use of mechanical transcription for details of performance.
  • 3. Have a universal system of manual transcription. Hood suggested a version of Labannotation
case for using western notation
Case for Using Western Notation
  • Universal – all Western trained musicians use it.
  • Adaptable – can be doctored and customised.
  • Accurate enough for purpose – does not show too much.
  • But on each of the above it also fails
reid s suggestions
Reid’s Suggestions
  • 1. Suitability – such that we do not get misled by apparatus of transcription.
  • 2. Accuracy – should aspire to this.
  • 3. Flexibility – account for variables in tradition.
  • 4. Utility – easy to use and quote.
  • 5. Practicality – use with photocopying and basic equipment
  • 6. Cross-cultural applicability – no ethnic bias
  • 7. Universality – intelligible to all after short time.
advent of music technology
Advent of Music Technology
  • The great advances in recording technology have removed the basis for the primacy of transcription. Why do it at all when the music itself can be so available?
  • Computers can now produce printouts based on digital process. Any extraction of musical parameters can be displayed in real time.
  • However little desire to use this technology on the part of ethnomusicologists.
final ideas
Final Ideas
  • 1. Transcription can never communicate music, but can communicate ideas about music.
  • 2. It cannot give style as this must be done by performance but can be useful in discussing aspects of music if it visually represents those aspects.
  • 3. As long as ethnomusicology is driven by academic (especially in USA) transcription will remain within the bounds of Western notation.