reprinted by kind permission of the World Music Journal 1.3.1969
In 1952, the eminent musicologist and composer Dr Johannes Rosenberg arrived in the Central Ranges of Papua New Guinea. He was hoping to make first contact' with the Payawipaya people which, from an earlier expedition, he knew must live somewhere in the region north of Telefomin. His trip was being financed by the CSIRO of the Australian Government, San Diego University (where he lectured in Musicology and Atomic Physics) and Shell Oil.
For the last sponsor, this joint venture represented the beginning of a long commitment to Process Anthropology by which primitive music cultures would be documented and recorded, before sending in the bulldozers to make way for the oil bonanza.
Unfortunately for him, Rosenberg closed his eyes to the political ramifications of his backers. Later his international reputation as a champion of Ethnoviolinology would suffer, especially after the Australian Government's total betrayal of East Timor in the 1970s. But to return to our story.
After two months of fruitless searching , Rosenberg's team stumbled by chance on the music of the Payawipaya. They were putting up the tent for camp at around seven o'clock in the evening, when he heard it. Penetrating through thick highland jungle came the awesome sound of a number of violin-like instruments. This was it - what he had waited for and dreamt about - a first contact with a pure, authentic, untouched ancient music culture. After about ten minutes the music stopped - Rosenberg knew what he had to do. Quickly he opened the case and took up his violin; he played a set of sequences from one of his own non-diatonic compositions. To his delight and the spontaneous applause of the whole team, the musical handshake was answered by a few phrases from the Payawipaya. Meanwhile a mist was forming. The polite interchange continued for sometime; then suddenly, they were there, right at the edge of the camp, at the edge of the 20th Century, their huge eyes staring up with disbelief at the Australian musicologists. The disbelief was mutual as the white men realised that the music of the Payawipaya was played on regular, western style violins - well in basic shape at least.
But that was where the similarity ceased. Altogether the Payawipaya seemed to utilise some seven violins, a viola and two celli for their music. The instruments were covered in elaborate carvings and paintings depicting fertility rites and eating ceremonies. Extra decoration through pink, white and red sea shells appeared perfunctory, as did the numerous organic ribbons tied to the neck of each instrument.
TO THE NORTH OF SYDNEY, BEYOND THE SUBURBS BUT STILL LADEN WITH THE SAME ATMOSPHERES, LIES THE ISLAND OF DOG HEAD. HERE, SLEEP IS NO LONGER THE PURVEYOR OF PSYCHIC MAINTENANCE, AND THE TWO HUNDRED RESIDENTS DRIFT IN A STATE OF DREAD AND ANXIETY. AN AORISTIC CLOUD HOVERS. THE PEOPLE HAVE STOPPED TALKING, AS IF BY EVEN PASSING THE TIME OF DAY, ONE COULD BE BETWEEN THE DIVINE AND THE DIABOLICAL. SURELY TO BE SO MEDIEVAL ONE WOULD FIRST HAVE TO BELIEVE IN A GOD -NOBODY, IN THIS HOLIDAY CAMP OF AN EXISTENCE, DID THAT. WHAT WAS GOING ON HERE WAS BEYOND MYSTERY, CHARM OR FEATURISM; THIS WAS BEYOND ANY KIND OF MEASURABLE MOTIVE.
None of the violins had retained their tail pieces or original finger boards. All the strings were stretched from the scroll to the nut at the base of the belly. Each instrument utilised three or just two strings. The strings were made out of a twine similar to jute and could withstand quite high tension (almost up to A440). In the case of the three string instruments, the third and lowest string always had a huge knot tied in it - producing extraordinary multiphonic sounds, like a ring modulator that one could find in a modern electronic music studio. The basic tuning for the open strings were the first, forth, and fifth notes of the pentatonic scale. However, it has to be said that two of the violins had strings from which no specific pitch sounded. These seemed to fulfil the function of random tone generators or textual devices. The spare peg holes in the neck were used to hold the side pins of long support rods, thus enabling the violins to be connected quite firmly to ground while in performance.
