Saturday, May 17, 2008

African Tempo - African Metre

African music is mostly polyrhythmic, composed of multiple rhythms each with its own particular metre. The friction between these criss-crossing polymetric strands of rhythm is what generates its energy or heat. The first stage in learning to play African music is to acquire the discipline of the separate beats. It is a training that, in Africa, starts in infancy on the dancing mother’s back, or from the myriad of children’s rhythmic games that abound on the continent.

In the agbadza, there are four subrhythms that create its basic phrase and correspond to one complete agbadza bell pattern. This single basic phrase of the agbadza can be imaginatively treated as being divided into twelve equally spaced time intervals - a temporal framework into which all four subrhythms can fit.

1. The feet (i.e. the dance downsteps) are played evenly four times for each basic phrase: on the first, fourth, seventh, and tenth of the imaginary twelve time intervals mentioned above.

2. The kagan drum is played with two sticks. It s rhythm is made up of groups of three notes. The right stick strikes the open drum twice; the left is then played, but with the skin muted by pressure from the right stick. This results in two high notes followed by a low, muted one. This is played four times to correspond to the twelve imaginary time intervals.

3. The kidi is a hand-drum. Its simplest rhythm is made by the right, left, then right hands striking the perimeter of the drum-skin, producing three open notes, then the three muted notes, played twice over in the full agbadza phrase to make up the twelve time intervals.

4. The claves or cow-bell (Ewe gankogui) pattern is made up of seven pulses. If a double-headed bell is used, the very first pulse is played on the lower-pitched bell. The spacing of the seven pulses on the twelve imaginary time intervals exactly corresponds to the spacing of the seven major notes (do, re, mi, fa, etc.) on the twelve intervals of the one octave of the melodic scale. The first agbadza bell pulse is therefore equivalent to the note “do” - and so on up to the seventh bell pulse, which is equivalent to the note “ti”.

More here

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tuning : East West Ears

The most important scale in the Western tradition is the diatonic scale, but the scales used and proposed in various historical eras and parts of the world have been many and varied. Scales may broadly be classed as scales of just intonation, tempered scales, and practice-based scales. A scale is in just intonation if the ratios between the frequencies for all degrees of the scale are either ratios of small integers, or obtained by a succession of such ratios. It is tempered if it represents an adjustment, or tempering, of just intonation. It is practice-based if it simply reflects musical practice, as for instance various measurements of the tuning of a gamelan might do.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Raving, Spirituality, Clubbing, Paganism

from: "What's the Rush"
by Joe Field

Academic studies on cultural trends (which are few) generally point to 'rave culture' becoming incorporated into society following the Criminal Justice Bill of 1994: the government effectively moving the problem into nightclubs and sanctioned events, where it would be easier to regulate and control. This has had the effect of making clubbing 'trendy' to the point of it becoming a cultural phenomenon. Yet by taking the partying masses away from the freedom that sound-systems in the countryside provided the dance-music scene has become more restrictive and elitist. No longer can we dance in the fields with dogs running at our bare feet - instead we must adhere to codes of dress and behaviour; we must arrive and leave at set times and, worst of all, we must listen to a pasteurised, diluted form of the music we once loved (author's opinion, but a valid one). Admittedly, it is far more convenient to pay the door fee at the local club than it ever was to haul a load of mates halfway across the country - but the key word here is 'freedom'.

Today's clubbers had the most noble forefathers in the form of the 'new age travellers': men and women who shed blood for people's right to party in the beautiful landscapes this country has to offer. Beanfield at Stonehenge in 1985 typified their plight - their homes, livelihood and animals were under threat of destruction by the police from then onwards. Their strength, solidarity, devotion, hard work and cunning helped to unify people in the fight for freedom - without them 'rave culture' as we know it wouldn't exist. The travellers had the fire within them to stick two fingers up at the government, though they knew they would have to face armies of brutal policemen.

Yet if you look around the average 'dance-music' oriented nightclub their legacy is severely difficult to find: how many of the pasty-faced students or uber-fashion victims gurning away to the latest pop-house today are aware of the travellers' struggle over the last 20 years? In short, where is the anarchy that was associated with acid-house and techno?

In addition, the monopoly of the market by 'pills' is creating a culture of 'buy-before-you-try' - in my opinion the current fervour for all things pill-like is high on enthusiasm and distinctly lacking in knowledge. Of course there are many people out there who know what Ecstasy should really look, taste and feel like, but I doubt if many of the thousands of weekend clubbers in Britain are really aware of exactly what chemicals they are ingesting.

It's possible to argue that 'if it feels good, do it', and I know myself that horse tranquiliser and speed is a potent mix which can give the taker feelings which could be interpreted as a 'high', but it is certainly not MDMA Ecstasy - which it's often sold as. Therefore I argue for education and regulation, not by the state, but by experienced individuals: if you are truly knowledgeable on drug-use my advice is to befriend a group of young but enthusiastic pill/pot/acid/coke-heads (delete as applicable) and teach them everything you know.

If you know how to cultivate a drug, pass the skills and knowledge on. More importantly, though, teach them to appreciate the drug properly - that is, teach them the spiritual benefits of the substance, and encourage them to try the drug in varied environments and situations and not just down at the local 4/4 factory. Get them reading Burroughs, Thompson, Huxley and Castaneda.

Preach the benefits of under-dosing: the subtle ways a drug can make its presence known, the joy of being just high enough to get a 'rush' but not so high that you become confused with excitement. Instill in your students the need to learn, teach them to approach psychedelics as a warrior on a spiritual journey, help them to focus on internal signals during drug-use, not external stimuli (fancy lighting rigs and whistling/shouting/dementedly-dancing fools do not make a good night out).

I advocate a gentle, subliminal method of influence as it is best to start small: try taking a sheet of acid to a mundane club you know well and sell them to clubbers who can't find any pills. After a few weeks of doing this you will have created a ripple of psychedelic awareness among the local clubbing community, which may eventually lead to a shift in the whole scene.

I'm aware that some of this may sound like a 'things were better back then' rant to the casual reader, but I do not dispute the fact that clubbing is more popular today than it ever was, or that there are some great events out there. Personally, I have turned my back on clubbing to pursue my love of all things reggae: people who go to reggae nights usually have a real love of the music, and don't sweat and gurn all over the place. Apart from free parties (which are getting harder to arrange) I still test the water with the odd house night, and venture to occasional events, but I find that they generally are crap.

