Monthly Archives: December 2016

Creative Distanciation: Etude for Naro (Soundscape 04)

Atelier Window Niddrie, Australia. 26 March 2016. Photograph: C.Pleteshner

Atelier Window Niddrie, Australia. 26 March 2016. Photograph: C.Pleteshner


Creative Distanciation: Etude for Naro [i] is about music, musicians [ii] and working across cultures. Using multimedia [iii], there are photographs from my fieldwork in Mongolia, and links to wonderful performances by mostly Mongolian (in Mongolia) musicians there. The unfolding narrative and these performances are both contextualised with introductions and detailed footnotes.[iv]

 This presentation is intended to facilitate cross-cultural interpretation and learning for those of you for whom this Mongolian stream of culture and musicianship is of interest, but unfamiliar. My intention is to present aspects of cosmopolitan [v] post-Soviet socialist Mongolian cultural life in the nation’s capital Ulaanbator (“UB”) through its music, as well as to give you a glimpse of other ritual music-performance practices I have had the privilege to observe in my study of Mongol culture in Mongolia over the years.

Traditional Shudraga (left) and (small) Yatug-a (righjt) instrumentalists performing on stage in their Regional Traditional Mongolian Music Ensemble at the Uliastai Theatre (previously referred to as a (Soviet) House of Culture) in Zavkhan Aimag. 18 September 2008. Photograph: C.Pleteshner

Traditional Shudraga (left) and (small) Yatug-a (right) instrumentalists performing on stage in their Regional Traditional Mongolian Music Ensemble at the Uliastai Theatre (until 1990 during the socialist  era referred to as a Soviet ‘House of Culture’) in Zavkhan Aimag. 18 September 2008. Photograph: C.Pleteshner

The urban settlement of Uliastai (Mong. Улиастай) is more than 1,000 kms to the north-west of UB, in Zavkhan (Mong. Завхан) Aimag (Province). In 2008 I was a guest of Damdin Gerlee and her mother at their summer camp when I did fieldwork in the region for a month in September of that year. In reference to the above photograph, and in terms of traditional Mongol instrumentation, the shudraga (or shanz) has 3 strings and is plucked. This style of instrument is well known across Asia. In China it is referred to as ‘sanzian’ and in Japan as ‘samisen.’ The Yatug-a is a zither, that generally-speaking come in two sizes: the smaller one has 11-15 strings (pictured) and the ‘master yatug-a’ a professional concert instrument has 21-23 strings.

Modern globalization processes have significantly influenced the development of musical revivals and the situation of post-revival structures (Sweers 2014, p466) From a contemporary and global perspective, acts of music revival, restoration and renewal are reshaping musical landscapes in post-industrial, post-colonial, post-war [vi] (and post-Soviet socialist) contexts. Musical elements are being identified as old, historical and traditional; a practice that implicates scholars, performers and promoters in the reinterpretation of ‘big histories’ and revisions of previously historicized narratives and their norms (Bithell and Hill 2014, pp3-4).

As Owe Ronstrom (2014, p43) points out, one key to understanding music revival, ‘is the notion of a past from which something is brought to a second life. And yes, much revival is about representing the past—but the representation itself takes place in the present. To be “about” also implies interpretation and staging, as in theatre. Even if what is staged refers to a past, it always takes place in the present. And, like theatre, much of revival is about creating and shaping the sublime. What makes such productions meaningful is not so much what they point at or refer to, but the “affecting presence” that is their result.’

Trajectories, Exemplars and Sources

What unfolds from here, is a series of links to live musical performances with brief introductory notes. Footnotes provide additional details. In selecting examples, I want to provide those of you who are new to Mongolian music with not just an overview but also to attune you to some of the cultural and other nuances at play. However, many of you are also Mongolians-in-Mongolia so I have sprinkled this post with Mongolian Cyrillic so that you too feel at home! The sub-headings below are self-explanatory, so let’s get on with the show.

Contemporary (Mongol) Music in Mongolia Performance: Master Yatug-a

  • Товуухорол Дэлгэрмөрөн (Tovuuhorol Delgermeren, or “Deegii”) – Уянга цагаан хуруу.  Melodic “White” Fingers’ like the White Moon, first moon of the Mongol lunar calendar, not a reference to the colour white. See below.  Ятга: Мөнх-Эрдэнэ (Menh Erdenii). The Mongolian Live Sessions.

This is a wonderful example of the contemporary UB music scene, where elite classical training on a traditional instrument is blended with Mongolian voice and song— with an ever-so-delicate yet incredibly precise touch. The song is built around the metaphor of women’s fingers, seen as they would be when sewing sheep leather. How wonderful the fingers look as they work: everything is like a melody when fingers move with pristine (white, scared) intention. Its all in the fingers: playing the meaning of life with a wholesome mind. Also, Mongol people in Mongolia really like dressing up. The vestments chosen and worn by the musician-performers here are no exception.

See: Published: 21 May 2013. Retrieved 21 December 2016.

A transformational perspective

Scholars such as Tamara Livingston (2014, p60) argue that, ‘the participatory aspect of music revivals deserves special consideration given its importance as a critical site for the intersection of musical practice and social signification.’ She cites the grounded research of ethnomusicologist Thomas Turino as a case in point. For a discussion of revivals of the musical arts, and an outline of a methodology for research into musical revivals after major catastrophes, bans or neglect, see Margaret Kartomi (2014). Within growing disenchantment with ‘globalisation’ and its economic reductionist processes, Britta Sweers has articulated (for musicians?) a more optimist view that she describes as, ‘the transformational perspective’ (2014, p466) that argues that:

The contemporary patterns of globalization are unprecedented, as are modern development directions, the musical results, and post-revival structures. ‘Transformationalists’ thus perceive the increasingly dense global networks as the basis for developing new musical structures, in this case through revival, which needs to be approached with an open perspective. This particularly applies to the analysis of the actual relationship between traditional performance practices and increasingly prevalent revival forms, and also addresses the actual space and deep impact of Western popular music in this process. A revivalist might participate in a complex network of musical cultures, of which the seemingly dominant Western popular music might be simply one element among many and not necessarily a destructive one. Revival forms could, thus, also include or lead to fusion and electric forms. From this perspective, modern technology—often a central part of this revival process—could lead to a rediscovery and reconstruction of traditional elements.

