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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

A Community-Driven Musical Syntax: Collaboration and Momentum in Guinean Malinke Dance Drumming
by Nicely, Tiffany M., Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 2021, 242; 28315212
Abstract (Summary)

In this dissertation, I explore the syntax of Malinke dance drumming, a polyphonic genre common to Guinea, seeking to articulate the ways in which depth and complexity are created through the counterpoint of multiple players’ overlapping strands. Specifically, I develop a theoretical methodology that seeks to present the music-syntactical laws that underlie Malinke music in a way that directly and explicitly reflects the communal nature of the performance practice that creates and sustains it. My theoretical methodology is interested in the construction norms of three musical layers (accompaniment, hook, and lead) which combine to shape musical time in distinct but related ways. More particularly, this dissertation examines the shapes of this music’s building blocks as formed by interlocking, call-response, and variation techniques. And to better concretize the implicit laws that govern these techniques, I develop and explore through analysis two original theoretical tools – Collaborative Timelines and Momentum Vectors.

Timelines in Guinean Malinke dance drumming are created by the points of coalescence among all the players’ patterns, rather than being built upon an underlying stream articulated by one particular instrument (usually a bell), as in other African and diasporic musics. I define Collaborative Timelines as the often-asymmetrical rhythmic patterns that work together with isochronous temporal layers to provide unique definition to every attack in the texture, and use Density Grids to tabulate simultaneous attacks at particular temporal increments. The resulting analyses reveal music of remarkable contrapuntal sophistication, to which every player makes unique and indispensable contributions.

In dynamic terms, the effect of Malinke dance drumming is often one of considerable momentum. To capture this effect, I define Momentum Vectors, which respond to the music’s dynamic shape by specifying the relationships between successions of attacks and the multiple contextualizing strata – including but not limited to the steady tactus and the timeline. Pairs of attacks are coded according to their relationships with multiple underlying temporal layers, and the results are then tabulated and combined into a vector. These vectors make explicit the way in which the overlapping motives in Malinke dance drumming push and pull against the time, and articulate what is effectively a syntax of momentum.

The music under consideration is a corpus of Guinean Malinke dance pieces published by former national ballet drummers including Mamady Keita, Fara Tolno, and Famoudou Konaté, supplemented with commercial recordings. As a music theorist, I draw upon twenty years of workshops and lessons with Guinean teachers in the U.S., as well as a five-week study trip to Guinea in winter 2007-2008. My intention is to articulate the “implicit laws which the performers cannot state theoretically, although they make systematic use of them in practice” (Arom 1991, 139) – as a way of celebrating the originality and compelling intricacy of a musical repertoire that I have come to love.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Moseley, Brian
Commitee: Smith, Charles J, VanderWel, Stephanie
School: State University of New York at Buffalo
Department: Music
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 82/8(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Music theory, Musical composition, Musical performances, Music
Keywords: Analysis, Drumming, Guinea, Malinke, Meter, Structure
Publication Number: 28315212
ISBN: 9798582508571
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