For example, without Jeff Mills' mammoth techno set (my faith was reaffirmed briefly) Tribal Gathering 2003 would have been an expensive and rubbish inner-city funfair that was full of coppers, had no beer and stank of piss and cheap burgers. It could be argued that music can transcend all the negative factors that modern, corporate clubbing throws up, but I feel that the consumer is being swindled - and, in fact, should the enjoyment of music and dance really be within the realm of big business?! To me it was an insult to use the licence, as Tribal Gathering used to be a guarantee of a quality event, which travellers were involved in - now it has become a corporate, capitalist money-spinner which really fails to grasp the essence of a good party.

My opinion is that this is indicative of clubbing on the whole, that the revolutionary aspect of acid-house, etc. has been lost to the marketing men (this relates to everyone who produces/sells half-hearted products in the clubbing industry). A once exciting, varied and unifying scene has been swallowed whole by the state and big business and spat out as a lifestyle package. The power was once in the hands of the people; those who had the equipment, skills and backbone to put on a party, did.

Today, choosing where to spend their money is the most power the average shmo gets to exercise. Youth culture has had a tradition of rebellion and has often pushed both musical and social boundaries to their limits; the Teddy Boys, Mods, Skinheads, Rudeboys, Punks and Hippies all went against the grain and allowed the participants freedom of expression and a sense of identity.

Looking back at such movements, it is hard to see how modern 'club culture' is pushing any boundaries at all: the music scene has become slightly stagnant in the last few years, and clothing is inspired by whatever is the height of fashion that week. (Mullets, wristbands and sleeveless T-shirts - 'retro fashion' instead of creativity and originality.)

It is essential that music producers become braver for the scene to progress. It follows that individuals who 'club' must also try to be more daring: they should lose the mullets, become politically aware, take drugs other than 'pills' and try to experience the bits of the world that mankind has not forged. For those who are inclined to subvert, do everything you can - our culture has been pilfered, therefore pro-active re-appropriation is needed: take drugs (and music!) back underground and away from the hands of the state. Unity and anarchy in the face of fear and apathy, love and devotion in the production of all mind-expanding substances and music associated therewith - if we lead, they will follow.

Remember, your country(side) needs YOU.

from: Sex Drugs and Techno Music
by: Jason Sullum

Signal of Misunderstanding

The current worries about raves in some ways resemble the fears once symbolized by the opium den. The country's first anti-opium laws, passed by Western states in the late 19th century, were motivated largely by hostility toward the low-cost Chinese laborers who competed for work with native whites. Supporters of such legislation, together with a sensationalist press, popularized the image of the sinister Chinaman who lured white women into his opium den, turning them into concubines, prostitutes, or sex slaves. Although users generally find that opiates dampen their sex drive, "it was commonly reported that opium smoking aroused sexual desire," writes historian David Courtwright, "and that some shameless smokers persuaded 'innocent girls to smoke in order to excite their passions and effect their ruin.' " San Francisco authorities lamented that the police "have found white women and Chinamen side by side under the effects of this drug -- a humiliating sight to anyone who has anything left of manhood." In 1910 Hamilton Wright, a U.S. diplomat who was a key player in the passage of federal anti-drug legislation, told Congress that "one of the most unfortunate phases of the habit of smoking opium in this country" was "the large number of women who [had] become involved and were living as common-law wives or cohabiting with Chinese in the Chinatowns of our various cities."

Fears of miscegenation also played a role in popular outrage about cocaine, which was said to make blacks uppity and prone to violence against whites, especially sexual assault. In 1910 Christopher Koch, a member of the Pennsylvania Pharmacy Board who pushed for a federal ban on cocaine, informed Congress that "the colored people seem to have a weakness for it. -- They would just as leave rape a woman as anything else, and a great many of the southern rape cases have been traced to cocaine." Describing cocaine's effect on "hitherto inoffensive, law abiding negroes" in the Medical Record, Edward Huntington Williams warned that "sexual desires are increased and perverted."

Marijuana, another drug that was believed to cause violence, was also linked to sex crimes and, like opium, seduction. Under marijuana's influence, according to a widely cited 1932 report in The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, "sexual desires are stimulated and may lead to unnatural acts, such as indecent exposure and rape." The authors quoted an informant who "reported several instances of which he claimed to have positive knowledge, where boys had induced girls to use the weed for the purpose of seducing them." The federal Bureau of Narcotics, which collected anecdotes about marijuana's baneful effects to support a national ban on the drug, cited "colored students at the Univ. of Minn. partying with female students (white) smoking [marijuana] and getting their sympathy with stories of racial persecution. Result pregnancy." The bureau also described a case in which "two Negroes took a girl fourteen years old and kept her for two days in a hut under the influence of marijuana. Upon recovery she was found to be suffering from syphilis."

Drug-related horror stories nowadays are rarely so explicitly racist. A notable and surprising exception appears in the 2000 film Traffic, which is critical of the war on drugs but nevertheless represents the utter degradation of an upper-middle-class white teenager who gets hooked on crack by showing her having sex with a black man. Whether related to race or not, parental anxieties about sexual activity among teenagers have not gone away, and drugs are a convenient scapegoat when kids seem to be growing up too fast.

The link between drugs and sex was reinforced by the free-love ethos of the '60s counterculture that embraced marijuana and LSD. In the public mind, pot smoking, acid dropping, and promiscuous sex were all part of the same lifestyle; a chaste hippie chick was a contradiction in terms. When Timothy Leary extolled LSD's sex-enhancing qualities in a 1966 interview with Playboy, he fueled the fears of parents who worried that their daughters would be seduced into a decadent world of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. The Charles Manson case added a sinister twist to this scenario, raising the possibility of losing one's daughter to an evil cult leader who uses LSD to brainwash his followers, in much the same way as Chinese men were once imagined to enthrall formerly respectable white girls with opium.

The alarm about the sexual repercussions of "club drugs," then, has to be understood in the context of warnings about other alleged aphrodisiacs, often identified with particular groups perceived as inferior, threatening, or both. The fear of uncontrolled sexual impulses, of the chaos that would result if we let our basic instincts run wild, is projected onto these groups and, by extension, their intoxicants. In the case of "club drugs," adolescents are both victims and perpetrators. Parents fear for their children, but they also fear them. When Mayor Daley warned that "they are after all of our children," he may have been imagining predators in the mold of Fu Manchu or Charles Manson. But the reality is that raves -- which grew out of the British "acid house" movement, itself reminiscent of the psychedelic dance scene that emerged in San Francisco during the late '60s -- are overwhelmingly a youth phenomenon.