Ritual Landscapes in Mongolia

Ovoo (Mong. овоо) are sacred stone heaps usually located in high places such as mountains and crests of ravines. They are one of the most widely recognised visual elements and are important sites in Mongolians’ ritual landscapes, an aspect with which many readers will be familiar. Here, Ulziikhishig Temuulen is paying homage to local nagas and other ‘earth-spirits’ at one particular ritual site (of many) that are long associated with his own kinship elders and their home-country, their birthplace in geomantic terms. The vehicle for this offering of respect is a particular kind of mindfulness: an (inner) visualised ‘performance’ in partnership with the generation of externalised (hopefully mellifluent) sonorities (‘playing with air’) expressed through his own body in concert with morin khuur.[vii]

Mongolian musician Temuulen making ritual offering at ovoo with morin hkuur. Suuhbaatar Aimag (specific location withheld).27 August 2013. Photograph: C.Pleteshner

Mongolian musician Temuulen making ritual offering at ovoo with morin hkuur. Suuhbaatar Aimag (specific location withheld).27 August 2013. Photograph: C.Pleteshner

In the English language research literature, one of the more powerful ideas I have come across that is associated with the Mongols’ horse-headed lute and that has been forwarded by Mongolian-in-Mongolia scholars and intellectuals is the idealised Mongolian philosophical concept of “Arga-Bileg”. This concept is similar to the Chinese concept of yin-yang and is related to the Buddhist ideas of Prajna (wisdom) and Upaya [skillful means]’ (Marsh 2009a, p130).

Here, it is important to point out, that ‘Mongolian Buddhism, the official state religion [in Mongolia] until the communist revolution of 1921, was not homogenous, but incorporated a range of influences, such as religious, monastic, repertory and performance traditions … Drawing on these overlapping pluralistic beliefs and practices in Old Mongolia, individuals constructed conceptually fluid ideoscapes, toposcapes and soundscapes, as they mixed the reformist Gelugpa traditions of Mahayana Buddhism with those unreformed Buddhist schools and with already present folk-religious and shamanic complexes’ (Carole Pegg 2001, p143). Such rituals performed at ovoos and other locations in Mongolia (see below) embody a wide variety of practices: notionally traditional, authorised, spontaneous and at times simply improvised.

Morin Khuur ritual performance, the purpose of which is to harmonise a new bond between an abandoned foal and their prospective surrogate mare-mother. Suukbaatar Aimag (specific location withheld). 28 August 2013. Photograph: C.Pleteshner

A Morin Khuur ritual performance, the purpose of which is to harmonise a new bond between an abandoned foal and their prospective surrogate mare-mother. Suukbaatar Aimag (specific location withheld). 28 August 2013. Photograph: C.Pleteshner

Contemporary (Mongol) Music in Mongolian Performance: Morin khuur (Mong. морин хуур; or ‘matouqin’) ) [viii]

The following staged and live performance-recordings reflect a reemergence in socio-cultural status of the Mongolian horse-headed bowed lute away,from a minor symbol of the national musical culture in the Socialist period, to an explicit symbol, if not icon, of national identity in the post-Socialist period’ in parallel with an apparent rise in interest that Mongol peoples in Mongolia are having for their nation’s cultural past (Marsh 2009a, p121).

  • In terms of classical Mongolian orchestral ensembles with a morin khuur soloist at its musical heart-centre, Batsaihan and The Academy Theatre of National Song and Dance Orchestra of Mongolia are in some ways the elite of the elite. In the following clip Batsaihan wears the medals he has been awarded for his contribution to Mongolian music and culture and is considered a living cultural treasure in these terms. We first met in September 2009 when Damdin Gerlee, a mutual friend, invited him over to our apartment the evening before I was due to fly out of Chingghis Khan airport after quite some time working in Mongolia. To this day, virtuosic technique aside, the sound Batsaihan generates through his morin khuur, still sends shivers up and down my spine. Along with so many others in Mongolia, I have travelled thousands of kilometres across the steppe listening to ‘his sound.’ Published 24 April 2014. Retrieved: 21 December 2016.

  • For a soloist display of extraordinary technique on the morin khuur, one that foregrounds melodic ornamentation against the tonal background of a Bb or F drone (or lower pitch open tuning for some older songs), see B. Battulga‘s following performance of ‘Jonon kharlin yavdal’ on an original-styled instrument. The face of his morin khuur is covered with animal skin (rather than a soundboard of timber) and the two strings, rather than synthetic, are made of  hundreds of individual horses’ hairs—some from mares and others from stallions. This can been interpreted as another example of the Mongol “arga-bileg” conception: in this iteration, in terms of an idealised balance — between culturally-specific female and male energies? qualities? attributes? or yet another permutation of ‘modality’? —as referred to above. It’s all in the mind’s-eye of the beholder, right? Published 15 June 2011. Retrieved: 21 December 2016.

Contemporary Mongol Cosmopolitan Historical Classic (hard?) Rock

Mongolia's rockstar Lkhagvaa (left) and Zava Damdin Bagsh (right) in the green room of The Mongolian State Opera House after Kharanga's 25th Anniversary performance. Ulaanbator, Mongolia. 14 August 2013. Photograph: C.Pleteshner

Mongolian rockstar Lhagvaa (left) and Zava Damdin Bagsh (right) in the green room of The Mongolian State Opera House after Kharanga’s 25th Anniversary performance. Ulaanbator, Mongolia. 14 August 2013. Photograph: C.Pleteshner

Khatanbaatar Lhagvasuren (Mong. Лxагвасүрэн), or ‘Lkhagvaa’) and Uugii (the lead guitarist) have been performing together with their rock band Kharanga (Mong. Харанга) for years. [ix] In the next You Tube video you will notice Lkhagvaa replete with adornments (just as you see in the above image here). He wears  mainly Mongolian silver jewellry, hand-tooled locally by silver smith-artisan-friends who he knows. For pop stars like Lkhagvaa in Mongolia (and elsewhere) such vestment-adornments are an integral component to ‘impression management’ (see Kebede 2010).  Such adornments are chosen to communicate a message to a public audience, amongst other things. They can reflect one’s status in society, or visually inscribe other ‘locations’ at play.

