Friday, April 27, 2012

Strange music

I keep on passing one of my neighbours practising on a suona. (Well, not an immediate neighbour from my compound; but someone who lives not too far away, I suppose. I seem to encounter him whenever I go jogging [I've just started again, after a long lapse over the winter]. He likes to take up station next to one of the underpasses next to the moat alongside the north 2nd Ringroad.) It's a curious instrument: it looks like a small trumpet, but in terms of musical genealogy it's actually considered a kind of oboe, since it has a reed in it. This gives it a high-pitched and rather buzzing quality. It sounds, in fact, like a very loud and very shrill kazoo. It does indeed have the potential to be a very, very irritating instrument; but, in skilled hands, its sound has a sinuous wailing character, not unlike a Muslim call to prayer, and it can be quite haunting, quite beautiful. (It shares a kinship with the bagpipes!)

My neighbour is a pretty good exponent, though not quite as good as this chap. (I'm afraid I don't know who this is. The Uyghurs are a Turkic people from Central Asia, who occupy the Xinjiang region to the north of Tibet. Like most 'Chinese' musical instruments, the suona is thought to have been imported along the Silk Road, and many of its finest players today still come from the far western parts of China.)

If you're getting the taste for this thing, you might also check out another virtuouso, Li Guang Cai, doing bird imitations with it.

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