The Payawipaya people used a variety of different bows with their violins - depending on the group function of the individual instrument. For example, in melodic mode, the musician tended to use the western bow fitted with strips from huge tropical climbing plants. Others used bamboo, smooth and resined, or inlaid the entire length with little cuts (similar to the stick with which Paganini played the violin concerto of the (horrified) Valdabrini). Some bows were almost semi-circular and fitted with one piece of twine - these were used in a lateral motion to provide texture and rhythm. Sometimes the celli were played with large, hollow pieces of bamboo col legno , producing feverish rhythms. The musicians showed incredible skill with these spiccato strokes, often linking to alternate rhythmic groups of three, five and seven at amazing speeds. Rosenberg perceived in this music an integration of rhythm, pitch and texture within one action, at a level of instrumental sophistication not previously encountered in his professional experience.
Other bows still appeared to retain the original hunting functions. On a number of occasions, Rosenberg witnessed violinists in mid solo, with lightening speed, simultaneously throw down the violin and load the bow with an environmentally friendly arrow.
This would then be discharged at an unsuspecting member of the audience who, it was assumed, was not concentrating enough on the music.
The mechanism of improvisation skills achieved by the Payawipaya led to a new appraisal of what was possible within an improvisational process. The automaticity of their responses showed that perceptual coding of incoming data, their response choice, and the timing of that response were running concurrently to kinesthetic reaction times of 110 to 130 msec.
What did register with Rosenberg, as previously experienced, was the linear structure of some of the rhythmic patterns. These were identical to some he had witnessed at an Aboriginal Corroboree near Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia. This connection, Rosenberg later postulated, could well have been over 40,000 years old, before the Aborigines arrived in Australia!
And what about the bridge, the heart of these violins? The original bridges were clearly long gone and anyway, would have been too fragile for some of the more extrovert bowing techniques of the Payawipaya. Each instrument had been fitted with a bone - actually the nose bones from wild pigs. The Doctor was told that nose bones, in general, had the best resonance potential of all bone and were far superior to bridges made from wood, horn or clay.
AND SO IT SEEMS WE ARE NOW IN POST HISTORY WHEN ALL THAT WAS AVAILABLE IS STILL AVAILABLE - ONLY MORE SO. AND AS THE DIFFERENT TIMES ZONES COLLIDE, SO TOO DOES THE SYNCHRONICITY OF EVIL. ALL AVAILABLE, ONLY MORE SO. AND WHO ON THE ISLAND WOULD HAVE THE CORRECT TECHNIQUES, KNOWLEDGE, DESIRES, TO CONJURE UP THAT EVIL AND PUT IT TO WORK?
And the sound posts in these astonishing instruments? Or should one say, the very soul of this music? Rosenberg found not one of the original sound posts remaining: they had all been replaced with bamboo, giving a somewhat louder and strident sound.
DR JAMES FRANKLIN, SOME SUGGEST, IS NOT A REAL DOCTOR AT ALL. HE BECAME AND IS STILL KNOWN FOR HIS EXPEDITIONS TO THE ANTARCTIC. ONE YEAR AGO, HE HAD BEEN ASKED TO ATTEND A DO-IT-YOURSELF MAN WHO HAD FALLEN THROUGH A SKYLIGHT, CUTTING HIS LEG TO THE BONE - AWFUL MESS. THE DOCTOR CAME, HE SAW, AND HE ALMOST PASSED OUT AT THE SIGHT OF ALL THE BLOOD. HE SAID SOMETHING ABOUT NOT FEELING WELL THAT DAY AND LEFT. THE SECRET WAS OUT ALL OVER THE ISLAND, THE LARGER-THAN-LIFE EXPLORER WAS NOT ALL THAT HE SEEMED TO BE. THEN HE DISAPPEARED. THE RESIDENTS OF DOG ISLAND ARE WAITING HIS RETURN.
THEN THERE IS JOHN READ. HIS WIFE LEFT HIM A FEW WEEKS AGO AFTER HE WENT CRAZY OVER ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER. HE ACCIDENTALLY DROPPED HIS CHINESE TAKE-AWAY IN THE WATER WHILE TRYING TO GET INTO HIS BOAT, MOORED TO THE PUBLIC JETTY. HE HAD RETURNED AN HOUR LATER WITH AN AXE AND HAD PROCEEDED TO HACK THE WHOLE STRUCTURE TO PIECES.
