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Sweet Dissonance and Buddhist Chant: Be-Being (VIDEO)

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Anyone who has followed my writings here knows that I do NOT consider music to be a universal language. On the contrary, as we grow, we learn to process music as our culture dictates. In the west, music systematizes harmony, melody and rhythm into what we recognize as our classical and popular music. Yet even those wonderful elements absorbed too specifically can limit the way we perceive sound. For example, trance music with its endless repetitions frustrates anyone who prefers theme and variation, purely percussive music is wearisome to those who crave melody and chord progressions, and atonal music seems to freak just about everyone out. New Music, modern classical and free improv have made many inroads in helping us shed our preconceptions about what music aught to sound like to the extent that we may only now be capable of understanding and enjoying much of traditional Asian music. Which brings me to this performance from "The Buddhist Project" by Korea's Be-Being. With its repetition, floaty tone center, and nasal horn lines it can be a difficult listening experience until one strips away preconceptions, and surrenders to the abstract sound of it. And then it becomes strangely beautiful. I recommend using headphones.

Sweet Dissonance and Korean Buddhist Chant: Be-Being from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

Buddhism has been called the Wandering Lotus because as it traveled from country to country, it adapted itself to each culture. That is why there are such differences in the music and iconography of, for example, Japanese Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism and in this case, Korean Buddhism.

This is an excerpt from one of three presentations from Korea on WOMEX 2010's opening night, Be-Being being the last to perform. The ensemble was certainly adventurous, veering into a New Music sensibility, while retaining the trance-inducing quality of the chant.

I found the movements of the two dancers to be appropriately hypnotic, and so fluid that they seemed to be in slow motion. That inspired me to play around with some of the toys in iMovie, and I think they add something to the visual experience that is consistent with the metaphysical nature of the piece. I hope you enjoy it.

For more information about Be-Being and the Buddhist Project, click here