I first heard his name mentioned in 1986 when I started to play guitar in a band that included erstwhile students at the University of Natal Music Department. I remember the jazz saxophone student from Benoni saying – from inside a blue-grey, V–necked jersey he was pulling over his dreadlocked head on a cold windy day – ‘This is Jürgen’s jersey’.
I met Jürgen Brauninger for the first time during the one-to-one, ear-training sessions in the Aural Perception course that he taught. The Guido software-based programme required Jurgen to play on the piano, an interval or a chord for me to name correctly. He would go … ‘trrng!’ and I would say ‘augmented fourth!’ …‘tttrrrnnggg!’ …‘major flat-nine-sharp-eleven-sharp-five!’ etc, etc. Lively conversation indeed! Ten minutes later the exercise over, and I would be quickly out of the room – leaving Jürgen to his favourite cheroots! It was 1989, and quite normal for lecturers to light up during class!
Sounds Down the Passage: the Early Recording Sessions
Upon finishing the three-year diploma and a year of touring, performing and recording with The NU Jazz Connection, I registered for the BMus degree majoring in Jazz Guitar and Performance. A proprietary fascination with African musical instruments soon compelled me to join the African Music Ensemble.
Convened by Geoffrey Tracey – who was also studying BMus – the ensemble comprised a curious mix of music undergraduate students. In 1994, very few would take seriously a group of black and white students playing ‘African’ musical instruments, singing in Bantu languages and performing indigenous traditional dances. Our repertoires included music for amadinda xylophones and Ugandan makondere horns, Zimbabwean mbira dza vadzimu, Chopi timbila, Nyungwe pan-pipes, Ghanaian kpanlogo ensemble performance as well as various southern African drums. Participation in the African Music Ensemble helped steer my attention towards the local in indigenous musical performance – and principally to bows and pan-flutes of the Nguni musical traditions of the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and eSwatini.
In 1996, African instructors were employed as part-time teachers in the African Music Project – that had been established at the University of Natal Music Department under the directorship of Dr Patricia Achieng Opondo. The instruction was focused on black South African traditional musical idioms – guitar maskandi, umakhweyana bow, indlamu/ingoma and isicathulo [gumboot] dances, as well as isicathamiya choral tradition. The African music tutelage hereby availed to music students became organically woven into Jürgen Brauninger’s conception of using African acoustic resources for electronic music composition.
Although framed by electronic compositional elements, ihlathi (2000), his work profiling marginal practices of local indigenous musical instruments, is illustrative for its extensive use of the Zulu umakhweyana bow (played by Angela Impey).
In the 1990s, Jürgen Brauninger recorded my performances of gumboot-dance, reed pan-pipes, voice and other indigenous African musical instruments, for electro-acoustic experimentation and composition. Over several years of our composing collaborations some of the recordings that have been reworked for release. In the slide out frame are some of the titles emanating from this production process.
Dedicated to Jürgen Brauninger’s friend and mentor at San José State University, the late US composer Allen Strange, Pieces included the track sloggin’ with a zol wherein – over one of Jurgen’s very rare piano performances – I recite excerpt material from a poem by the prolific South African lyricist and poet, the sociologist Ari Sitas.
An even earlier corpus of such audio elements is d’URBAN NOISE and scraps WORKS, Jürgen Brauninger’s electro-acoustic sonic thesis which was awarded a Doctor of Music (DMus) degree by the University of Natal in 1998.
d’URBAN NOISE and scraps WORKS was a pioneering electro-acoustic ethnography of situated participation in production and subjection to a sonic political economy. Arguably the work came to symbolize Brauninger’s dynamic and ongoing musical relationship to the acoustic sonicity of his environment.
Electronic Sound Processing and Live Acoustic Performance
Prior to the 2002 premier of Yinkosi Yeziziba, our first collaboration in new-music composition, I had performed in real-time on indigenous instruments in numeorus presentations of Anywhere Far (1991).
Anywhere Far is Jürgen Brauninger’s collaborative work with the composer Ulrich Suisse, his lifelong friend and mentor since the days of his undergraduate studies in Composition at the Hochshule fur Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Stuttgart. The work was ‘scored’ for surf soundscape, string quartet, maritime harbour sounds, piano, percussion, electronic sounds, silence, vibraphone, spoken word, udloko friction-bow, sprechstimme, voice, umqangi (umrhubhe) mouthbow, animal horns, umtshingo pan-flute, timbila, mbira dza vadzimu, nhare mbira, hadeda ibis, pigeons, woodwinds and percussion. I performed Anywhere Far for the first time around the year 2000 in the Howard College Theatre at the then University of Natal – changing between musical bows, singing, flute and mbira as and when a graphic of each instrument appeared in the score, or upon a pre-recorded sound cue as per arrangement. During the 2006 International Gaudeamus Muziek Week, our presentation of Anywhere Far at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam’s Muziekgebouw featured Dutch composer and woodwind specialist Luc Houtcamp.
