Author: Roeder, John
Publication details: Analytical Approaches to World Music 7, no. 1 (2019)
Abstract: Susanne Fürniss’s (2006) magisterial survey of Aka polyphony analyzes a remarkable duet in which each singer draws material from a regularly repeating cycle but varies it on the fly to complement her partner’s likewise varying repetitions. This texture of two independently cycling but interacting voices, although well-suited to the Aka’s conception of musical structure, is not unique to them; indeed, examples from many traditional cultures have been recorded. In some instances, the musicians may be heard coordinating their variations to forge large-scale musical form out of what would otherwise be uniform repetition. This paper analyzes three items that illustrate the potential of such equal-voice cyclic duets to support formative interactions of timbre, timing and grouping that are not possible in monophony and not so effective in other polyphonic textures. In a funeral lamentation from the Solomon Islands, the singers’ timbral variations set up and realize large-scale formal articulations. In a flirtatious song of the Ecuadorian Amazon, as the singers repeat irregularly timed cycles at different tempos, they adjust the placement of their respective beats to create phases of greater or lesser synchrony and changing leader-follower relationships. Lastly, in a communal dance of French Guyana, one part adjusts its timing to accommodate the addition and deletion of events by the other, creating an unpredictable, dramatically charged process that they gradually direct towards a stable regular groove. Like the Aka duet, these compositions transform what might be a rote, mechanical procedure into a lively vehicle for distinctive formal and expressive effects.