One of the symbolic elements, in this case, is the large silver pendant worn by Lkhagvaa (in the You Tube video) with a Svastika (Skt.) at the heart as his centrepiece. I thought it wise to point this out to you before you view the video in order to reduce the likelyhood for a cross-cultural misunderstanding. Please refer to the footnote below [x] if you would like to find out more about the Svastika and what it may reflect in this contemporary post-soviet socialist Mongolian cultural context.

  • The Mongolian Live Sessions. Lhagvaa’s incredible vocal range aside, our euro-centric cultural norms are up for discussion (forthcoming post). As for Uujgii’s guitar playing? Just the usual: eloquent, understated, complimentary and precise. The title of the song is ‘Waiting.’ This song is very popular and there are many versions with most Mongolians in Mongolia knowing one or more verses. The translation of the song into English goes something like this: As the evening stars appear in the sky, beautiful one, please come. I sit with a yearning heart-mind and await you with a peaceful disposition. I wish for you to come. The moon appears in the sky and shines down to the earth. The stars too are shining. These all reminds me of you. The morning light is dawning. Please come to me. The wonder of nature has awoken in me. I feel and sense all this since I met you. I wish for you to come to me here. Published: 2013. Retrieved: 21 December 2016

Mongol-Khazakh Instrumentation

  • Mongolian Morin khuur (Muukhai Ganbold) and Dombra (Myrat Abai)

The dombor (with two strings, a long neck and round belly) is the instrument traditionally played by Khazakh [xi] musicians.[xii] In terms of balance, I thought it important to present an example of this stream of musical creativity in Mongolia too.  Published 2014. Retrieved: 21 December 201


Contemporary (Mongol) Music in Performance: geospatially, to the North

  • Фольклорный ансамбль Тува в Красноярске. Tuva Folkloric Ensemble.

Tuva (Tuvan: Тыва; Russian: Тува́) is a Republic of the Russian Federation and is located in Southern Siberia with a geo-political border with Mongolia to the South. This demarcation is very important in terms of the flow, or otherwise, of a whole raft of things. Whilst the majority of people in Tuva, are of Turkic descent and speak Tuvan (unlike the Russian minority) the two dominant (revived) religions are Gelugpa Buddhism-Tengrism and Shamanism, with Russian Orthodoxy and Protestant Christianity being generally-speaking under-represented. Published 2012. Retrieved: 21 December 2016. 

Visual interlude: Contemporary Music in Trans-global Performance: the cosmopolitan multi-cultural elite— to the South

The Zurich-based Stradivari Quartett. (L to R: Xiaoming Wang, Sebastian Bohren, Maja Weber and Lech Antonio Uszynski). April 2013. Guanghua School of Management Performance. Peking University, Beijing. 15 May 2013. Photograph: C.Pleteshner

The Zurich-based Stradivari Quartett. (L to R: Xiaoming Wang, Sebastian Bohren, Lech Antonio Uszynski and Maja Weber). April 2013. Guanghua School of Management Performance. Peking University, Beijing. 15 May 2013. Photograph: C.Pleteshner

I decided to include the above photograph to make a point regarding the apparent omnipotence of euro-centric classical music and its presence in elite socio-cultural settings wherever geographically elite performers of this genre may happen to be. [xiii] Regardless of this meta-observation, the musicians in the Zurich-based Stradivari Quartett and their beautiful instruments were absolutely amazing! Anthropological fieldwork has had its   privileges. Without doubt, the opportunity to see this quartet perform live in Beijing, not five metres from where I was seated is an experience I will never forget!  To continue

Contemporary (Mongol) Music in Globalising Networks for Performance: from home to the East and South

In post-socialist Mongolia, the re-institution of elite music and musicians (away from Soviet socialist auspicing and affiliation) is now happening at a politico-structural level. I’ve noticed recently that English language Mongolia-related lists to which I subscribe are increasingly offering descriptions of keystone organizational ‘developments’ that are (appropriately) rendered in the English language (and Mongolian Cyrillic sometimes.

  • The Mongol composer Zulan and her modernization of traditional musical forms. See: ‘Sound Magician’ which premiered at the Beethovenfest in Germany. Published: 23 September 2015. Retrieved: 21 December 2016;

To be clear, these are but a few threads in a much more complicated local-to-Mongolia matrix of societal realignments and in-the-public-domain conversations. What of the bigger picture, the ‘thicker description’ (cf. Clifford Geertz, 1973) of events? What news of other Mongol cultural reimaginings rendered in Beijing Mandarin or Russian Cyrillic? What do we English-reading audiences hear (through interpreters) from these alternative modes of communication? Maybe one of you could help me out here?

Contemporary Mongol ‘borderland’ music in performance: western ‘world music’  conceptions

There are a few (but not so many) professional ‘western’ musician-performers who have embraced late 20th century Mongolian (in Mongolia) musical forms, instrumentation, sonorities and playing techniques, and then merged them with their own. One could say that such a musician, someone who wanted to work ‘inter-culturally’ in another country of origin to that of their own, would adopt a synthetic if not syncretic approach[xiv] in their creativity. They are attempting to merge initially unfamiliar musical idioms, motifs, instrumentation and ideation of ‘other’ into developing their own innovative syncretic forms. In so doing, they re-forge the porous boundaries of personal curiosities, abilities and tastes.

So why make the effort to do this in person, to travel all the way to Mongolia[xv] [xvi] rather than just Google along? Moreover, what are some of the artistic and embodied results arising from such a considerable inter-cultural and personal investment?

In response to the first question, a serious musician can avail themselves, through immersion in the aesthetics and other facets of a (new) proximal culture (cf. Mongolian culture in Mongolia) to stimulate their own artistic renewal and dynamic revitalization. As for my response to the second question? I have selected the musical creativity of Paris-based multi-instrumentalist arranger-composer Mathias Duplessy (1972- ) for his broad palette of multimodal-multimedia options and what can materialise (artistically) from taking the risk to wade into the pond of ‘culturally new. .[xvii] Duplessy’s compositions and performances (and their flamboyant at times outrageous multiple self-projections) appeal to me if not for their theatre, then out of curiosity. The following selection of links to his creations will give you a sense of what I am talking about.

  • An original compostion for morin khuur, voice and drum by Mathias Duplessy. It’s a multi-track. He plays all three. From the album Public tunes/Private Songs).

Sad Morin Khuur   Published: 2012. Retrieved: 21 December 2016.