The experience of moving all night to a throbbing beat amid flickering light has been likened to tribal dancing around a fire. But for most people over 30, the appeal of dancing for hours on end to the fast, repetitive rhythm of techno music is hard to fathom. "The sensationalist reaction that greets every mention of the word Ecstasy in this country is part of a wider, almost unconscious fear of young people," writes Jonathan Keane in the British New Statesman, and the observation applies equally to the United States. For "middle-aged and middle-class opinion leaders -- E is a symbol of a youth culture they don't understand."

This is not to say that no one ever felt horny after taking MDMA. Individual reactions to drugs are highly variable, and one could probably find anecdotes suggesting aphrodisiac properties for almost any psychoactive substance. And it is no doubt true that some MDMA users, like the woman quoted in Cosmo, have paired up with sexual partners they found less attractive the morning after. But once MDMA is stripped of its symbolism, these issues are no different from those raised by alcohol. In fact, since MDMA users tend to be more lucid than drinkers, the chances that they will do something regrettable are probably lower.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Shaman, Rhythmns, and Brain Waves

Studies have shown that vibrations from rhythmic sounds have a profound effect on brain activity. In shamanic traditions, drums were used in periodic rhythm to transport the shaman into other realms of reality. The vibrations from this constant rhythm affected the brain in a very specific manner, allowing the shaman to achieve an altered state of mind and journey out of his or her body .

Brain pattern studies conducted by researcher Melinda Maxfield into the (SSC) Shamanic State of Consciousness found that the steady rhythmic beat of the drum struck four and one half times per second was the key to transporting a shaman into the deepest part of his shamanic state of consciousness. It is no coincidence that 4.5 beats, or cycles per second corresponds to the trance like state of theta brain wave activity. In direct correlation, we see similar effects brought on by the constant and rhythmic drone of Tibetan Buddhist chants, which transport the monks and even other listeners into realms of blissful meditation.

The gentle pulsating rhythms (binaural beat) of our brain synchronization tapes act in a similar fashion, yet because the frequencies are computer generated, they are precise, consistent and can be targeted to induce highly specific and desired brain states. Much like tuning a radio to get a particular station, our brain synchronization tapes can induce a variety of brain states. Effecting Alertness, Concentration, Focus & Cognition Relaxation, Visualization, & Creativity Intuition, Memory, Meditation Vivid Visual Imagery Deep Sleep, Detached Awareness

There are frequencies/rhythms which when dominant in the brain correlate with a specific state of mind. There are generally 4 groupings of brain waves:

1. Beta waves range between 13-40 HZ. The beta state is associated with peak concentration, heightened alertness and visual acuity. Nobel Prize Winner, Sir Francis Crick and other scientists believe that the 40HZ beta frequency used on many Brain Sync tapes may be key to the act of cognition.

2. Alpha waves range between 7-12 HZ. This is a place of deep relaxation, but not quite meditation. In Alpha, we begin to access the wealth of creativity that lies just below our conscious awareness - it is the gateway, the entry point that leads into deeper states of consciousness. Alpha is also the home of the window frequency known as the Schumann Resonance, which is the resonant frequency of the earth's electromagnetic field.

3. Theta waves range between 4-7 HZ. Theta is one of the more elusive and extraordinary realms we can explore. It is also known as the twilight state which we normally only experience fleetingly as we rise up out of the depths of delta upon waking, or drifting off to sleep. In theta we are in a waking dream, vivid imagery flashes before the mind's eye and we are receptive to information beyond our normal conscious awareness. During the Theta state many find they are capable of comprehending advanced concepts and relationships that become incomprehensible when returning to Alpha or Beta states. Theta has also been identified as the gateway to learning and memory. Theta meditation increases creativity, enhances learning, reduces stress and awakens intuition and other extrasensory perception skills. When the brain is in Theta it appears to balance sodium/potassium ratios which are responsible for the transport of chemicals through brain cell membranes. This appears to play a role in rejuvenating the fatigued brain.

4. Delta waves range between 0-4 HZ. Delta is associated with deep sleep. In addition, certain frequencies in the delta range trigger the release of Growth Hormone beneficial for healing and regeneration. This is why sleep, deep restorative sleep is so essential to the healing process.

Repetition and Pattern

Rise and Fall of Repetition

Vibration and regular repeating patterns are the foundation of matter and energy. On a scale more accessible to humans, rhythmic repetition, oscillation, and pulsation are dominant qualities of nature known to everyone: Waves on a shore, moon phases, day and night, the seasons.

There is pulsation and rhythm in our own body: Heartbeat, breathing; the steady rhythm of walking that was imprinted in our genetic memory during our life as nomads.

These basic experiences of life have long ago formed our love of rhythm. While developing a sense of rhythm, our ancestors found that it is fun to sing along with the rhythm. Our first melodies were taught to us by birds and other animals, all of whom also employ repetitions in their songs: Indonesian Ketjak is a complex rhythmic monkey chant; Pygmy melodies of the African rainforests cite the songs of tropical birds.

Repeating melodies - monotonous or based on simple harmonies - and repeating song structures became popular in all cultures, not only because their patterns were easy to memorize, but because performing them in combination with repeating rhythms had strong psychological effects and was sometimes meditative or potentially trance-inducing. (Man's ancient fondness of spirituality and altered states of consciousness is another fascinating story.)

Rhythmic, repetitive musical structures eventually reached high levels of sophistication in a number of world cultures (Javanese Gamelan, Ghanaese drumming, Indian tabla, Pygmy songs, to name but a few). Some early medieval European music also employed repetition as a basic formal element, but at some point in the middle ages, music in Europe began developing into a different direction.

The discovery and elaboration of the laws of harmony in the Renaissance pushed rhythm and repetition into the musical background. In the early 18th century, the well-tempered 12-tone equal temperament became the dominant tuning system which it still is. The great works of classical music were complex harmonic structures which needed rhythm and repetition primarily as a means to give them a form. Rhythmic, repetitive, modal music as practised elsewhere on the planet was not known or considered primitive.