Yinkosi Yeziziba (2002): for umrhubhe and udloko musical bows, vocals, percussion and electronic sounds
On commission by Südwestrundfunk (Germany) in 2001, Jurgen and I began working collectively on Yinkosi Yeziziba, a composition for umrhubhe and udloko musical bows, vocals, percussion and electronic sounds. Premiered at the 2002 NewMusic Indaba, Yinkosi Yeziziba garnered critical attentionfor its novel abstraction in musical performance, of a traditional Zulu folk-tale, UNkombose noSihlangusabayeni. The work was considered as groundbreaking for its multidisciplinary sonic engagement with the orality of text, song and an indigenous imaginary of the African story-telling idiom. For this, and its compelling presentation in recorded audio and live vocal and instrumental performance, Yinkosi Yeziziba has featured numerously in successive programming of NewMusicSA festivals over the years. In 2003, a performance at the Elektronische Nacht New Music Festival in Stuttgart, was broadcast live on German Südwestrundfunk. In 2004 the work was chosen to represent South Africa at the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) World New Music Days Festival in Aarau, Switzerland.
Jiwe (2005) for string quartet, ugubhu bow and percussion
Jiwe was co-composed with Jürgen Brauninger as part of The Bow Project. Initiated in 1999, the project comprised a series of extended commissions under the aegis of the New Music Indaba – a representative of the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) in South Africa. The Bow Project brief challenged several composers to use the medium of a string quartet to ‘study, re-imagine, and recompose’ uhadi bow songs recorded by Xhosa indigenous musical bow exponent, the late Nofinishi Dywili (d. 2002).
Among the diverse compositions solicited, Jiwe remarkably departed from the Bow Project’s overarching brief on at least two significant aspects. Primarily, the scoring of the string quartet was undergird by harmonic and a cyclical rhythmic framework provided by ugubhu, the unbraced musical bow of the Zulu and the Swati. In its close approximation of uhadi, ugubhu’s distinctive tuning is achieved by the use of a smaller interval of stopping the single vibrating string. The respective fundamental pitch intervals of a whole tone on uhadi and a semitone on ugubhu, particularise their scales and harmonically characterises the distinction between Xhosa and Zulu bow songs.
Secondarily, the text in Jiwe adapted an indigenous oral performance genre of isilandelo, among many associated with African children’s musical performance traditions. In 2005 Jiwe was performed for the first time by Sazi Dlamini (ugubhu, voice, percussion) and the Sontonga Quartet during the New Music Indaba at the Department of Musicology of ‘Rhodes’ University in Grahamstown. In 2009, a live–performance recording of Jiwe with the Faroe Islands’ Nightingale Quartet (Gunvohr Sim – violin, Josefine Dalsgaard – violin, Marie Louise Broholt Jensen – viola and Louisa Schwab – cello) was included in the The Bow Project double-CD release – in honour of the late uhadi player and composer Nofinishi Dywili.
Qob’uqalo (2014) for uqalo, voice, and electronic sounds
Taking the idea of combining acoustic African instruments with electronic sounds as demonstrated in Yinkosi Yeziziba (Bräuninger, Dlamini 2002) for umrhube and udloko musical bows a step further, for this composition I invented/designed a new/unheard wind instrument: uqalo reed-horn. In its conception the piece juxtaposes acoustic, electronic, textual, and textural linguistic sonic elements in a musical form to be experienced in live performance.
The electronic tools (sampling, granular synthesis constructed in Max/MSP) allowed the extension of the range of uqalo and the singing/spoken voice to the human hearing range at both ends. Layering the soloist’s lines resulted in a massive choir referencing amahubo.
While the electronic processing of the uqalo and voice hocket takes the acoustic sounds into a very different sphere the ‘live’ voice in turn attempts a re-integration process by e.g. exclaiming the lyrics through the uqalo resonator (filter) and by imitating the granulated vocals by pronouncing them ‘backwards’.