  • From the album ‘Violins of the World.’ Composed by Enkhjargal Dandarvaanchig (Morin khuur) and Mathias Duplessy (guitar and Khoomei) with Guo Gan (on erhu) and Aliocha Regnard (on nyckelharpa).

Crazy Horse  Published in 2015. Retrieved: 21 December 2016.

  • A largely improvised (live performance) in a less staged setting, different instrumentation and blending of multi-cultural vocal techniques.

Duplessy and The Three Violins of the World  Published: 2013.   Retrieved: 21 December 2016.

  • Mathias Duplessy playing one of his compositions (live): a rhythmic blues with Mongol styles of singing (Kargyraa and Khoomei) whilst playing a two-string Gnawa Bass (Gombri) traditionally used for certain African spiritual rhythms and songs.

Blues in Mongolian Style  Published: 2011 Retrieved: 21 December 2016.

  • Finally, if your taste for ‘other’ music is not yet satiated, then, take a look at the following  version of a (western) rock classic by contemporary Korean gayageum-instrumentalist-electronic composer Luna Lee. The gayaeum is, like the Mongolian traditional instruments described in this post, a zither but with 12-21 strings. Luna is not Mongolian but I think her syncretic approach to cross-cultural creativity is worth further exploration.

 Voodoo Child (Jimmy Hendrix) on Korean Gayageum by Luna Published: February 2013. Retrieved: 21 December 2016.


Creative Distanciation: Etude for Naro (video on You Tube by CP)

“Without an imagined audience there is no message, there is no art.” [xviii]

The identity and attachments formed by a participant-observer (CP) who has been ‘situated’ in another non-English speaking culture for many years is turning out to be far more layered than I ever imagined: more than any rendering in written summaries or acknowledgement sections could ever hope to give account. This year I have begun searching out other ways to document and communicate to others my observations and experiences in Mongolia these past years. I aspire to communicate my deep sense of connection with the Mongol people about whom I write more creatively (or something to that effect).

And so, the short video on You Tube titled, Etude for Naro is my next attempt to reach this goal. It is the final component of this Creative Distanciation presentation (which is both distributed (across 2 channels) and multimodal [xix] (see Arola, Sheppard, and Ball 2014).

I would like to think that—this is a bit of a mouthful—my choice of instrumentation for performance, the composite of visual elements and the range of local-to-Mongolia narratives they are intended to invoke, together with the semantics, phonologies and associated meanings (cf. Leonard Bernstein) conveyed through this amalgam of source materials, may in some way reflect important facets of my in-Mongolia identity and my attachments to particular others there. On You Tube, I have re-created for (Mongolian) others a work to (metaphorically) bridge the distance from my home in Melbourne to them in Mongolia using mutually recognizable instrumentation, cultural symbols and other motifs.

Resource:  Etude for Naro video on You Tube (Length: 3:48 min)

Resource : Etude for Naro: Sheetmusic   (lead sheet, see below)

Creative Distanciation: Etude for Naro (a technical study by CP)

“Since in music we deal with notes, not words, with chords, with transitions, with color and expression, the musical meaning always based on those notes as written and nothing else, has to be divined.” (Claudio Arrau) [xxv]

This creative work is not an origin story of (Mongolian) cultural exceptional-ism. That is, I am not composing or performing ‘traditional’ Mongolian music that I have learnt. Rather, I have drawn from the strong influences of the Nineteenth Century Euro-centric classical tradition in our music-s; an aspect of contemporary musicianship that most (post) (soviet) Mongolian classically-trained musicians share. The intention is to communicate a shard of cultural understanding and empathy, as well as a kind of wholesome attachment to these same others there. Have I succeeded? I will only know when I am told. The Mongolian people with whom I keep company take their music seriously, especially when a work is expressly and overtly related to them. (Here, she breaks into a broad smile that tapers off into nervous laugher as she continues to write).

Etude for Naro[xx] is an original composition (I think) arranged for piano akkordeon in the key of C minor. It builds on a simple motif cascading downward from the minor third, and pays homage to the technical studies for pianoforte by Carl Czerny (1791-1857) and his enormous body of other works.[xxi] My original copy of Czerny’s Schule der Gelaufigkeit (The School of Velocity) Opus 299, purchased in 1965 for 7/- (Australian Shillings) sits front and centre within the video’s visual frame. Etude for Naro is intended as a heart-gift for a young musician friend of mine in Mongolia. Like others in this post, she too is flourishing in the vibrant inter-cultural social worlds we call home.

L to R: Catherine Pleteshner, Zasep Tulku from Canada, and Ulziikhishig Temuulen after his morin khuur performance. Delgeruun Choira Ger. Dundgovi Aimag, Gobi Desert Mongolia. 12 September 2013. Photograph: Zava Damdin Institute of Mongolia Photographic Archive.

L to R: Catherine Pleteshner, Zasep Tulku a visitor from Canada, and Ulziikhishig Temuulen who is based in the capital after his morin khuur performance. Delgeruun Choira, Dundgovi Aimag in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert and hundreds of kilometres south of the capital, Ulaanbaator. 12 September 2013. This photograph is reprinted with permission from The Zava Damdin Institute of Mongolia photographic archive.


So that’s it! My sincerest gratitude to Zava Damdin Bagsh  (1976 – ) for the ongoing invitation to sustain ‘Mongolia’ as an animated point of cultural reference and study for the past decade and more. Some musicians referred to in this post are acquaintances if not friends. I thank you all. In particular, I would like to thank Dugarjav Bilguun who since 2004 has been opening my eyes and ears to the rich and changing palette of local music in Mongolia today. To his nephew Ulziikhishig Temuulen, a very big thank you also. A busy young man about town in UB, he was kind enough to give me, my first lessons on the morin khuur, a precious gift from a Mongol elder. Also, a big thank you to Amarbat Temuulen and Damdin Gerlee (people in women’s bodies) for being there for me— at the last minute when I need your help most! And to Christopher Blackall who continues to support my interrogation of western academic literature as a counterpoint to ‘doing anthropology’ out in the field—thank you so much! Irrespective of age, there are few people with whom I keep company in Mongolia for whom making music is not implicated in some meaningful way in what they do. I thank you for  your time and for what you have chosen over the years to so generously share with me. Finally, I wish to thank some of my musician-friends in Melbourne, especially Amy Lynch[xxii], Peter Anderson[xxiii], and Kirsty Pittman,[xxiv] with whom I share the love of inter-cultural and community-based music-making as performance art.


