Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Kim Rockell on Rondalla

Kim Rockell and Joe Peters

Joe Peters and his TREMOLO WALL

Kim Rockell delivering his paper in Tagum, Mindanao, Philippines during the 3rd International Rondalla Festival

Kim Rockell is a PhD student at the University of Cantebury in Christchurch, New Zealand. His dissertation is on rondalla in the Australian diaspora. With a grant from the New Zealand Foundataion,  Kim was able to do research trips to Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines. An excerpt of his report in NZASIA Newsletter is quoted here for the benefit of rondalla musicians in the Asian region.

Kim Rockell writes:
Fieldwork commenced in December, 2010 with a trip to Singapore. Here it was possible to observe the operation of the “quadrant” concept of Singaporean multiculturalism, and the position of migrant workers from regional, developing countries within this model. The researcher was also prompted to reflect on the geographical position of Singapore within the expansive, Malay world. In terms of the arts, it became clear that the Singaporean government is currently committed to developing arts and arts education. This is, in part, in response to the perceived criticism of a lack of creative thinking in Singapore-educated population.
The highlight of time spent in Singapore was meeting ethnomusicologist Dr Joseph Peters. Dr Peters not only developed the first rondalla in Singapore, but also the first brass band. His current rondalla, which is based at the University of Singapore and predominantly made up of students from mainland China, performed at the 2011 International Rondalla Festival. In addition to his important work on rondalla, which he is currently developing into a kind of pan-Asian tremolo orchestra for the performance of Western music, Dr Peters is now mainly concerned with the preservation of Southeast Asian sound systems. These musical systems, which he refers to as “sonic orders”, are under attack from the dominance of Western tonal systems. Peters has developed a system for measuring global, sonic emissions. He estimates that in most parts of the world today more than ninety percent of musical, sonic emissions are based on a western system. Just as introduced species can cause environmental damage and threaten local wildlife, instruments introduced from Europe such as the piano and guitar, have destroyed much of the fragile, Asia-Pacific, musical landscape. Paradoxically, the piano may also hold the key to aiding preservation. Peters drew the researcher’s attention to the recently developed “fluid-piano” which can be re-tuned, even during performance, to a variety of intervals and scale systems.
Dr Peter’s current work with rondalla is centred on improving instrument quality and he has developed several new proto-types. The tremolo orchestra he is developing will also include seats for pipa, sitar and gambus representing the Chinese, Indian and Malay worlds respectively.
During the researcher’s time in Singapore, Dr Peters was extremely generous with his time. The researcher was able to conduct interviews, photograph Dr Peter’s instrument collection and attend a rondalla rehearsal at the University of Singapore. At Dr Peter’s invitation, the researcher also attended the 2010 National Chinese Music Competition at the Singapore Conference Hall. 

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