Music Patterns

Edgar Varese once gave a definition of music as "organized sound", and this seems like a good place to start, more because of what information such a definition does not give than for what it does give. The definition is somewhat satisfying because it seems to embrace practically anything that is called music, that anyone could conceive of as music and further certainly anything that might be called music in the future. On the other hand it is unsatisfying because there are no clues in the definition as to how music is constructed. On mulling Varese's definition over, the first question that comes to mind is a compound one: what is organization, how is the sound organized? I'll try to consider an answer to that question by starting with the most historically primitive musical notions and moving through increasing complexities to complexities of modern atonal music. Here, I mean "atonal" in its technical sense, not in it's gutter sense of harsh and "dissonant".

Undoubtedly, the most primitive musical percept is that of pulse, recognized perhaps first in our own rhythmic pulse, heart beat. Imagine an Australopithicus, on his day off, picking some object up and banging it against another; the satisfaction obtained by simply 'beating out time', in a steady repeating unit of time. This sets the stage for a pulse to music as being a fundamental parameter that can be varied. Nowadays we are little more precise and sophisticated about such things and specify a pulse by giving a metronome value for and underlying note value that is tied to musical notation. For a given pulse one has simply a sequence of unaccented and undifferentiated beats separated by equal units of time.

One can overlay the with pulse with structural forms that give a pattern of various levels of accent. Within standard musical notation this is designated by grouping the primitive pulses into bars that create a meter. For certain evolved musical forms/types the meter is prescribed: A waltz usually is written in 3/4 meter so that there are 3 quarter notes to a bar. A short representative table:

waltz 3/4
polonaise 6/8
polka 2/4
gigue 6/8
sarabande 3/4
chaconne 3/4
passacaglia 3/4
allemande 4/4
tango 2/4, 4/4, 4/8 (before 1955)

These all happen to be or evolved from dance forms. It is the association of music with dance and also with the voice and with indigenous language that had provided given structure for many musical features.

Carnatic Music

In the West, the classical music known best, that of Mozart and Beethoven, centers around the medium of the large orchestra and the ideas of counterpoint and harmony. Within that context, Indian music is unusual, and the idea that it is fully "classical" in scope can be met with some resistance. Curiously, this phenomenon of resistance is reflected in the reception met by other Western music within the broader sweep of history. For me, interest in Western music focuses increasingly on that of the medieval era, from roughly eight hundred to five hundred years ago. This is an exciting repertory which is being reconstructed today for public performance, and it has come to include a wealth of detail and nuance which can stimulate one both intellectually and spiritually.

Like Carnatic music, Western medieval music is concerned more with the song than with the symphony, and indeed the voice must be seen as its supreme instrument as well. The song is surely the most basic of human expressions, and the act of semantic content serves to further invigorate music on both emotional and intellectual levels. Melody and rhythm are likewise more complicated in medieval music than in the more commonly known Western music of the 18th century. Although the music can hardly be said to compare to the sophistication of raga and tala, and especially the elaboration of which modern Carnatic artistes are capable, French musical terms of the 14th century curiously mirror Indian music. There is the term "color" for the melodic basis of the piece and the term "talea" for the sequence of beat patterns, called broadly as "isorhythm."

It would be naive to suggest that 14th century Frenchmen visited India and returned with the ideas of raga and tala (and, at any rate, their music can be extremely complicated in its own way, by way of counterpoint and simultaneous texts), but what can perhaps be suggested is that basic ideas on melodic and rhythmic patterns are natural to the human mind. In the West, these more elaborate melodies and rhythms were progressively abandoned from one century to the next, to the point where Mozart writes such easy phrases in simple rhythms, concentrating instead on movement from one chord to the next. So while we may have had our Purandaradasa in the person of Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474), to continue the analogy, it would be as if our Thyagaraja wrote for Balinese gamelan. The different generations can barely recognize one another.

In Carnatic music, I find first an outlet for my own desire for elaborations on songs per se, in structure as well as melodic and rhythmic ideas. In what tradition can the songs be said to be so perfect, both in their grandeur and in their succinctness? There can be no comparison, especially in the directness of the expression and the range of melodic material available. One can find one or the other in many places, whether a simple and beautiful song, or an impressive intellectual construction based on a nonsense phrase or no words at all. Carnatic music accommodates both of these ideals, and does so to magnificent effect. A song can be performed simply and in all humility, or with the grandest elaboration retaining the core of both meaning and melody.

Of course the meaning of the lyrics revolves around acts of religious devotion. One can rightly ask both concerning the relevance of devotion in our modern age of technology and selfishness, as well as the ability of a Westerner to apprehend and appreciate it. Indeed, it would be presumptuous of me to suggest that I fully understand the songs of the Trinity. I understand parts of them, sometimes after they are explained to me. Nonetheless, I identify with them somehow. The ideas find a personal resonance, not least of which because they are expressed with such musical grace. The sophistication of allusion requires some cross-cultural explanation, but the core idea of devotion meets with receptive listeners elsewhere.

There is a very real sense in which the kritis speak to me, both in word and in music. They express the power in the world beyond petty human concerns, something which music is so ideally suited to express. In the West, Dufay was no "dasa" and so while he was nominally an official of the Catholic Church, his influence on our history was more cosmopolitan. There is less emphasis on devotion, and more on political events or more ordinary topics. This sequence is also seen as part of the "modernization" of the West, and of course it was also the background to the new age of political conquest. This is the divergence which perhaps most strongly conditions the reception which Carnatic music meets in the West. While the nonsense phrases or abstract instrumental gats of Hindustani music find an audience in the meditative Westerner, the unveiled potency of expression in Thyagaraja insists that the listener confront his own ideas on his place in the world.

Today devotion is an uncomfortable topic for many, and the same can be said for classical aesthetics. The complementary ideas that a particular melodic phrase can invoke a specific human emotional response and that the effectiveness of music can be reliably ascertained are certainly unpopular now. In many ways, this is an outgrowth of the same multiculturalism which allows me to attend Carnatic concerts, but it is also part of the rise of democracy as an intellectual ideal as well as a political system. At least in the US, we are supposedly equal, and the same should be said for our taste in music. For a professional musician, the idea is somewhat insulting, because how can the ignorant know of what they judge? They cannot, but we are forced to acknowledge them to make a living, if for no other reason.