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Mayer, Richard E. 2014. “Principles Based on Social Cues in Multimedia Learning: personalisation, voice, image and embodiment principles.” In The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning (Second Edition), edited by Richard E Mayer. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

McGarrity, Andrew. 2015. “Philosophical Reasoning and Spiritual Practice: Guiseppe Tucci on Buddhist philosophical systems.” In Asian Horizons: Giuseppe Tucci’s Buddhist, Indian, Himalayan and Central Asian Studies, edited by Angelo Andrea Di Castro and David Templeman. Melbourne: Monash University Publishing.

Mullin, Glenn H., ed. 1996. Tsongkhapa’s Six Yogas of Naropa by Tsongkhapa Lobzang Drakpa. Ithaca, New York: Snow Lion Publications.

O’Connell, John Morgan. 2015. “Sounds Humane: Music and Humanism in the Aga Khan Humanities Project.” In The Oxford Handbook of Applied Ethnomusicology, edited by Svanibor Pettan and Jeff Todd Titon. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. pp681-691.

Ortner, Sherry B. 1973. “On Key Symbols.” American Anthropologist 75:1338-1346.

Pegg, Carole. 2001. “Embodying Spiritual Landscapes.” In Mongolian Music, Dance and Oral Narrative: Performing Diverse Identities London: University of Washington Press.

Pleteshner, Catherine. 2011. Nomadic Temple: Daughters of Tsongkhapa in Mongolia. Melbourne: self-published.

Ronstrom, Owe. 2014. “Traditional Music, Heritage Music.” In The Oxford Handbook of Music Revival, edited by Caroline Bithell and Juniper Hill. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schnotz, Wolfgang. 2014. “Integrated Model of Text and Picture Comprehension.” In The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning (Second Edition), edited by Richard E Mayer. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Shaw, Miranda. 2006. “Sarasvati.” In Buddhist Goddesses of India. Oxford: Princeton University Press. pp234-46.

Sweers, Britta. 2014. “Toward an Application of Globalisation Paradigms to Modern Folk Music Revivals.” In The Oxford Handbook of Music Revival, edited by Caroline Bithell and Juniper Hill. New York: Oxford University Press.


[i] ‘Distanciation’ is an important concept when writing from an imagined ‘reader-oriented’ perspective i.e. ‘you’. Although grounded in text, writing is not ‘objective’ and is therefore open to interpretation, right? So, as a work of ‘discourse’ this post, this ‘composition’, follows an arc (like others on my website) to tell a particular story, with footnotes designed to not only support the unfolding narrative and its ‘style’, but to work with a form of distanciation; the one that takes into account a narrative text’s separation from the frame of reference where the orator (me) and her live audience (you) were proximally located and our dialogic exchange was real-time.

To be sure, in terms of narrative modalities, writing and speaking are two different modes and ‘distanciation’ highlights an important difference between the two. Attributed to French Philosopher Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005). The other form of ‘distanciation’ of relevance here, is related to ‘meaning’ where written text has the potential to acquire a longer life than that of a speech event (see Czarniawska 2004, pp69-71). I draw on the powerful dynamics of meta-narrative and ‘self-explaining’ (Fiorella and Mayer 2015, pp123-129) with metaphor, allegory, repetition and detail to tell my story in parts.

[ii] In terms of western academic studies associated with a psychology of music, how can we make sense of music-s’ diversity? … ‘the functions of which range from the individual—music can affect the way we feel and the way we manage our lives—to the social (it can facilitate the co-ordination of large numbers of people and help to forge a sense of group identity… musical behavior (including all kinds of listening and performance) also covers a vast middle ground in which relationships between self and other or between the individual and the collective are played out’ (Martin Clayton 2016, p47). In terms of the ‘aesthetics’ of music and ‘the idea of concurrent parallel mental processes transforms our understanding of the phenomenon of pleasure’ (Huron 2016, p239) and music’s integration into our everyday life. As for the creative processes associated with musical composition? Whilst there is little agreement (even within Western culture) on a cultural definition of ‘composition’ (Impett 2016, p651) for this post I’ll leave it at, ‘humanly organized sound’ (Blacking 1973). As for the question of, ‘musical identity’ Hargreaves, MacDonald and Miell (2016, p759) continue to argue, quite rightly, that notions of musical identity, overlap with other psycho-socially constructed concepts such as personhood, self-concept and musical preference.

[iii]   At the level of presentation formats, ‘multimedia’ refers, ‘to the use of different forms of representation such as texts and pictures. At the level of sensory modalities, it means the use of multiple sensory organs such as the eye and the ear’ (Schnotz 2014, pp72-73). In terms of developing multimedia compositions, the actual information and communication technologies (ICTs) used become less interesting than other perspectives even though they shape their form.

‘Creative Distanciation’ is based on the Integrated Text and Picture Model of Comprehension (ITPC) that, ‘provides a framework for analysis of learning from multiple representations including spoken or written text, visual pictures, and sound pictures’ (p97). In terms of a ‘modality principle,’ presenting some information in visual mode and other information in auditory mode can produce ‘the modality effect’ where learning occurs through a mixed-mode presentation of information. There is research evidence that supports the assumption that this is more effective than a single-mode presentation of the same information (Low and Sweller 2014, p227).

I have also adopted the ‘personalization principle’ long advocated by Richard E Mayer (2014, p345), in that, ‘people learn more deeply when the words in a multimedia presentation are in conversational style’ and from my perspective, that’s you.

[iv] The detailed nature of postings (incl. footnotes) to my web-blog are designed to have ‘long tail distributions’ (Benkler 2006). This effect is made possible through online access. It is quantified (in terms of value to unknown others) and monitored and measured (website backend analytics and visiting patterns) through reducing yet sustained visits to both older and more recent posts to over time. In terms of Internet-based modelling, I choose to align myself with other individuals who are contributing to rich commons-like and non-fiscal networks of knowledge sharing and cultural production.