MOST NIGHTS, WHEN THE WIND IS DOWN, THE PRIVATE LIVES OF DOG HEAD CAN BE HEARD, BROADCAST THROUGH THE CLEAN COASTAL AIR, IT WAS THE AIR THAT ATTRACTED HARRISON, THE AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTALIST, TO THE ISLAND IN THE FIRST PLACE. THAT WAS WHEN HE HAD JUST SCOOPED UP A NEAT JOB AT THE AUSTRALIAN MUSEUM IN SYDNEY AND BEFORE JEFF HARRISON HAD STARTED TO GET ATTACKS OF DEEP DEPRESSION. THE ISLAND RESIDENTS WOULD HOLD THEIR BREATH, ONCE A WEEK, AS SCREAMS OF -'DADDY, DADDY, DON'T DO IT! PLEASE, DON'T DO IT!' WOULD CARRY ACROSS THE WATER TO THE MAINLAND, ALWAYS TO THE ACCOMPANIMENT OF A WAGNER OPERA PEAKING OUT ON HIS STEREO. JOHN READ WOULD BE HEARING THE SAME WAGNER AS HE SAT IN HIS 12 FOOT BOAT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RIVER. THEN THERE WOULD BE THE SOUND OF A SMASHED PLATE OR A CHAIR THROWN AGAINST ONE OF THE HOLLOW WOODEN WALLS OF HARRISON'S HOUSE. THEN SILENCE. JOHN READ'S BOAT WOULD STAY THERE, OUT IN MID STREAM, UNTIL THE NEXT DAY.
WHEN MORNING BREAKS ON DOG HEAD, JEANNY THE HAMSTER' IS ALREADY BUSY IN THE ISLAND SHOP (COME POST OFFICE) CLEANING AND MAKING READY FOR THE DAILY DELIVERIES FROM THE FIRST FERRY. IT ALWAYS COMES IN AT FIVE MINUTES BEFORE SIX. SHE WATCHES JACKO UNTIE HIS BOAT AND PUSH OFF FROM THE BEACH. HE ROWS SLOWLY OUT TO A RUSTING HULK OF A SHIP, MOORED HALF A MILE DOWN STREAM. JACKO RECKONS HE WAS THE FIRST HIPPY IN QUEENSLAND AND HE'LL SHOW YOU A SCAR ON HIS LEG WHERE A SHARK TOOK A NIBBLE. THEY THINK HE'S WEIRD AND THEY HIDE WHEN THEY SEE HIM COMING. THERE ARE A LOT OF STORIES ABOUT WHAT HE DOES ON THAT HULK OF A SHIP ALL DAY LONG. JACKO HARDLY WEARS ANY CLOTHES AND HIS TOOTHLESS GRIN PLACES HIM OUTSIDE THE TRIBE. HE WALKS ALONE ALWAYS, HE IS THE JEW, HE IS THE NIGGER. BUT IS HE THE MYSTERIUM INIQUITATIS? THE THING THAT CAN'T BE FIGURED OUT BY SCIENTIFIC METHOD? IS HE RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL THE PARANOIA ON THE ISLAND?
Rosenberg's discovery of the Paya tradition of music making is still influencing the way that musicologists view the beginning of world music. Paya music practice enforces the view that the development of polyphony was possible only through a sophisticated improvisation technique. The West had previously supported the composer in ivory tower idea as the energy behind historical achievement. Also, that instrumental procedures were always based on the tyranny of the vocal line . Clearly, Paya music springs from the central function and practical workings of the violin and not from some sort of song! For example: because the violin is supported by a stick (stuck in the ground), the left hand of the violinist is free to use an overhand' technique. This allows the whole hand (including thumb and wrist) to operate freely above the strings, giving rise to trills of more than two octaves. In these extreme movements, it is the thumb that plays the fundamental note. This idea is to do with the shape of the hand - something wholly removed from the business of singers or song form.
Radical proof that there is no linear, historical development in music comes, as well, for study of the Payawipaya. They consider the concept of applied improvisation (Baroque ornamentation procedures) as laughable and primitive. For them, the joy and exhilaration of technique, for technique's sake, is the beginning of musical understanding. Likewise, they consider the concept of structuring a solo to be an exercise in reduction to absurdity (like binary form or the standard Jazz' solo). Something for the novice, before they learn to really improvise!