Carnatic music is at a crossroads on the issue of aesthetic diversity, especially as its international reputation increases. It is already true that some of the most successful performers in worldly terms are able to make a living by touring the West, and not by representing Carnatic music in its most pure form. Of course there is a very real sense in which an art form must develop and adjust in order to make the same impact on its audience, and Carnatic music knows this fact better than most. It has incorporated the Western violin, and moved to a modern concert setting, complete with amplification. Instrumental innovations continue with the amplified veena and mandolin, as well as the Western saxophone and clarinet. Carnatic music has easily maintained its own identity, not least of which because it is a reservoir of musical ideas and expressions, not specific combinations of sonorities.

An incredible sense of resiliency has characterized Carnatic music since the 19th century, and so one can hardly doubt that it will continue to find that strength today and in the future. However, in a world which presently finds so little use not only for "bhakti rasa" but for the idea that the concept is even meaningful, in what direction will this resiliency take it? I am certainly not qualified to indulge in much speculation, but the answer is an important one to any Carnatic rasika. There is a tremendous wealth of melodic and rhythmic material available, as well as a large body of knowledgeable virtuoso performers, and so treated as raw material, there is no doubt they will prosper. There is a question of what the unifying thread will be, and so one can ask for instance "Do the ragas make Carnatic music?"

There is some controversy as to what exactly makes a raga. If it is a sequence of swaras only, then one can make the same "raga" sound not much like Carnatic music by playing it without gamakas and in unusual tempo and phrasing. This is the position of some Indians, as well as that of many Western composers who use the ragas as raw material. Not so long ago, a Western composer who wanted to use a raga as a melody after reading it in a book had probably never heard it. Although the suggestion may seem absurd, it is both true, and central to such issues as the performance of Western medieval music. Indeed the latter has essentially been resurrected based on writing alone, after a span of several centuries. Can we imagine how different it must sound?

For the phenomenon of resurrection in Carnatic music, one needs to look no farther than the gold engravings of Anamacharya. Do we know how these kirtanas would have sounded? In some cases, as with the kirtanas of Purandaradasa (which are of similar age, but never actually lost), we know the ragas have changed. Nonetheless, this music is performed with confidence, derived primarily from the manner in which similar music is performed and the knowledge that it has been passed down in this way from generation to generation. In other words, there is a continuous tradition of performing Purandaradasa, and so it is natural to perform the rediscovered songs of Anamacharya in the same manner. There is no question but that various changes have occurred, whether in the ragas in which Purandaradasa is performed, in the ragas as named by Mutthuswamy Dikshitar or others, or even in talas as given by Shyama Sastri. This is not generally seen as a problem, or even as an intellectual issue.

Changes in raga or tala designation are regarded as a natural part of the evolution of Carnatic music, whether as clarifications of structural concepts or as simple improvements to the fit between words and music. There may or may not be a danger to the idea of evolution in music, but from a purely scholarly perspective, there is an inherent interest in knowing how something was done at an earlier time in history. Some of these details are recoverable in Carnatic music, but there is consequently an implied question regarding the guru-shishya system and its ability to reproduce music exactly. Already many prominent performers will train with multiple teachers from different lineages and that is a clear indication that no style will be preserved exactly. In the past, the same must have been said for those artistes sophisticated enough to forge their own new style.

It would certainly be pointless to suggest that the talented musician of today should not develop his or her own gifts and ideas or that the opportunity to travel and study on friendly terms with many prominent teachers should not be taken. It is a philosophical truth that isolation undertaken as a choice is not the same as that enforced by circumstances, and so there is not even the possibility of a return to other methods. What I am suggesting is that we will see a natural bifurcation between the continuing development of "mainstream" Carnatic music and an increasing number of scholar-performers who will recreate historical and regional styles. Given the ubiquity of the Western university tenure system, one cannot underestimate the motivation provided by mandatory publication and thesis in developing these ideas, for better or worse.

Dynamic and invigorating interaction between tradition and innovation has been a hallmark of Carnatic music, and even an increased polarization between the two does not need to damage the overall balance. If anything, it will broaden the scope of performance opportunities and the range of available ideas. It is precisely the dual richness of a long-standing tradition together with ample opportunities for modern virtuoso treatments which serve to place Carnatic music among the world's greatest musical styles. As the divergence increases, as long as one aspect keeps respectful sight of the other, the available scope for interaction increases as well. An analogy may be drawn between the manifest and unmanifest instantiations of Brahma, and indeed I view the duality between tradition and innovation in a similar way, dependent on each other. After all, a stagnant tradition is not true to its origins either, because its origins are in the crucible of creativity.

The success of music is ultimately in the mind of the listener, and specifically in the physical and emotional changes which can be provoked. It is a simple fact that Carnatic music has only a positive effect in this way, while the same cannot be said for various forms of popular music. Both the ability of music to build and release tension, as well as its potential to unlock latent energies in the mind are respected and developed. When discussing lofty ideas with people, there are often various mental blocks which must be overcome, and knowing the way around them gracefully is a large part of the art of teaching. With its rich variety of ragas, Carnatic music provides a nearly limitless array of melodic patterns which can be used to effect this navigation under a variety of circumstances. Together with a system for organizing them, these melodies make it possible to clear the mind of obstacles. It is no coincidence that the kucheri traditionally begins with a song on Ganesha, and the same concept may be extended to include the audience's apprehension in general.

To return decisively to the opening question, I value Carnatic music first for the effectiveness with which it can build positive mental discipline. It helps me to focus and organize my thoughts, and it helps to eliminate negative mental habits. How does it do this? Of course, I do not really know. However, I do claim that music naturally illustrates patterns of thought, and in the case of the great composers of Carnatic music, these mental patterns have been effectively conveyed at the highest level. I am personally attracted to Mutthuswamy Dikshitar more than the others. One challenge for Carnatic music is to continue to meet the demands of modern times, especially as the basis for communication with the audience changes. Modern composers have continued admirably in this regard, although the pace of change for the younger audience will be much faster, and the act of composition may need to adapt accordingly.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Nonesuch Explorer Series

Jonathan Curiel
San Francisco Chronicle

How do groups like the Grateful Dead come up with their songs? Sometimes it's as simple as listening to music from other cultures. "I Bid You Goodnight, " one of the Dead's more popular numbers, first came out in the late 1960s on an album called "The Real Bahamas," which Jerry Garcia heard and loved.