[v] Based on my participant-observations and social relations in Mongolia since 2004, the following conception of ‘cosmopolitan’ from Peter Marsh (Marsh 2009a, p7) rings most true: ‘[The] musical and conceptual continuities that connect the Socialist and post-Socialist periods in Mongolia are rooted in a fundamental social transformation of the twentieth century [called ‘cosmopolitanism’.] By this I am referring to the imagined connection that people sense they have with a broader trans-local or international community, but which is manifest in distinctly local ways. Mongolian cosmopolitans are those who, often by virtue of their training, education, or experience, identify with a broader international culture or way of life, and who seek to bring a uniquely Mongolian version of this to their homeland.’

[vii] See Peter Marsh (2009b, pp16-46) for a developmental history of the two-stringed bowed lute from the era of the Mongol Empire until the Peoples Revolution in 1921. Marsh’s narrative, based on data available to scholars of the western tradition, builds a picture of the cultural life of the Gobi Khalkha and Western Oriat people.

[viii] ‘Residing at the heart of a complex of symbolic meanings surrounding the key symbol of Chinggis Khan (cf. Ortner 1973), the Mongolian horse-headed lute (Mong: морин хуур) has come to play an important role in the narratives surrounding and supporting the new national myths’ (Marsh 2009a, pp122-123) as well as playing an important role in defining modern Mongolians in Mongolia self-identity.

[ix] The singer-performer Lhagvaa is (through my eyes) the Mongolian (in Mongolia) equivalent of Australia’s John Farnham. Australians reading this post may be able to connect to Lhagvaa through this lens. In 2015, at their 25th Year Anniversary Concert at the Mongolian State Opera House in UB it was standing room only. At the State Opera House performance, I saw how children and adults from four and five generations of the one Mongol kinship group had come together as a family outing to the concert. They were seated in clusters, sang along with each song (they knew all the words!) and often had their arms raised and swinging in time with the music—something everyone else in the auditorium was also doing. Such is Lhagvaa’s deep heart-connection with his local Mongolian-in-Mongolia audience.

[x] The musician-performer Khatanbaatar Lhagvasuren is wearing a pendant with a Svastika at his heart as an element in his public presentation of self to others. Robert Beer (1999: 343) refers to the Svastika (Eng. Swastika) as, ‘a common symbol found in many cultures and civilisations. It occurs in Egyptian, Trojan, Roman, Teutoni and Celtic stone carvings; as a symbolic motif of the American Indians, throughout North Central and South America; and in Persian, Central Asian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and South East Asian art … in Buddhist art [ ] the Swastika represents the stability of the element Earth … The Indian symbol of the swastika first appears amongst artifacts from the ancient Harappan city of Mohehjo-Daro in the Indus Valley (circa 2500 B.C.). [It] was first identified with Vishnu, as a solar or fire symbol of his chakra or as the auspicious mark which adorns Vishnu’s breast—known as the shrivatsa— meaning ‘beloved of good fortune’ …

[Furthermore] the Sanskrit word ‘svastika’ derives from the root sv-asti, meaning well-being, good fortune, success or prosperity… In the Tibetan Bon tradition the swastika (Tib. g.yung drung) meaning eternal and unchanging, essentially corresponds to the Buddhist vajra … The Bon swastika rotates in an anticlockwise direction, unlike the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist swastika, whose sacred motion is clockwise… In Indian symbolism the right (Skt. dakshina) or clockwise-rotating swastika is identified with the male principle of the god, and the left (Skt. vama) or anticlockwise swastika (Skt. sauvastika) with the feminine principle of the goddess. In China the swastika (Ch. wan) was originally a Taoist symbol of eternity and divinity … Whatever its origin, the swastika was essentially an ancient and widespread auspicious symbol of good fortune, though its adoption by the German Nazi Party as the symbol of the Third Reich has recently bestowed the most sinister impression of nationalism upon it.’ Lkhagvaa has for the many years I’ve known him has kept company with a high profile Mongolian Gelugpa prelate (ZDR, 1976 – ) in Mongolia. Suffice to say, his incorporation of a Svastika into a public persona, is likely to have Indic and Buddhist (rather than Third Reich) overtones.

[xi] Also Kazak, Turkic: Qazaq; Russian: Қазаx (Qazaqs “of the steppes” as differentiated from Казак (Cossacks of the Russian Imperial military). With Turkic ancestry, their presence is concentrated on an area that extends from Eastern Europe and eastwards across the Ural Mountains and ‘Central Asia’ into Russia and the ‘Inner Asia’ nation states of China, and Mongolia. According to the 2010 National Mongolian Census preliminary results, in 2010, 96% of people living in Mongolia (Mong. Монгол Улс) were ethnic Mongols. The remaining 4% (~201,000 people) were Khazakh.

[xii] I am unaware of any current projects related to researching Khazakh-centric musicianship in Mongolia although there may well be some local initiatives in this regard. However, from an inter-cultural educational perspective the Fourth Aga Khan’s Humanities Project may have much to offer musician-educators in this field. As John M. O’Connell (2015) explains, the Humanities Project is focused on curriculum development, academic instruction, and scholarly research. Conceived as an educational project that serves to promote pluralism and tolerance in Central Asia, the program draws upon an international range of pedagogical sources. These encompass the cultural artifacts of world traditions that foster a new understanding of difference in the region. Critical here is the development of a civil society that is both democratic and humane in the wake of Soviet disintegration.

As a way of building bridges across the region, the curriculum is now taught in more than fifty institutions. Since the syllabus involves “core texts” from around the world and the pedagogy emphasizes critical reasoning in a cross-cultural perspective, the curriculum aims to promote leadership through a humanist approach to education. The project acknowledges music in the curriculum. As part of a wider study of expressive culture, the program views music as a human activity that serves both to embed cultural identity and to foster intercultural dialogue. In the first instance, the curriculum honors the musical traditions of Central Asia, be they of Turkic origin (such as the epic cycle called Manas in Kyrgyzstan) or Persian derivation (such as the elegiac form called madah in Tajikistan). The curriculum also looks at the materials of music (such as song texts) and the artifacts of music (such as instrument design).

The curriculum examines the lives of musicians, tracing how each learned his or her art and how each practiced his or her tradition. This part of the curriculum draws on the work of the Music Initiative, especially the master-apprentice program now established in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan (among other countries). Significantly, musical anthologies of representative performances are available in the form of CDs and DVDs. The musical content of the curriculum benefits from these resources. Music theory is not described as technical abstraction. Principles are related to practice, the curriculum emphasizing the relationship between the audible and visible to demonstrate the sophistication of creativity both as an expression of human cognition and as a celebration of human sensibility. Music repertoire is related to musical concepts, showing how musical performances are structured and realized. Here, music categories are viewed as cultural commodities that are shared and exchanged between distinctive traditions.

