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It’s a string thing

A concert that defied the culture of loudness

It’s a string thing
The band has been playing since 1989.

The best aspect of the performance by String Thing, a German music quartet at the Perus Café organised by Annemarie-Schimmel-Haus/Goethe-Institut Pakistan last week was the serenity of sound that characterised the entire concert. In the last few decades the sound of music particularly in the West has been dominated by loudness and then dissonance, deliberately staying away from melody so as to reflect the contemporary state of disarray in a world that is falling apart.

Chamber music as in this concert is supposed to be for a room rather than a concert hall or a theatre. It grew out of domestic entertainment where composers in royal and ducal services regularly provided pieces for small number of instrumentalists with parts adapted to their known capabilities. Such intimate music was sung by madrigal groups or played by ‘consorts’ of similar instruments. It represents a worldview where the centre can still hold.

And thankfully there was no fusion as these days it seems to be the mantra for creating a sound that has international appeal. Fusion is not a very old concept in music and has been egged on by great exposure through the media of various cultural strands and forms all over the world. In the past a music idea travelled to another land, got assimilated, indigenised and then reborn as the genetic mix of its parents. In today’s world the period of assimilation and digestion has been squeezed out and musicians come and play their own thing.

The fast pace of the world coming together has probably left the artist far behind, still struggling in the discovery of a new idiom to express this rapid fire coming together. It is not only the coming together of various forms from all over the world but also the changes brought about by technological innovations that will announce the next staging post in music.

As it is the string instruments, in this case the violin and the cello are not designed to create sounds that overwhelm and inundate the listener by their terrifying immensity. These instruments themselves are product of a gradual evolution of musical sound that was supposed to provide an alternative meant to soothe and be a backup of reassurance.

From the literature available on their music, it appears that they are quite a versatile group.

Following the other view that art has to reflect the chaos and mayhem music has been created with musical sounds that were jarring and huge in volume. The entire process of amplifying sound, its electronic reproduction and then its larger than life sonic throw does create the image of hell that many believed the world had descended into. As compared to the natural sound of the guitar, labelled as acoustic, the electric variations processed through a number of sound engineering systems have produced sounds that are meant to dwarf man. The survival of the acoustic sound only means that the need for beautification and adornment has not truly deserted man but is there for the artiste to create a world in his art that is better than the world he has to live in.

To many the huge volume of sound carries therapeutic properties because the violence of sound is an antidote to the stresses and the tension that the modern world creates or generates. It can only be answered by a therapy that is equal to that violence. Any other expression or mode is seen to be too tame and therefore ineffective.

String Thing founded in Hamburg 1989 has been performing ever since with a long history of international tours and performances in various parts of the world. In the process it has been nominated as the Best Edition of Groovy Strings by the German Music Publishers.

From the literature available on their music it appears that they are quite a versatile group and can swing from Funky Jazz to Contemporary Classic which then takes them closer to the music of Kardnos Quartet. Some of their numbers have been Antarktibuitika, Ouaga, Drachentanz, U Love I, Samba Patis, Santa Fe, FM9X2, Traum, Sherlock Holmes Cubism, Das Neue Von Damals, Batschov’s Afrobulgar and Merall.

The culture or etiquette of listening to music is different in different cultures. It was not so long ago that the etiquette of listening to western classical music was very formal. The entire concert was heard in pin drop silence with the clapping or the encore taking place at the end of the concert. But all this has changed with the advent of popular or pop music.

The aim or the objective of that music is to strike a chord with the audience that either moves and shakes in a certain stylised manner or breaks into some kind of a movement, call it for want of a betterr word, dance. These pop concerts are not meant for tens or hundreds but thousands or hundred of thousands and usually such huge congregations are held in open spaces, parks and sports stadiums. The environment itself is quite informal without the restrictions of a controlled setting. Now with all formality being thrown to the wind of popular sentiment, people eat drink, sit, walk, lie down and even take a snooze. This concert was in direct contrast to all that.

Sarwat Ali

The author is a culture critic based in Lahore

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