By Tim Hazell
Musical instruments represent many things: engineering, science, culture, religion, and philosophy. Musicologists speak of “body music.” Musicians gravitate to instruments that are comfortable to hold and play. Choices of timbre and materials are personal; blind players are particularly sensitive to pitch, vibration, and balance.
Body music—hand clapping, finger snapping, and foot stamping to accompany instrumental passages or vocal arrangements—is characteristic of ethnic music and was incorporated into American folk genres by early settlers.
Romans used the word tibia or shin-bone as a model for instruments that were blown. In French, un nez en trompette, the flaring opening of a trumpet, defines an upturned nose. Classical theater in Vietnam employs various vocal techniques referring specifically to human anatomy. The nasal voice is giong mui, and gion ham is the voice of the jaw. American blues references to the guitar speak of a cry or shout.
India’s folk music adds vitality to community life. There are songs for weddings, planting, and harvesting. Found materials such as coconut shells, pots, and skins are used by artisans in ingenious ways. Commonly known examples include the bansuri or bamboo flute, chimpta or fire tongs, ghatam or clay pot, small bells, wooden clappers, jaw harp, and pot drum.
Pythagoras, born around 569 BC in Samos, Ionia, was a pivotal figure in the development of music theory, credited with the invention of a monochord, a single string running between two bridges fixed to a box-shaped resonator. He referred to harmony as “harmony of the spheres.” As we experience sensations while listening to music, our bodies capture and transmit sounds. Reactions to music are often very subjective.
Prolific composer and theorist John Milton Cage Jr. (1912-1992) is remembered for his use of the I Ching to create music involving chance, and for his 1952 composition “4’33.” Musicians who perform the opus do nothing apart from being present on stage. Four minutes and 33 seconds of silence is really about natural effects heard by the audience from surrounding, ambient space. Cage was an avid macrobiotic cook during his later years. His estate provides us with this robust stir fry!
Walnut Chicken (a la Cage)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 tbsp. light soy sauce
1 tbsp. white wine
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. sugar
2 scallions, sliced diagonally
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
2 tsp. sesame oil
3 tbsp. oil
Marinate chicken breast cubes in soy sauce, wine, sugar, and ginger overnight.
Heat two tbsp. oil in a wok or large heavy skillet, stir fry garlic and nuts, and after three minutes transfer them to a bowl.
Blend cornstarch with chicken cubes; heat remaining 1 tbsp. oil. Add chicken and marinade to wok. Stir fry about 10 minutes until chicken is tender. Toss in the nuts, garlic, scallions, and sesame oil. Serve with rice and a green vegetable.