[xiii] A nod from me to the French Sociologist-Philosopher Pierre Bourdieu (1984) and the topic of ‘distinction.’

[xiv] Here, I would like to draw on Ronald M. Davidson’s observation (2002: p116) of how ‘regional institutional cultures’ (cf. monasteries in Early Esoteric Indian Buddhism, circa. 7th century) can be seen as analogous to educational institutions and large corporations of our modern age. Participating individuals are socialized to reflect the values and behaviors of (more senior) others associated with the organisation to which they aspire, for whatever reasons, to belong. If you have completed musical training at a University or monastic training in another kind of Institute of Higher Education you will know to what I am refer here. Notionally, such communities of trainee-practitioners in socially-constructed terms (see Fisher 2006), negotiate and are buffeted by cross currents of expectations. To be sure, the environment is competitive, hierarchical and individual-focused. As Davidson points out, this ensures the development of a consensus around the big picture history of an institution, and what it’s opinion leaders think it should, for whatever reasons, be about.

[xv] The entire population for the country of Mongolia is ~3,035,000, with a current net migration loss of ~3,000 people leaving the country this year. To be sure, there are more Mongol people living beyond Mongolia’s nation state borders than there are living therein. It is estimated that ~100,00 Kalmyk Mongols live in Elista (Russian Federation); 500,000 Buryat Mongols live in Ulan-Ude and Irkutsk (Russian Federation); ~140,00 Oirat Mongols who live in Xinjiang (People’s Republic of China); and ~263,000 Tuvan- Mongolia who live in Kyzyl (Russian Federation) (Source: Quora at

In relation to descendants of Khalkha Mongols, ~5,800,000 live in China and ~30,500 in South Korea (Source: 2010 Mongolian Census). In 2010 there were only ~18,300 Mongolian Americans whose communities are concentrated in California, Illinois, Virginia and Colorado. (Source: “Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010 Census Summary File 2, Mongolian alone or in any combination (465) & (100-299) or (300, A01-Z99) or (400-999)”. American FactFinder. United States Census Bureau).

Smaller communities of Khalkha Mongols live in the Czech Republic (~7500) (Mongolia Web Accessed: 21 December 2016), the United Kingdom (~7,000) (Mongolia: Mapping exercise. London: International Organization for Migration. May 2009), Canada (~5,300) (Canadian 2011 Household Survey of mother tongues spoken at home) and Japan (~4,700) (Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tokyo 2005). According to the 2011 Australian Bureau of Statistics National Census, there are ~1200 people with Mongolian ancestry living in Australia with the largest concentration in and around Sydney, New South Wales.

[xvi] My study of contemporary (post-soviet socialist) Mongol culture continues to be focused on Mongolians-in-Mongolia and not on the broader Mongol diaspora that, since the cessation of soviet socialist rule in Mongolia ~ 1990, has since moved much further afield.

[xvii] Mathias Duplessy is a classical guitarist-composer. See Jeremy Jouve playing one of Duplessy’s compositions, Cavalcade (Presto Mouvement). Published: 2012. [Retrieved: 21 December 2016.

[xviii] See: Retrieved: 4 November 2016.

[xix] Here, ‘multimodal’ describes the combination and use of original music, images, video and text in an integrated exposition The work is also ‘multi-disciplinary’ in that it draws from Anthropology, Musicology, Ethnomusicology, Asian Studies, Communication Studies, Buddhist Studies, Mongolian Gelugpa Studies, Cultural Studies, Narrative Studies and Educational Research. The creative opportunities available in this modality, at the intersection of disciplines, are considerable: something that working strictly within intra-disciplinary frameworks and their stylistic conventions would most likely disallow.

[xx] ‘Naro’ is also a direct reference to the Indian (Bengali) Brahmin Mahasiddha Nāro-pā (Prakrit; Sanskrit: Nāropadā) (see Loden 2005, Mullin 1996, Courtin and Cameron 1998) who studied at Nalanda University in the ancient kingdom of Magadha (modern-day Bihar in India). Located south-east of Patna, I first visited the ruins of this once acclaimed centre of Buddhist learning (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in 1987. My journey into studying Buddhist logic and philosophy and experiencing its community-based socio-cultural constructions has unfolded from there.

The journey of writing on this topic, however, from the outset has been inspired by Yanjin (Mong.) and her associated and at times appointed temporal embodiments. The name ‘Yanjin’ is derived from ‘Yangjan Lhamo’ (Mong. Egesigtü eke; Tib. dbYans-can-ma) and in Sanskrit. Sarasvati. ‘ Sarasvati’s presence is not usually sought in the home’ (although the ubiquity for the Internet and working from home is now changing all that) … her presence (particularly in India) is sought in libraries and schools by those who create and bear culture in the ongoing task of transforming the natural world into a refined and civilized habitation for human beings.’ (Kingsley 1986, p63) quoted in Miranda Shaw (2006c, p236) who goes on to describe how, ‘Sarasvati has been associated with intellectual and artistic pursuits and [is] invoked by those who seek knowledge or strive through education or sacred arts to transmit the cultural values than ennoble and embellish life.’ (Pleteshner 2011, p126 fn.76).

As Andrew McGarrity (2015, p313) points out, ‘the dichotomy between philosophical reasoning or analysis and spiritual practice or religious experience has been a common motif in shaping Western perceptions of Indian and Buddhist thought’ and by implication the wide range of cross-cultural perceptions related to those who self-identify as ‘Buddhist.’ If then, ‘the syncretic nature of the Buddha’s teaching[s] and [their] ability to pull apparently disparate philosophical strands together into a harmonious whole, especially through the incorporation of ethical cultivation’ is valid, then in broader sociological terms, I am deeply sympathetic to Guiseppe Tucci’s apparent ‘big picture’ perspective in how the Mahayana tradition can bring together disparate philosophical, ethical, religious and cultural expressions with a sense of internal unity and coherence (pp343-44). In other words, put more simply, and to quote Sandra Bullock, “— and world peace!”

