Folklore and Phonosphere

Article excerpt

Folklore and phonosphere

THERE will always be people who claim that when they listen to instrumental music--or "pure" music--it conjures up no spatial images in their imagination, and that they experience it only as duration. One thing is certain, however: it is difficult to conceive of music as a phenomenon without a precise image of musicians playing in a specific place, whether an enclosed or an open space. By its very nature, and whatever the context, music is, and will remain, a performance.

In the USSR, popular music occupies a prominent position. As we find wherever folklore has stayed alive, spontaneous musical improvisation, intended to be heard by a gathering of people and calling for certain spatial conditions, is still a major form of creative art. Professional art based on oral tradition has also been preserved over very wide areas, in Central Asia and in Transcaucasia, in the highly elaborate form of the mugam, epic tales told by renowned artists who have learned a special technique of singing and acquired a perfect mastery of the traditional instruments of the East.

This popular music has conquered new territory on the stage, on radio, on television and in records, and in so doing has been assimilated into the public system of music consumption. This expansion has had an encouraging impact on the status of music in general, while at the same time it has pushed traditional types of creation towards professionalism with the new spatial forms needed for producing and listening to music and the professional sophistication that these require.

The creators of folk music have to learn musical techniques, polish their performances and rehearse intensively to prepare for concerts when they use such specialized facilities as recording studios, rehearsal rooms, and the stages of variety theatres. A delicate problem arises: exposed to the limelight of professionalism, the spiritual nature of popular creative art is likely to wilt, and needs protection. Folk song and folk dance troupes are as plentiful in the USSR as they are well-loved beyond its borders. As a consequence of this powerful movement to take over folklore, living folk art is tending to lose its spontaneity and formal continuity and to be turned into a subject for study and teaching.

Fortunately, a movement is also emerging to preserve the full authenticity of folk art, notably through staging performances that are faithful in all respects to the spirit of popular festivals. In many regions folk troupes have sprung up which are keeping alive the old styles of singing. …