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Do They Sound Like Bells or Like Howling Wolves?

Interferential Diaphony in Bistritsa- An Investigation into a Multi-Part Singing Tradition in a Middle-Western Bulgarian Village


Gerald Florian Messner

This study represents a thorough investigation of a polyphonic vocal village tradition in Bistritsa, Bulgaria. Outsiders describe the narrow intervals of these songs as being «maximally rough», while the singers themselves experience their performance as smooth, beautiful and pleasant. Almost identical polyphonic traditions can be found in places sometimes thousands of kilometers apart. This inquiry is carried out within a very broad and comparative context, whereby historical sources, the origin of different constituents and etymologies as well as electronic sound analysis are taken into account. The results are stunning and ever more relevant – and not just for ethnomusicologists: The babi or grannies of Bistritsa and their songs have been inscribed on UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mankind in 2008.


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2 .1 TRANSCRIPT ION WIT H T HE AID OF SONAGRAPHY 2.1.1 The problem at hand Almost all authors in the field agree that the transcription of folk-music, and especially of that which falls outside the Western European musical tradition, poses complex problems, not all of which are immediately obvious. Hans Peter Reinecke (1970: 154) points out that up to the present time, eth- nomusicology has been dependent on using variations of our Western method of notation when recording the structures of folk-music, both because of its imme- diate readability and because it facilitates further analysis. In his view, there are two draw backs with this method which must be reckoned with from the begin- ning: (1) only those elements which are noticed by the transcriber are taken into account in the analysis and (2) they are only given the value which he ascribes to them. In this lies the danger that certain details may not be heard or recorded. Moreover, there is a danger that musical correlations are noted down and coded according to the preconceived expectations of the transcriber, and these may not always correspond completely to the musical premises of that particular culture. In this connection Ekkehard Jost (1972: 112) argues that the fixing of orally handed-down material by the transcriber more often than not fails to capture the essential aspects of the musical processes. Our ability to hear the music as it really is constrained by our own listening habits, which are orientated towards Euro- pean...

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