[xxi] Born in Vienna (of Czech ancestry) this industrious Austrian composer produced more than a thousand works (up to Opus 861) many of which were études (“studies”) specifically composed to facilitate the progressive development of piano technique. In terms of ‘modern’ classical piano technique, legacy and lineage, the Russian-Royal Prussian Court pianist Anna Yesipova (1851-1914), the deeply patriotic Polish-American-Jewish pianist Arthur Rubenstein (1887-1982), the Chilean (Spanish-Scottish-Catholic) pianist Claudio Arrau (1903-1991) and Argentinian Jewish-born pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim (1942- ) are descendants. See Bomberger, D E (2004) An Index to Music Published in The Etude magazine 1883-1957 (Lanham: Scarecrow Press).

As a far less accomplished student of classical piano technique, I also studied Czerny’s etudes and based my interpretations of Beethoven’s piano sonatas (for examinations) on Arrau’s ‘romantic’ [Schonberg, Harold C (1987) The Great Pianists from Mozart to the Present (Simon & Schuster. 2nd Edition] ‘thick and disembodied’ [Randles, Roma (2013) A Life in Music: Ruth Nye and the Arrau Heritage (Grosvenor House Publishing) p1937] sound.

[xxii] The pianist-composer Amy Lynch is my akkordeon tutor. Born in Tasmania, Amy first studied advanced classical piano with the English-born, French-educated piano soloist Beryl Sedivka (b1928) at the Tasmanian Conservatorium where she completed her undergraduate degree. Sedivka, also an outstanding classical chamber musician, had studied piano with the Croatian pianist Dino Ciami (1941- 1974), the British pianist (Cutner) Solomon (1902-1988) and the German-born British composer and concert pianist Theodor Reizenstein (1911-1968) before moving to Tasmania to teach and perform for The Tasmanian Conservatorium in 1966.

Amy is currently enrolled in a tailored program, ‘a specialized year of study for students who have achieved academic excellence in their undergraduate degree’ at The Melbourne (University) Conservatorium of Music. She cites the classical pianist-composer Michael Horsphol, previously her neighbor, and the akkordeon-improviser Anthony Schultz as informing and influencing her emergent performance and compositional works. After three years of living abroad in South America and studying music in Buenos Aires (Argentina), Amy Lynch is currently the pianist/akkordeonist and founding member of La Busca. This particular ensemble specializes in interpreting and improvising traditional tangos from early 20th Century Argentina in innovative ways. The group performs original arrangements for which Amy, the talented jazz acoustic double bass player Elise Winterflood and Jessica McLaughlan (flute) have been the primary source.

[xxiii] The instrument I play on You Tube is a Hohner Concerto 26/48 vintage piano akkordeon manufactured in Germany during the late 1960s early 1970s. It was British-born Oliver (‘Olie’) Hinton (Community Music Victoria’s Coordinator) who first introduced me to this model (similar to the one he plays) and so began the search for a similar instrument of my own. After six months reconnaissance, the akkordeon on which I perform Etude for Naro has travelled from Germany to Bulgarian akkordeonist Slav Petrov in Dobrich then on to me here in Melbourne. It is lightweight and responsive with a punchy sound. I would like to thank Melbourne’s piano akkordeon aficionado Peter Anderson for facilitating this above average musician-to-instrument match. In terms of akkordeon repairs and construction, he is our go-to-artisan in this particular field.

[xxiv] Kirsty Pittman is an English born, Melbourne-based composer and guitarist-performer who is currently studying composition at The Melbourne (University) Conservatorium of Music with Professor Stuart Greenbaum for her Honours Degree. Here, she is also exploring modern classical guitar and Tango guitar with her other mentors, Ken Murray and Doug de Vries. Recently she has completed compositions for orchestra, big bands, electronics, guitar ensemble, extended chamber works as well as solos and duets. In previous years, she majored in guitar at The Melbourne Polytechnic and cites guitarist Tom Fryer and multi instrumentalist Adrian Sherriff as influential teachers in this regard. She speaks of how they stimulated and encouraged focus on using Turkish and Arabic drum rhythms and additive cycles for her original compositions. At The Melbourne Polytechnic she also studied Konnokol with Adrian Sherriff, and Karnatic Vocals with Shobhar Sekhur. She continues to develop her own skills under the tutelage of both of them. In 2015 Kirsty Pittman was invited to perform in a collaboration of Western and South Indian musicians in an ensemble led by Guru Karaikudi Mani and Adrian Sherriff.

Improvisation and composing original works is Kirsty’s main focus. Her compositions always have a large improvisatory element. Recently she has been exploring the Oud and fretless guitar in order to explore microtones and thereby add to her existing palette of improvised sounds and techniques. Since 2015, her primary outlet for performance and original compositions has been her chamber-jazz fusion ensemble Samassin with whom in 2016 she toured Europe and Turkey. Kirsty Pittman in mentioned here because I think her original compositions—their earthy, vibrant, original eastern-tinged jazz compositions, exotic rhythms drawn from traditional rhythmic ideas of the Middle East and Balkans— are outstanding, in terms of complexity and in terms of the visual imagery/emotional journey listening to her music supports. The rich textures and sounds of ‘Golden Muse’, the Samassin Quartet’s album, appeals deeply to my own musical conscience and its eclectic taste.

[xxv] Source: Claudio Arrau Biography Retrieved: 3 October 2016. At The Dame Nellie Melbourne Conservatorium of Music in Melbourne during the early 1970s, I studied a number of Beethoven’s later piano sonatas according to Arrau’s interpretive style under the supervision of my classical piano teacher, the wonderful Margriet Pendavingh.

The multimodal presentation Creative Distanciation: Etude for Naro (Soundscape 04) was created by Catherine Pleteshner.

See the INDEX to my blog for other articles that may be of interest.


In keeping with ethical scholarly research and publishing practices and the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, I anticipate that anyone replicating the photographs or translating into another language all or part of this article and submitting it for accreditation or other purpose under their own name, to acknowledge this URL and its author as the source. Not to do so, is contrary to the ethical principles of the Creative Commons license as it applies to the public domain.

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© 2013-2018 CP in Mongolia. This post is licensed under the  Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Documents linked from this page may be subject to other restrictions.  Posted: 27 December 2016. Last updated: 29 October 2017.