Analysis from Afar: Finding Structure of Nat Pwe
The exhilarating hsaing waing ensemble of Myanmar (Burma) accompanies acrobatic dance, storytelling, dramatic plays, and religious rituals. Alongside a male or female vocalist, a double- reed instrument called the hne plays swirling melodies over the variegated texture created by resonant gongs and thumping drums. The music tumbles towards points of textural change, which are often signalled by a melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic cue. My analysis of tracks from the album Music of Nat Pwe: Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar Vol. 3, released by Sublime Frequencies, will identify the musical elements used to denote what I hear as sectional boundaries indicated by a textural change as a preliminary step towards understanding the larger formal structure within the music heard on this album. After classifying the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic boundary markers, I will compare their presentation in each track to determine whether any generalized statements can be made. This type of analytical survey will ascertain musical facts about a relatively unknown genre, thereby laying a foundation for future in-depth study in addition to opening discussion about methodology.
In the absence of direct experience with a genre, how should research proceed? My methodology will show that musical analysis can be repositioned as a first step towards further cultural knowledge instead of the end result of data collection conducted through participant- observation. By using the world of music at our fingertips, ethnomusicologists can start before they have left their desks, better prepared than before.
This paper was presented at the SEM Northwest Region Annual Meeting in 2016.