JUNE IS AN ABORIGINAL WOMAN (WELL, HALF ABORIGINAL ANYWAYS) - AN EARLIER ALCOHOL PROBLEM HAS LEFT HER ON THE FRINGE OF SANITY. NOWADAYS SHE DOESN'T TOUCH THE STUFF. ALTHOUGH THE ORIGINAL INHABITANTS OF DOG HEAD WERE REMOVED OVER 150 YEARS AGO, JUNE'S GOT THE IDEA THAT HER FOLKS LIVED ON THE ISLAND AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY. JUNE WILL TALK TO EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING - I MEAN EVERYTHING - EVERY STONE, CLOUD, LIZARD, OR EMPTY BEER CAN SHE MEETS. IT'S A VERY LONG DAY FOR JUNIE.
I GOT ME'S AN IDENTITY CRISIS LIKE THEM WHITE FELLAS' SHE OFTEN SAYS WITH SYMPATHY. AND THE RESIDENTS DON'T MIND HER - A BIT CRACKED BUT THEY HAVE A GOOD CHUCKLE WHEN SHE DOES THAT DANCE.
Curiously an almost identical dance was discovered in 1952 in the Central Ranges of Papua New Guinea. Originally taken as evidence of a common cultural bond from the time when Australia was joined to its northern neighbours, it is now thought to be just a case of coincidence. June calls it her Me's Me Dance. In Papua it is called the Dance of the Violins or Hak Dak Bak .
Johannes Rosenberg was very systematic in his study of the Payawipaya and their improvised violin music. The original 98 page field document is available from the Rosenberg Foundation , Sydney. What I'm attempting with this article is just touch on the more relevant material in terms of Western 20th Century music. So the big question was - how did these violins end up in an almost impenetrable part of Papua New Guinea? In the third week of Rosenberg's stay in the Payawipayan village, The Pink Violin (as the Doctor was now called by the native musicians) asked the same question. His attention was directed to a dozen or so black balls suspended over the roof of the main meeting building or Etuliugiumamama as it is known. From a distance the balls looked like shrivelled oranges; it was only on closer examination he realised that they were, in fact, shrivelled human heads. Congratulating the Village Elder on the excellent condition of the heads, Rosenberg pressed for the full story.
They had once belonged to members of the Sydney Chamber Players , an evangelical music society (F. 1863), believed to have vanished while returning to Port Moresby from the North in 1891. The Elder went on to explain to the good Doctor that the Paya believed in the thorough utilisation of resources and a positive attitude to chance events - like the arrival of the evangelists. Their graphic end was faithfully described as 'being a contribution to the sustenance of the people' .
It seems appropriate at this stage to quote John Cage. Writing about indeterminacy in random music, he said:
In the case, however, of the performance of music the composition of which is indeterminate of its performance so that the action of the players is productive of a process, no harmonious fusion of head sounds is essential. A non-obstruction of the head is of the essence'.
What Cage thought he was discovering in the 1940s had been in practice since antiquity and been taken to its logical conclusion by the Payawipaya people in 1891 with the removal of the actual appendage.
Let's take a closer look at Rosenberg's documentation of a typical Paya performance. It might help to provide an understanding of this type of natural, aleatoric music, as opposed to the contrived randomness of compositions by Cage, Stockhausen or Dallapiccola. It may also help us to give a context to Free Jazz or even the recent developments in Europe going under the title Free Improvisation .
To start the performance, first one player and then another began playing. A third player seemed to change his mind and left the proceedings with a young lady of exquisite beauty - they disappeared into some bushes to the south of the village. There was no signal given or implied, each player just came in when he felt like it. Incredible. They also stopped without any sign from the Village Elder - just like that, to blow their nose or urinate in a nearby bush. An argument developed between one of the cello players and a member of the violin section and as they shouted at each other, the other players continued playing - totally oblivious to their bickering.
