Chinese music: from folk to fowl
By MARTY ROSEN
Toward the end of their already impressive World Rhythms concert last night at the Bomhard Theater, the Chinese musical duo Spirit of Nature (representatives of an ensemble that number six members) stepped beyond the normal, formal bounds of “music” into that raw aural region where instrumental sound and nature sound become one and the same.
The piece called “Birds Among Tree Shadows,” found Gao Hong playing a starkly simple ostinato pattern on her pipa (a four-stringed, pear-shape lute) while Chen Tao created a densely raucous choir of caws, squawks, whirs and chips on his dizi (a transverse bamboo flute). It was an extraordinary anything that could reasonably be called “technique,” and filled with enough satiric humor to elicit laughs.
By that time, both players had already demonstrated command of a wide range of Chinese folk and courtly of Chinese musical style and its richly pictorial nature. Gao, playing with plectra on the fingers of her right hand, performed a festive pipa solo called “Dragon Boat” that summoned up the riffle of water, the clang of bells and the hoots of massed revelry. Later in a piece called “Dance of the Yi Minority people,” she bent notes like a blues guitarist, gracing the predominantly pentatonic scales, eerie microtonal bends and quivers. Her original composition “Flying Dragon” culminated with a gentle, sad upward scrape on the strings.
In addition to the dizi, Chen employed the xiao and end-blown bamboo flute, and the bawu, a reeded transverse flute that had the rasp of an oboe. For “Melody of Chu” he took up the xun, a clay vessel flute that existed as long as 7,000 years ago, and performed by soft, high-pitched hoots that might have been owls in the night.
When the two played together, they often began with relaxed unison lines that yielded to staggered entrances, call-and-response interplay and supple countermelodies; invariably, mellow opening passages yielded to sprightly, sometimes torrid passages.