"The song became a rock hit out of that record," says Peter K. Siegel, who recorded the Pinder Family performing "I Bid You Goodnight" for Nonesuch Records in 1965. "There are all sorts of musicians who will tell you they learned this and that from the Nonesuch series. Various minimalist composers have credited the series with inspiration."

The series to which Siegel refers, Nonesuch's Explorer Series, was a landmark project that highlighted ethnic music from around the world, including the Caribbean, Africa, East Asia and Central Asia (especially Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran). Almost 100 recordings were made and released on Nonesuch from 1967 to 1984, so it's news that Nonesuch is rereleasing the whole series on CD, starting this week with a package of titles from Africa that covers the continent from east to west.

This is world music before there was a marketing label for it and before Western producers saw it as a potential gold mine that could be re-created and mixed in big studios. Siegel (who recorded "I Bid You Goodnight" with musician Jody Stecher), ethnomusicologist Paul Berliner and others associated with the Nonesuch series were in it for the purity of the music. They recorded the songs in remote villages and crowded cities for posterity, not as a means to make money.

That doesn't mean they were trusted initially by some of those they recorded. When Berliner lived in Zimbabwe in 1971, he was one of the few white Americans residing in a southern African country that was experiencing ethnic strife and a groundswell of anti-colonial sentiment. Berliner was then a graduate student studying the mbira, a thumb piano that is played by the Shona people, who have lived in the region for more than 1,000 years.

"I thought it was so important to document and preserve the music," says Berliner, who teaches at Northwestern University and was a research fellow at Stanford. "There was very little known about the mbira in the United States. It was largely treated as a toy instrument."

Not anymore, thanks partly to Berliner's "Shona Mbira Music" and "The Soul of Mbira: Traditions of the Shona People," which Nonesuch originally released in the 1970s and is among the rereleased CDs. Today, there is an annual Zimbabwe music festival in the United States (the location changes every year) that features mbira musicians. And Zimbabwe's best-known voice, Thomas Mapfumo, whose albums always include mbira playing, lives in Oregon and regularly tours the country.

"People in the West now understand Zimbabwean music much better," says Cosmas Magaya, a mbira player from Zimbabwe who performs on some of the Nonesuch recordings. "Thirty years ago, we had not been recorded, especially by someone like Paul. He was the first white man to record me and my group. Our first thought (when we saw him) was that he wanted to get our music like the colonizers. There was some suspicion.

"He said he wanted to get to know the language and the music, so we started teaching him. In a way, we were testing him to see if he was genuine."

Magaya and Berliner eventually became good friends. At his home in Durham, N.C., Berliner keeps photos of a recording he made with Magaya and musician Simon Mashoko in Harare in 1971. One image shows the heavy recording equipment that Berliner carried with him to Africa and hid under his bed until he gained the trust of Magaya and others.

"It was about 25 pounds," says Berliner. "My right arm got an inch longer from lugging it around. It took a portable battery to run it -- like a car battery."

Like Berliner, Stephen Jay recorded two Nonesuch albums during a period of study in Africa. Now a Los Angeles-area musician, Jay lived in Ghana in the mid-1970s.

"I studied with John Cage at the University of South Florida -- it was a great period, where lots of (musical) barriers were being broken down," says Jay. "After graduating, I wanted to live in a place where there was less conceptualization about the music -- where the music was simpler."

The music on the Nonesuch series may seem simpler compared to new studio- produced works from Africa and around the world, but appearances can be deceiving. This is music with intricate patterns and rhythms, and a history that stretches back for generations. Nonesuch is taking three years to release all the CDs, making sure each region gets the public attention they deserve.

"It's being released at the right time," Magaya says. "The fact is, this is really authentic music."

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Dead Can Dance

Dead Can Dance Video - The Host Of Seraphim

Cultural Migration - Pathfinder Science

Migration of people and ideas fostered all kinds of creativity as cultures adapted to each other and people learned new ways of doing things. Examples of the exchange of useful ideas learned from such cultural exchange are: colonists learning new agricultural techniques from American Indians, and African-American slaves creating the Gullah language to communicate with each other across language barriers.

Yet it is important to remember that migration could cause remarkable disruption, for migrants and for the people who encountered a new culture in their community. Imagine the mixed feelings a "picture bride" might have about traveling across the ocean to marry. The collected diaries of 19th-century American women who traveled west reveal their deep connections to the homes they left behind; many even brought along seeds to plant familiar flowers in their new residence.

More here

Monday, February 5, 2007


Ron Fricke - Director / Screenwriter / Editor / Cinematographer
Michael Stearns - Producer / Composer (Music Score)
Dead Can Dance - Composer (Music Score)
L. Subramaniam - Composer (Music Score)
Mark Magidson - Editor / Producer / Screenwriter

Does Baraka represent "world" music culture? Or just a high resolution version of it? It is an incredibly filmed piece.

Baraka uses ancient musics and both high res traditional and modern images to connect the "world" image.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sheila Chandra

Hindi Irish Folk Devotionals

There are Irish Folk Song structures in her songs, interesting to note.

As a teenager she formed the band Monsoon, and created a fusion of Western Synthpop and Indian pop styles. She married Steve Coe, who became the band's producer, and along with Martin Smith, the band evolved into this talented trio. They made a lone album Third Eye in 1982 from which they had a surprise hit single "Ever So Lonely". Monsoon recorded a varied selection of songs. Chandra and Monsoon covered The Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows in this period.)

However, resenting pressure from their record company over musical direction, Monsoon as a band dissolved and Coe and Smith set about promoting Chandra as a solo artist on an independent label. Chandra went on to release a number of albums in the 1980s, at times experimenting with her voice as an instrument through a range of techniques. In the 1990s she released three albums on Peter Gabriel's Real World label, although Martin Smith ceased to be actively involved.

Since 1992 she has shifted from the Indian-Western fusion of synthesizer-centered pop to styles that draw on British and Irish traditional singing traditions. Chandra is a much-respected performer on the world music scene and remains active into the 21st Century.



With Monsoon:
Third Eye (1982)
Out on My Own (1984)
Quiet (1984)
Nada Brahma (1985)
The Struggle (1985)
Roots and Wings (1990)
Weaving My Ancestors' Voices (1992)
The Zen Kiss (1994)
ABoneCroneDrone (1996)
Moonsung: A Real World Retrospective (1999)
This Sentence Is True (The Previous Sentence Is False) (2001)
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers soundtrack (2002)
The Indipop Retrospective (2003)
"Ever So Lonely" (1982)
"Shakti (The Meaning of Within)" (1982)
"Tomorrow Never Knows" (1982)
"Wings of the Dawn" (1983)
"Ever So Lonely" (Remix by Ben Chapman) (1990)
"Breath of Life" in The Two Towers (2003)

Vieux Farka Toure

His father rest in peace.