As the two celli pounded out three-against-four, or eleven-against-four rhythms, the top lines used short melodic phrases in a perpetual eight part piece of polyphony. Analysis with standard vertical or horizontal, western procedures simply can't deal with this level of complexity. It had the density of a Ligeti score but more luminous and played with a swing'. The physical contact that each performer showed towards his or her instrument seemed to be the hinge on which all the sound moved. All the doors swung independently, at their own vary tempi but with a knowing synchronicity. Empty corridors and spaces would suddenly appear through the open doors , than quickly spin out of sight. Sometimes members of the audience would shriek out - then begin to dance a series of very complicated steps - normally, but not exclusively, like a pair of door handles on each side of an imaginary door. Throughout the performance each door would shut itself for two or three longer periods to enable the musician to smoke some home made cigarettes. As one would think, it is exceedingly difficult to notate the music of the Payawipaya (who have no concept of doors), particularly when the arrows are exuberantly let off in one's direction. But -I have tried my best to note down this music for posterity. All the elements of twentieth century music after 1918 are present in a performance of this kind, the tone clusters of Xenakis, the counterpoint of Schoenberg, the dissonance of Bartok, the call and response of Ellington, the poly-rhythms of Stravinsky, the eclecticism of Berio, the unmemorability of Boulez, the numbing boredom of the minimalists, even the unbearable tones of
Hilter was a vegetarian. Remember that evil is not only brutal and elusive but also cynical. The trick is the placing of your prey in the subhuman class. We will all kill a funnel web spider or a bull ant, but a dog is different - that is too close to humanity. There is a need for separation and distance in the killer. But what sustains him? Is it possible to plug into some current of evil intent that is universal? Bertrand Russel wrote -'it is true that there is evil in all of us, but adding together even large numbers of individual evils does not explain an Auschwitz, let alone the destruction of the planet. Evil on this scale seems to be qualitatively as well as quantitatively different. It is no longer a personal but transpersonal evil, arising from some kind of collective unconscious.
It is possible that it is beyond the transpersonal and it is truly transcendent, an entity that would exist even if there were no human race to imagine if' (the book was found open on this page at the scene of the crimes.)
The 19th Century anarchist, Bakunin wrote -'the urge for destruction is also a creative urge'. (this book was also found open at the scene of the crimes.)
IN THE EARLY EVENING A YOUNG BOY NAMED JULIAN CLIMBS TO THE TOP OF DOG HEAD ISLAND. HE HAS READ IN A BOOK AT THE SCHOOL LIBRARY THAT THE ABORIGINAL NAME FOR THIS PLACE WAS GUMLIULU. IT MEANS IN THE SHAPE OF A DINGO'S HEAD. HE IS MAKING TOWARDS AN ABORGINAL SITE ON THE WEST SIDE OF THE ROCK TO WATCH THE SUN GO DOWN OVER THE SIDE OF THE RIVER. HE KNOWS THE WAY; HE'S BEEN HERE BEFORE.
HE SETTLES DOWN AT THE ENTRANCE TO THE CAVE - HARDLY A CAVE, MORE A LOW INDENTATION. IT WOULD BE ENOUGH TO SHELTER THREE OR FOUR PEOPLE, A SMALL FAMILY, IF IT RAINED. HE IS CONTENT WITH HIMSELF, HAPPY TO BE AWAY FORM THE OTHERS. TO HIS RIGHT HAND SIDE THERE IS A SMALL ROCK POOL ABOUT THE SIZE OF AN ESKY.BESIDE IT ARE TWO ROCK CARVINGS; THEY LOOK LKE FISH. THERE IS JUST ONE MORE SIGN TO SAY THAT THE ABORIGINES USED TO SIT THERE TOO, LIKE HIM. WITH HIS HANDS HE PLAYS WITH ALL THE EMPY SHELLFISH SHELLS, LETTING THEM FALL THROUGH HIS FINGERS - SLOWLY FALL THROUGH HIS FINGERS. HE DIGS DOWN INTO THE SHELLS, THROUGH HUNDREDS (MAYBE THOUSANDS) OF YEARS OF CONTENTMENT - OCCUPANTS OF THIS ROCK, EATING THEIR OYSTERS AND GAZING OUT OVER THE WATER. SOMETHING LIKE A SUBTROPICAL PARADISE, THINKS JULIAN TO HIMSELF. HE WILL SPEND SOME TIME DIGESTING THAT THOUGHT.
