Monday, 8 January 2007

Practice based Research

Writing is an invaluable aid to memory. But it can also be misleading. Over the weekend I've been working on a konnakol pattern beginning with ta-kitekitetake digutarikitetake...

The 'kitetake' phrase moves the tongue from the back of the throat, across the roof and right up to the teeth. It's very useful to have the written/visualised word as a marker of this movement. Particularly helps in those brain crash moments when everything becomes confused and all structure is forgotten. (Is that some kind of wholesale reconfiguration of the neurons?)

The words can engender a false sense of definition however. In fact it's the movement and the feeling which is important, a tiny part of which is photographed in the word. I have been discovering the immense variation that is possible even within this tiny phrase. It can be voiced at an infinite number of pitches, or unvoiced, in which case it functions almost as a stop to previous sounds and a coiling preparation for future ones. Different parts of the word take on different roles in the rhythmic flow. When it is whispered the 't' sound approaches an 's' and the phrase becomes almost a hiss - like the suck and sizzle of a hi-hat. The 'ka' becomes like the click of a rimshot and the 'ta' like a strong snare stroke. And this whole phrase is simply a substrate around which the bass and melody weaves in the 'Ta' 'Di', 'Thom' and 'Nam' sounds.

I used to think the fingers and limbs were capable of subtle expression and modulation - and indeed they are when they have been trained by a master musician - but the mouth, tongue, lips, throat, face, shoulders and breath are capable of mind-boggling permutations which I am only just realizing. The system is so finely interdependant that I can clearly hear the difference in my facial expressions. And I love the immediacy and constant availability of the voice. I now have a khanjeera and a bamboo flute but even those seem too bulky, fragile, expensive, complex, clumsy and limited in comparison to the voice. With the most fundamental resource, the body itself, direct work is possible on consciousness and musculature.

A question that keeps arising is whether I am pronouncing things properly. I'm seduced by the idea that there is one correct pronunciation. But perhaps, like any language, it is alive in the mouths and ears. It keeps wriggling and echoing in response to the changing environment. Any particular pronunciation is an instantiation by one particular person at one particular time. The joy I experience in my konnakol practice is in the mesmeric fascination with the effects of variations that orbit around the notated marker. The more stable and permanent the marker appears the more stultifying it is to my joyful freedom - or else the more vigorous and confident I must be in pushing and pulling it.

So I can imagine in some Dreamtime, where the words and rhythms originate, that they come in a spirit of pure, unbridled creation. The marks of the environment then help to remember the creation, human oral formulae fix it further, followed by handwritten notes and then printed texts. Finally when it becomes the object of 'scholarly' or 'scientific' study it becomes preserved. Having had some 'education' in this memory game which is so highly regarded in our culture - the ratification of knowledge - I notice the tendency to feel slightly alienated from the material being studied. Eg., I wonder how nasal the end of the word 'Thom' should be, or how aspirated the 'Di' should be. But then I throw off the data collecting -ologist and immerse myself in the performative moment in which the truth shines out. Is this practice-based research?


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