The Last Emperor

The Last Emperor
Composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne, and Cong Su


Golden Globes: Best Original Score 1987
Oscars: Best Music, Original Score 1987

Composed by Ryuichi Sakamoto
First Coronation (1:46)
Open the Door (2:54)
Where is Armo? (2:26)
Picking Up Brides (2:39)
The Last Emperor - Theme Variation 1 (2:19)
Rain (I Want a Divorce) (1:49)
The Baby (was born dead) (0:55)
The Last Emperor - Theme Variation 2 (4:28)
The Last Emperor - Theme (5:54)

Composed by David Byrne
Main Title Theme (The Last Emperor) (4:01)
Picking a Bride (2:00)
Bed (5:00)
Wind, Rain and Water (2:18)

Composed by Cong Su
Paper Emperor (1:47)

Born 1957 in Tianjin, China, Cong Su studied at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, then in Germany. He has lectured on music theory, music analysis, film music and ballet music at the Musikhochschule in Munich. Since 1991 he is professor of film and media composition at the newly founded State Film Academy in the Stuttgart area.

Source Music
Lunch (4:54)
Performed by the Red Guard Accordion Band
Red Guard (1:20)
Performed by the Ball Orchestra of Vienna
The Emperor's Waltz (3:06)
The Girls Red Guard Dancers
The Red Guard Dance (0:39)

Total Time ~ 50:24

Monday, January 29, 2007

World Nature?

by Scott Camazine

New ways of looking at the world help explain the development of complex and beautiful patterns in nature

A hike in the woods or a walk along the beach reveal an endless variety of forms. Nature abounds in spectral colors and intricate shapes — the rainbow mosaic of a butterfly's wing, the delicate curlicue of a grape tendril, the undulating ripples of a desert dune. But these miraculous creations not only delight the imagination, they also challenge our understanding. How do these patterns develop? What sorts of rules and guidelines shape the patterns in the world around us?

Some patterns are molded with a strict regularity. At least superficially, the origin of regular patterns often seems easy to explain. Thousands of times over, the cells of a honeycomb repeat their hexagonal symmetry. The honeybee is a skilled and tireless artisan with an innate ability to measure the width and to gauge the thickness of the honeycomb it builds. Although the workings of an insect's mind may baffle biologists, the regularity of the honeycomb attests to the honey bee's remarkable architectural abilities.

Although some of nature's artistry is no longer a mystery, other patterns are more subtle and perplexing. They may possess a mathematical regularity, but that does not help explain how they form. Consider the Fibonacci sequence, named after the medieval Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci. Begin with 0 and 1. To obtain each succeeding number in the series, simply take the sum of the previous two numbers. The result is 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89,....and so on. The sequence seems to be nothing more than the idle doodling of a mathematician in a daydream. Yet for reasons not fully known, nature has incorporated Fibonacci's sequence into many of her botanical blueprints. Look at a daisy and notice the pattern of the florets. They are arranged as two sets of logarithmic spirals, intertwined. Each floret belongs to both a right-handed and a left-handed spiral. Now, carefully count the number of clockwise and counter-clockwise spirals and you will find that they are consecutive Fibonacci numbers. Though scientific controversies still exist over why such a scheme is found in daisies, pine cones, pineapples and other whorling botanical structures, their artistic beauty remains unquestioned.

Simple computer models yield elegant patterns

Next consider seashells, so often decorated with bold patterns of stripes and dots. Biologists seldom gave much thought to how these mollusks create the beautiful designs that decorate their calcified homes. Perhaps they simply assumed that the patterns were precisely specified in the genetic blueprint contained in the mollusk's DNA. But some years ago, scientists, skilled in both biology and computer science, began to look at pattern formation in an exciting new way. One of the first things they realized was that two individuals of the same species were similar, but not identical. Like the fingerprints on one's hand, they are alike yet not alike. This simple observation led them to hypothesize that the patterns on shells, the stripes on a zebra, and the ridges on our fingertips are not rigidly predetermined by the genetic information inside the cell's nucleus. Organisms are not built as a house is built, by meticulously following an architect's plans.

Instead, genes appear to take a more generalized approach, specifying sets of basic rules whose implementation results in organized form and pattern. Tackling the problem of how markings develop on shells, these scientists proposed a few simple rules for how pigment precursors in cells might diffuse along the snail's mantle at the growing edge of the shell. Then, by repetitively implementing these simple rules in a series of computer simulations, they "created" shell patterns with a startling similarity to real shells. These scientists readily admit that this similarity does not prove that shell patterns develop in the manner they hypothesize, but it does suggest that simple mechanisms could account for some of the complex and varied patterns observed in nature.

Over the years, these same ideas have been applied to many questions in developmental biology concerning how structures become organized. One of the greatest biological mysteries yet to be solved is how a single egg --— apparently devoid of structure — becomes a child. The human cell does not contain enough information to specify the location and connections of every neuron in the brain. Therefore, much of the body's organization must arise by means of more simple developmental rules. In nature many systems display extreme complexity, yet their fundamental components may be rather simple. The brain is an organ of unfathomable complexity, but an isolated neuron cannot think. Complexity results from interactions between large numbers of simpler components. With the advent of powerful computers, mathematicians, chemists, physicists, biologists and even high school computer hackers began to discover how simple interactions between large numbers of subunits could yield intricate and beautiful patterns. Suddenly people were studying all sorts of phenomena both mundane and bizarre — piles of sand, dripping water faucets, slime molds, leopard's spots, forest fires, flocking birds and visual hallucinations. Though these various phenomena have little in common, they are all fertile subject matter for those who study nature's complexity. And this emerging field has given us a new vocabulary including such terms as chaos, fractals and strange attractors.

