Abstracts for Issue 2, 2007
Musical and linguistic perspectives on Aboriginal song
Allan Marett and Linda Barwick
Song brings language and music together. Great singers are at once musicians and wordsmiths, who toss rhythm, melody and word against one another in complex cross-play. In this paper we outline some initial findings that are emerging from our interdisciplinary study of the musical traditions of the Cobourg region of western Arnhem Land, a coastal area situated in the far north of the Australian continent 350 kilometres northeast of Darwin. We focus on a set of songs called Jurtbirrk, sung in Iwaidja, a highly endangered language, whose core speaker base is now located in the community of Minjilang on Croker Island. We bring to bear analytical methodologies from both musicology and linguistics to illuminate this hitherto undocumented genre of love songs.
Iwaidja Jurtbirrk songs: Bringing language and music together
Linda Barwick (University of Sydney), Bruce Birch and Nicholas Evans (University of Melbourne)
Song brings language and music together. Great singers are at once musicians and wordsmiths, who toss rhythm, melody and word against one another in complex cross-play. In this paper we outline some initial findings that are emerging from our interdisciplinary study of the musical traditions of the Cobourg region of western Arnhem Land, a coastal area situated in the far north of the Australian continent 350 kilometres northeast of Darwin. We focus on a set of songs called Jurtbirrk, sung in Iwaidja, a highly endangered language, whose core speaker base is now located in the community of Minjilang on Croker Island. We bring to bear analytical methodologies from both musicology and linguistics to illuminate this hitherto undocumented genre of love songs
Morrdjdjanjno ngan-marnbom story nakka, ‘songs that turn me into a story teller’: The morrdjdjanjno of western Arnhem Land
Murray Garde (University of Melbourne)
Morrdjdjanjno is the name of a song genre from the Arnhem Land plateau in the Top End of the Northern Territory and this paper is a first description of this previously undocumented song tradition. Morrdjdjanjno are songs owned neither by individuals or clans, but are handed down as ‘open domain’ songs with some singers having knowledge of certain songs unknown to others. Many morrdjdjanjno were once performed as part of animal increase rituals and each song is associated with a particular animal species, especially macropods. Sung only by men, they can be accompanied by clap sticks alone or both clap sticks and didjeridu. First investigations reveal that the song texts are not in everyday speech but include, among other things, totemic referential terms for animals which are exclusive to morrdjdjanjno. Translations from song language into ordinary register speech can often be ‘worked up’ when the song texts are discussed in their cultural and performance context. The transmission of these songs is severely endangered at present as there are only two known singers remaining both of whom are elderly.
Sung and spoken: An analysis of two different versions of a Kun-barlang love song
Isabel O’Keeffe (nee Bickerdike) (University of Melbourne)
In examining a sung version and a spoken version of a Kun-barlang love song text recorded by Alice Moyle in 1962, I outline the context and overall structure of the song, then provide a detailed comparative analysis of the two versions. I draw some preliminary conclusions about the nature of Kun-barlang song language, particularly in relation to the rhythmic setting of words in song texts and the use of vocables as structural markers.
Simplifying musical practice in order to enhance local identity: Rhythmic modes in the Walakandha wangga (Wadeye, Northern Territory)
Allan Marett (University of Sydney)
Around 1982, senior performers of the Walakandha wangga, a repertory of song and dance from the northern Australian community of Wadeye (Port Keats), made a conscious decision to simplify their complex musical and dance practice in order to strengthen the articulation of a group identity in ceremonial performance. Recordings from the period 1972–82 attest to a rich diversity of rhythmic modes, each of which was associated with a different style of dance. By the mid-1980s, however, this complexity had been significantly reduced. I trace the origin of the original complexity, explore the reasons why this was subsequently reduced, and trace the resultant changes in musical practice.
‘Too long, that wangga’: Analysing wangga texts over time
Lysbeth Ford (University of Sydney)
For the past forty or so years, Daly region song-men have joined with musicologists and linguists to document their wangga songs. This work has revealed a corpus of more than one hundred wangga songs composed in five language varieties Within this corpus are a few wangga texts recorded with their prose versions. I compare sung and spoken texts in an attempt to show not only what makes wangga texts consistently different from prose texts, but also how the most recent wangga texts differ from those composed some forty years ago.
Flesh with country: Juxtaposition and minimal contrast in the construction and melodic treatment of jadmi song texts
Sally Treloyn (University of Sydney)
For some time researchers of Centralian-style songs have found that compositional and performance practices that guide the construction and musical treatment of song texts have a broader social function. Most recently, Barwick has identified an ‘aesthetics of parataxis or juxtaposition’ in the design of Warumungu song texts and musical organisation (as well as visual arts and dances), that mirrors social values (such as the skin system) and forms 'inductive space' in which relationships between distinct classes of being, places, and groups of persons are established. Here I set out how juxtaposition and minimal contrast in the construction and melodic treatment of jadmi-type junba texts from the north and north-central Kimberley region similarly create 'inductive space' within which living performers, ancestral beings, and the country to which they are attached, are drawn into dynamic, contiguous relationships.
The poetics of central Australian Aboriginal song
Myfany Turpin (University of Sydney)
An often cited feature of traditional songs from Central Australia (CA songs) is the obfuscation of meaning. This arises partly from the difficulties of translation and partly from the difficulties in identifying words in song. The latter is the subject of this paper, where I argue it is a by-product of adhering to the requirements of a highly structured art form. Drawing upon a set of songs from the Arandic language group, I describe the CA song as having three independent obligatory components (text, rhythm and melody) and specify how text is set to rhythm within a rhythmic and a phonological constraint. I show how syllable counting, for the purposes of text setting, reflects a feature of the Arandic sound system. The resultant rhythmic text is then set to melody while adhering to a pattern of text alliteration.
Budutthun ratja wiyinymirri: Formal flexibility in the Yolŋu manikay tradition and the challenge of recording a complete repertoire
Aaron Corn (University of Sydney) with Neparrŋ a Gumbula (University of Sydney)
Among the Yolŋu (people) of north-eastern Arnhem Land, manikay (song) series serve as records of sacred relationships between humans, country and ancestors. Their formal structures constitute the overarching order of all ceremonial actions, and their lyrics comprise sacred esoteric lexicons held nowhere else in the Yolŋu languages. A consummate knowledge of manikay and its interpenetrability with ancestors, country, and parallel canons of sacred yäku (names), buŋgul (dances) and miny'tji (designs) is an essential prerequisite to traditional leadership in Yolŋu society. Drawing on our recordings of the Baripuy manikay series from 2004 and 2005, we explore the aesthetics and functions of formal flexibility in the manikay tradition. We examine the individuation of lyrical realisations among singers, and the role of rhythmic modes in articulating between luku (root) and buŋgul'mirri (ceremonial) components of repertoire. Our findings will contribute significantly to intercultural understandings of manikay theory and aesthetics, and the centrality of manikay to Yolŋu intellectual traditions.
Australian Aboriginal song language: So many questions, so little to work with
Review of the questions related to the analysis of Aboriginal song language; requirements for morpheme glossing, component package, interpretations, prose and song text comparison, separation of Indigenous and ethnographic explanations, candour about collection methods, limitations and interpretative origins.