There was an earlier presence - NATURE itself had the most potential for seemingly random evil acts. Now Nature is sudued, if not in decline. The odd outburst and the voice of protest - like Cyclone Tracy or that storm seven year ago when the river flooded the island; and past the island drifted huge water melons and dead cows, bloated - legs in the air like a sacrifice.
If we have created God in our own image, then we also desire the element of nonrationality - maybe those dark forces are the necessity of a God who has to play dirty or go crazy with bordom. Newton's cause and effect model was always a non starter,' said Adolf Rosenberg (uncle to Johannnes), in his lecture entitle Science and Decandance' (1935 Berlin).
THE SUN FINALLY MELTS INTO THE SUSPENDED HORIZON AND JULIAN STILL GAZES OUT ACROSS THE WATER. HE SEEMS LIKE ONE WHO IS POSSESSED BY THE KNOWLDGE OF A BEAUTIFUL SECRET. HE NO LONGER FIDGETS LIKE THE SCHOOL BOY THAT HE IS. ONE OF HIS ARMS IS BURIED, UP TO THE ARMPIT, DEEP DOWN THROUGH ALL THOSE HUNDREDS AND THOUSANDS OF EMPY SEA SHELLS. BUT HIS HAND IS FIRMLY GRASPING SOMETHING ELSE. IT IS A BONE. ONE OF MANY, RECENTLY BURIED, HUMAN BONES.
ON THE WATER SITS AN OPEN BOAT, THE NAME OF ITS OCCUPANT IS JACOB ROSENBERG. HE IS OFTEN TO BE SEEN THERE QUIETLY PLAYING ON HIS VIOLIN. THE MELANCHOLIC LINES SOUND AMBIGIOUS - LIKE THEY ARE ABOUT TO STOP - BUT THEY NEVER QUIET DO. THEY CAN BE HEARD WITH CLARITY BY ANYONE ON THE ISLAND. IN THE FIRST YEARS THAT JACOB LIVED ON DOG HEAD, MANY OF THE LOCALS THOUGHT THAT HIS VIOLIN PLAYING ATTRACTED THE FISH. AND SO WHEREVER JACOB'S BOAT WAS POSITIONED ON THE RIVER, THERE YOU WOULD FIND HALF A DOZEN OTHER BOATS WITH THEIR LINES OUT - PLACED IN AN APPROXIMATE CIRCLE AROUND THE VIOLINIST. ALL THE BIG CATCHES AND THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY WERE ATTRIBUTED TO ROSENBERG'S MUSIC.
[THE MAN HIMSELF HAD BECOME ONE
OF THOSE WHO GOT AWAY. AT THE END OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR, HE HAD ARRIVED
IN VIENNA - STATELESS AND WITH AN ALMOST COMPLETE LOSS OF MEMORY. AS A
REFUGEE, HE HAD SOMEHOW ENDED UP ON A QUOTA LIST CONSIDERED BY THE AUSTRALIA
When Payawipaya musicians leave the performance area, they sometimes piss in their violins and swing the instruments around - thus spraying the contents to the corner of the universe. A simple ceremony of cleaning and demystification on the short journey back to normality. And then comes something to eat, the violinists from Papua New Guinea always celebrate the end of a concert with a feast.
WHEN THE POLICE CAME FOR JACOB IN THE EARLY HOURS OF A SUNDAY MORNING, HE WAS NAKED APART FROM WEARING A PINK PAIR OF LADIES' TIGHTS. HE HAD JUST FINISHED EATING MOST OF JUNE DAVIES. THE EIGHTY YEAR OLD HAD BEEN MISSING ON THE ISLAND FOR OVER A WEEK. LATER, ON INTERROGATION AT THE POLICE STATION, THE VIOLINIST APPEARED TO HAVE NO RECOLLECTION AS TO THE FATE OF HIS OTHER VICTIMS.
1. Rosenberg discovered in later research that the Payawipaya, in common with other people of Oceania, never eat brains - hence the perfect condition of the sacrificial skulls. Brain stew causes a debilitating disease called Kuru.