Exploiting ideophonic consonancy and onomatopoeia of the southern Nguni and BaThwa linguistic patterns, the composed text describes the process of instrument making, tuning, playing, recording and the digital manipulation of the recorded sonic images, as illustrated in the translation of the sung isiZulu text below:
Composing and recording [is]in progress
Other music for bamboo
Kuqalwe ngokuqoqa imicabango
Commencing with gathering thoughts
Selected towards understanding
Essential necessities for solving
A problematic embodied
Ukuqamba ngoqalo oluqinile
In composing for hardened bamboo
Beginning with its cutting
Izinqamu eziqunywe buqatha
Into pieces cut thickly
Then chopped further
Zaba zingcucu ezincane
Into smaller segments
To be strewn and recombined
With other segments
Assembled and mixed
Discretely spatial painstakingly
Ukuqaphela kuze kuqediwe
Carefully until we are finished
Composing and recording [is]in progress
Ingomambe eqalwe luqalo
Other music for bamboo
The recited text is a selection of hard consonant lines of the above, again approximating a chaotic determinancy of the digital age, vividly imagined but largely unmanipulable from the margins of its co-opting consumability. The sonority of each read ‘word’ is the simultaneous combination, in pronunciation of 1) a ‘mirror’ of the normal word and 2) a 180˚ degrees longitudinal axial rotation of the word’s unsymmetrical letters, as follows:
Uqalo = Olaqu
Kuyaqanjwa = Awjnaqayuk
Kuqediwe = Ewidequk
…. Etc., as below:
Ognabacimi aqoqukogn elwaquk
Eliniqulo olaqogn abmaquku
Athaq ewnuqnize umaqnizi
In live performance, pronouncing the jumbled up terms and timing the pace of delivery to the finite length of the electronic composition presents a basic challenge to be considered for rehearsal. Otherwise the dynamic oratory style is open to accommodate diverse intepretation and linguistic socialisation in a performance of this role in the composition. The piece was first performed at Unyazi IV: International Electronic Music Festival, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 12 September 2014.
The radical objective in musical performance
My collaborative participation in diverse new music composition settings has required radical adjusment of goals and expectations I assumed were normal and standard practice in musical performance. Firstly all of the ‘indigenous’ instruments and what was required of them, were ‘free’ of ‘tradition’. The absence of the baggage of repertoire traditionally identified with each of the sound sources, somehow liberated their/and my own egotistical entanglements to ‘performance’, achievement or standards for judgement. The neutralisation in context of such ubiquitous expectations between both audience and performers hinted to me – an alien but welcome feeling of … ‘composed’ ‘freedom’?
Warning: Local Content
I recall the ascendant impulse in burgeoning sound processing practices of the mid-1990s, of sampling indigenous music materials in studio – mixing their sounds and rhythms for commercial urban dance music production. Other endeavours sought to electronically recompose popular African musical idioms for assorted corporate market briefs including advertising, documentary film and video, government and NGO educational media campaigns. The ethical grounding of a singularly entrepreneurial appropriation of historically marginalised African indigenous heritages for technological manipulation by individuals is, in my view, debatable. Rather contrary to such trends in his choices, Jürgen Brauninger persistently honed the art of digital sonic synthesis towards an incisive instrument in his unique ethos of a non-hierarchical consideration of significance – of people and their culture.
1. Bräuninger, J. and Dlamini, S. 2014. Qob’uqalo – original composition for uqalo, voice, and electronic sounds
2. Bräuninger, J. with Sazi Dlamini (2005). ‘Jiwe’. In The Bow Project. Tutl Records. FKT044. Track 6.
3. Bräuninger, J. and Sazi Dlamini (2002). ‘Yinkosi Yeziziba’. In Jürgen Brauninger (comp.) other scraps (GEMA/SAMRO). Track 1.
4. Bräuninger, J. and Ari Sitas (2008). ‘Sloggin With A Zol’. In pieces (GEMA/ASCAP). Track 1.
4. Bräuninger, J. 1998. dURBAN NOISE and scraps WORKS. Newlands: GSE Claremont Records, CD GSE AM31.
5. Bräuninger, J. (2000). Ihlathi. Leonardo Music Journal CD Companion Vol.10. MIT Press, ISAST 10, EMF CD 027. Also on: Live from the New Music Indaba 2000/1: Music by Contemporary South African Composers. MCCOSA/NewMusicSA – NEWSA001 (2001).
6. Suisse Ulrich and Jürgen Bräuninger (1991). ‘… anywhere far’. Limes X. dml-records, CD-018. Tracks 12-18.
4. Insurrections Ensemble (2019). ‘Esidimeni’. Isivivane: Music Transgressions. South African History Online (SAHO)/ReCentering AfroAsia Project. Track 10.
5. Insurrections Ensemble (2018). ‘Ukhamba’. Threads of Sorrow. South African History Online (SAHO). Track 1. https://www.insurrectionsensemble.com/music
6. Insurrections Ensemble (2015). ‘Movements I – IV’. The Storming. South African History Online (SAHO). https://www.insurrectionsensemble.com/music
7. Insurrections Ensemble (2014). ‘Migrant’s Lament’. Mayihlome/Aahwaan: The Gathering. South African History Online (SAHO). Track 6. https://www.insurrectionsensemble.com/music
8. Insurrections Ensemble (2012). ‘Dyani-Hani- An Era Ends’. Insurrections. South African History Online (SAHO). https://www.insurrectionsensemble.com/music