Some patterns self-organize

The study of complexity provides new insights into how patterns develop in nature. One exciting finding is that order often arises spontaneously from disorder; patterns can emerge through a process of self-organization. One of the best ways to visualize how patterns self-organize is to employ simple computer programs that simulate a natural process. One such category of computer programs are called cellular automata. They are simulations played on the equivalent of a computer checkerboard. In the simplest version, one starts with a single row of cells. In the example above, concerning shells, each square of the checkerboard represents a hypothetical cell along the edge of the snail's mantle. The cell could either produce a color pigment, or none at all. The future state of the cell (whether it produces pigment or not) is determined by the cell's present state and the state of its nearest neighbor cells on either side. One rule for pigment production might be as simple as this: if the cell currently produces pigment and at least one of its adjoining neighbor cells produces pigment, then the cell will continue to produce pigment in the future. The state of the cells changes over time and each row of the checkerboard displays the next step in the process, just as the growing shell displays its developmental history. What is remarkable is that even if one starts out with a completely random array of cells at the beginning, a remarkably organized pattern emerges — order arises from disorder. More complicated cellular automata models have been developed to explain the stripes on zebras, the mottled patterns on fish, the growth of snowflakes, and even clustering of neurons in the brain.

Fractal patterns in nature

Of course, not all patterns in nature are regular. Billowy clouds, flickering flames, lightning bolts, the pattern of veins on a leaf, the architecture of the lung's passageways — these are examples of patterns without obvious regularity. But looks can be deceiving. Many irregular patterns are not simply random. They often display an underlying structure, a kind of regular irregularity that can be mathematically described. Such objects have been called fractals, a term coined by Benoit B. Mandelbrot of IBM's Watson research center meaning broken or fragmented. Fractals are intricate structures that continue to show rich detail no matter how closely one zooms in for a look. England's meandering coastline looks wiggly whether viewed from a plane, while walking along the coast, or up close with a magnifying glass. In contrast, think of a circle. When smaller and smaller portions of a circle are magnified, the segments become straighter and straighter. At higher magnifications, the circle loses detail. But fractals keep on going, repeating similar intricate patterns at many different scales of magnification.

Investigators began to wonder how these fractals form. Two scientists, Thomas A. Witten III and Leonard M. Sander have proposed a very simple mechanism for certain fractal forms. They call the process diffusion-limited aggregation. Imagine sticky particles coming into contact with each other and aggregating to form a cluster. Start with one particle in the center and release another sticky particle which randomly diffuses inward. When the particle finds the one in the center it sticks and stays put. Now repeat the process over and over, thousands of times. A meandering, tenuous cluster will grow. It will be a fractal. With such simple growth rules, these fractals are easy to create on a personal computer, and they resemble examples in nature such as the buildup of soot in a chimney, the path of a lightning bolt as it tears through the sky, or the sprawling radial growth of lichen on the surface of a stone.


Whether regular or irregular, patterns in nature have always delighted naturalists, photographers, and artists. And for those with an inquisitive mind — not content merely to gaze in wonder — nature's complex patterns provide the added attraction of mystery surrounding artistry.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

African Influence in Modern Dance

(and everything else in music)

Barbara Glass.
"Introduction, The Africanization of American Movement"
When the Spirit Moves You

African Movement Vocabulary.
African dance moves all parts of the body, in contrast to many European forms that rely mostly on arm and leg movement. Angular bending of arms, legs and torso; shoulder and hip movement; scuffing, stamping, and hopping steps; asummetrical use of the body; and fluid movement are all part of African dance.

Orientation Toward the Earth.
The African dancer often bends slightly toward the earth and flattens the feet against it in a wide, solid stance. Compare this to traditional European ballet's upright posture, with arms lifted upward and feet raised up onto the toes.

Within the patterns and traditions of age-old dance forms, an African felt free to be creative. A dancer could make an individual statement or give a new interpretation to a familiar gesture.

Circle and Line Formations.
Many African dances are performed by lines or circles of dancers. Traditional European dance also incorporated lines and circles, and this commonality may have been important in dance exchange.

Importance of the Community.
Africans danced mainly with and for the community. Solo performers were supported and affirmed by the group through singing, hand clapping, and shouted encouragement.

African music included several rhythms at the same time, and Africans often danced to more than one beat at once. Dancers could move their shoulders to one beat, hips to another, and knees to another. This rhythmic complexity, with basic ground beat and counterbeats played against it, formed the basis for later music such as ragtime, jazz, and rock'n'roll.

In much of Africa, percussion often dominates music and in many cases the drum is the leading instrument. In America, enslaved African created a broad range of percussive instruments. Hand clapping, foot tapping, and body patting were also important percussive sounds.

Pantomine. Many African dances reflect the motions of life. Dance movement may imitate animal behavior like the flight of the egret, enact human tasks like pounding rice, or express the power of spirits in whirling and strong forward steps.

Something in the Hand.
African ritual dance makes use of special objects, including masks and costumes. In this country, African Americans continued to use sticks or staffs, cloth, and other objects in dance. Handkerchiefs, canes, and top hats became part of the dance, as did other objects in stage routines.

Competitive Dance. 
Competing through dance is a widespread custom in West and Central Africa. In America, this tradition continued in "cutting" contests, challenge dances, Cakewalk contests, Break Dance rivalries, Jitterbug competitions, Step Dance shows, and other events.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Step Dancing

A step is a collection of rhythms made by using the hands and feet, and occasionally props. Responding to chants or calls, a team stomps their feet or claps hands to a base beat along with moving into different formations.

Step dancing has a rich history.
Stepping has its beginnings in the early African American slave community as a means of communication and keeping hold of traditional aspects of their denied culture. It served mainly as a link back to African tribal dance, which in many areas was prohibited. Call-and-response folk songs helped the slaves to survive culturally and to spread word about important matters, such as the Underground Railroad. Several generations later, Black World War II veterans added in a military march theme to the sounds, while Motown grooves and Hip-Hop energy added more entertainment and increased the appeal of the art form.

In the late 1960s, historically Black fraternities and sororities began embracing stepping at college campuses. Previously using step shows as a rite of passage for pledges, the Black Greek letter system has a strong role in the college step scene. There are often specific steps to each chapter and sometimes the groups playfully mock each other's styles during competitions and benefits - originally derived from the African Welly boot dance.

Stepping always involves clapping and stomping, sometimes done at the same time. There are many well known stepping dances such as the James Brown, Stomp The Yard, and most commonly, The Tok.
Stepping has been popularized by National Pan-Hellenic Council member organizations who perform at local and national competitions. It is featured in films and shows such as School Daze (1988) Drumline (2002) Stomp the Yard (2007) and the TV series A Different World.