Theory Research

• POLYRHYTHM AS AN INTEGRAL FEATURE OF AFRICAN PIANISM​​​​​​​

In describing a style of composition which reflects his African cultural and musical background, Akin Euba (b.1935) coined the term African Pianism, "a conceptualization of the percussive use of the piano in a particular manner so as to 1) invoke a symbolic representation of African musical textures and 2) to express the rhythmical and textural components of traditional African music without actually using traditional instruments...African Pianism is a way of composing piano music using African models."

In my study of Themes from Chaka I by Akin Euba, Fanfares by Gyorgy Ligeti and Ukom by Joshua Uzoigwe, it was my thesis that the occurrence of polyrhythm in the three piano compositions goes beyond the realm of stylistic usage but functions on a structural level: polyrhythm, functioning at various structural levels and yielding larger rhythmic consequences, is used as a compositional tool to define musical coherence in these works. To start with, I place the aforementioned works by Euba, Ligeti & Uzoigwe on the same stage in their use of processes and resources apropos of African traditional music. Specifically, polyrhythm invoking African rhythms is a stylistic resource common to all three of these works. Furthermore, the three composers make the piano simulate African traditional instruments whilst invoking the aesthetics of African traditional music in rhythm and texture.

I developed a methodology based on a quantitative analytical technique to examine the three pieces. I coined and defined a mathematical tool, “Polyrhythmic Degree” (PD), with which I analyzed the “quantity” of polyrhythm in various polyrhythmic blocks. I generated statistical graphs with which I investigated the relationship between the formal structure of the piano pieces and the distribution of the various PD values over time.

​​
• ORALITY: A POSSIBLE COMPOSITIONAL TECHNIQUE

​Dùndún music, created and preserved by oral technique, is a Yorùbá traditional instrumental genre that is essentially text based. The texts are realized through “drum language” played by the lead drummer on the ìyáàlù (the dùndún ensemble consists of the Yorùbá hourglass tension drums with the ìyáàlù as the principal/lead instrument accompanied by other hourglass tension drum types, omele and the gúdúgúdú).
 

The use of texts as the basis of dùndún music imposes a set of ‘restrictions’ on the genre’s creative process. For instance, the shortness of i.) the textual phrases realized by the lead drummer, and ii.) the individual rhythmic patterns that constitute the ostinato patterns that accompany the lead drummer ‘restricts’ and defines periodicity, which in turn informs the overall phrase structure of dùndún music. Such ‘restrictions’ nevertheless determine the structural and stylistic identity of dùndún music. These ‘restrictions’ are akin to those that operate within the mind of an art music composer, which impose a limitation on his or her compositional palette. Such ‘restrictions’ may come in the form of the characteristic elements that define such forms as Fugue or Sonata form. A composer can also decide to explore pre-determined pitch materials, rhythmic materials, timbre, register, instruments, etc, which constitute a set of creative ‘restrictions’. Unconscious ‘restrictions’ may exist as the result of notation and of course the natural limits within which the composer’s creative ability functions.
 

It is my hypothesis that the use of tonal texts (with their inherent rhythm and musicality), orally conveyed to performers, can serve as the basis of art music composition similar to the way it exists in the dùndún tradition. Tonal texts already provide a source of pitch and rhythmic materials. Creativity thus starts with the collection of texts and development of phrases and sub-phrases that can be combined in various vertical and horizontal patterns. Ensemble techniques germane to the dùndún tradition, such as signaling, can be employed in managing contrapuntal and polyphonal structures.

​​
• AFRICAN MUSICAL PROCESSES & RESOURCES AS BASIS FOR ART MUSIC COMPOSITION

In my current compositional research, I employ African musical processes and resources within my compositional language with the goal of composing modern art works that are a direct progression as well as a departure from African traditional and art musical genres. In Àjùlo Kìnìún (the supremacy of the lion), an example of my composition in this idiom, I employ musical resources found in Yorùbá dùndún music and traditional Yorùbá vocal genres. I specifically explore the ‘speech-rhythm-song’ capabilities of the ìyáàlù (Yorùbá talking drum) and the musicality of the Yorùbá language, based on three tone levels, through the traditional vocal style that fluctuates within a speech-chant-song continuum. The lack of consistent pitch precision and the microtonal sound world that characterize the use of the Yorùbá talking drum in combination with traditional Yorùbá heightened speech vocal techniques are also explored in the text-based work. I incorporate the principles of African Pianism by making the piano behave like the talking drum: I strip the piano of its harmonic function, and with a minimalistic approach to the use of pitches I attempt an approximation of the system of three tone levels of the spoken Yorùbá language that forms the basis of the ìyáàlù’s speech capability.

                    Sound sample illustrating the musicality of the Yorùbá language and the speech functionality of the talking drum.

 

 

​​
• INTERCULTURAL MUSIC COMPOSITION

In my intercultural approach to art music composition amalgamating Western and African musical components, I wrote African Rhythms in which I subject two time-line patterns to various developmental treatments. While I base the pitch framework of the piece on an octatonic pitch collection, I make the woodwinds, strings and piano behave like African percussive instruments. In another composition, Olómo kìlò f’ómo rè (Process – 1), a piano duo, I draw on the concept of integral serialism and African Pianism, melting the two within the borders of the aesthetic-type that define postmodernism. The work is the process of transition from a pre-composed serial structure to a freer and improvisational structure governed by the concept of African Pianism. I incorporate the wórò or kónkókóló rhythmic pattern and a Yorùbá antiphonal song within the process.

​​• CHORAL MUSIC COMPOSITION: THE MUSICALITY OF TONAL LANGUAGES

In my Yorùbá and Pidgin-English choral works the tonality and inherent rhythms of the texts serve as a fundamental compositional and structural resource. I subject my pitch materials to the spoken text contours while I transfer the natural rhythm of the spoken text (verbatim, augmented or diminished) to my rhythmic scheme. Hence, the compositional process (development of motifs, themes and structure) for such choral works starts with a meticulous selection of texts that will potentially yield interesting pitch and rhythmic materials. Since the simultaneous occurrence of a set of tonal texts (with the natural contours and speech rhythms preserved) in different voices leads to parallelism, I accommodate the tonality of the Yorùbá language within the parameters of functional harmony via a simultaneous layering of different texts within a contrapuntal context. However, I employ the use of the same texts in different voices where I find parallelism stylistically appealing or appropriate within a compositional framework.