“The Monolith”

[an electro-acoustic composition by Keith Goddard, based on field recordings collected in the Tonga area and the nyele ngoma buntibe composition, ToendeTukulime, by Peter Mwembe. THE MONOLITH was realised in 1997 by Keith Goddard and Klaus Hollinetz in the OK studios, Linz, Austria.]


THE MONOLITH forms part of a larger sound installation, “Wounded Earth and they Greet us with Guns“ which explores the world of the Valley Tonga, a marginalised people who live on both sides of the Zambezi River in the Binga district of Zimbabwe and the Gwembe Valley in Zambia. The lives of the Tonga were severely disrupted in 1957 when they were forcibly moved from their ancestral homes and relocated on higher ground to make way for the building of Kariba dam.


The original concept is an extension of a theme which first appeared in a short story by Arthur C Clarke and which was later expanded in the Stanley Kubrick film "2001 Space Odessy" where the music associated with the monolith is the requiem of György Ligeti.


THE MONOLITH is a creative response to the soundworld of the Valley Tonga people, in particular the ancient, strange musical textures of the Tonga nyele horns used primarily for the Tonga ngoma buntibe funeral ceremony. Besides a battery of five or so drums, there are up to forty individual horns employed in a team. Each man contributes his note to the texture as and when it is required - the one-man-one-note principle, so to speak.


The first 27-minute installation, Wounded Earth, is a natural soundscape, divided into six streams, using natural sounds of the Binga area and recordings from a Tonga funeral at which the nyele composition, Toende Tukulime, by Peter Mwembe was being played. The electro-acoustic transformations in this portion of the work are kept to a minimum.


The Monolith represents strange invasions into the world of the Valley Tonga - strange technologies, strange ideas, strange behaviour. There are many parallels to be drawn between the presence of an outsider amongst the Tonga and the presence of the Monolith appearing as if from nowhere. It exists outside local time and context and is alien to the immediate present: its identity is never clearly defined because it is not completely fathomable. The Monolith's existence and meaning remain always unclear and it raises questions about the reasons for its presence.


Although being an outsider to the environment of the first twenty-seven minutes and essentially divorced from it, the Monolith nevertheless communicates and responds to its unfamiliar surroundings using its own individual code of communication. The presence of the Monolith affects its environment and, in turn, is affected by what surrounds it. To express this, the subject matter for the Monolith is a highly compressed commentary on the first 27 minutes (the ordering of the material remains the same) but the transformations are often so extreme that the natural origins of the sounds are no longer always discernable as Tonga: a single bat becomes a screaming swarm of 7,000; the horns of the Tonga become an urban traffic jam.


The presence of the Monolith raises questions of ethics and responsibility. How does the appearance of the Monolith bring change and how in turn is the Monolith affected by the changes it has brought? Do these changes have value and relevance?


A formal grid is directly imposed on the material throughout the entire composition. This is a set of proportions derived from the "magic" numerical sequence 1,4,2,8,5,7 and multiplications of that sequence by 2,3,4,5,6 which reproduce the same digits in different orders. In THE MONOLITH, the proportions are reduced by two thirds to produce the nine-minute condensation. It is significant that this sequence is entirely irrelevant to the original soundworld but is used as a composition mould exclusively to create artificial order and produce meaning.


The dramatic structure of THE MONOLITH deviates strongly from the strict formal proportions: the piece opens with a strong signal (a stretched bat) which introduces a series of expansive sonic waves. THE MONOLITH opens up at the centre to reveal the sound of footsteps surrounded by strange atmospheres.


A significant part of the first twenty-seven minutes of the installation is devoted to the nyele horn composition, Toende Tukulime, by the Tonga composer, Peter Mwembe. This piece is also the source material for the fanfares in THE MONOLITH. The original, sung by women, is heard towards the beginning of THE MONOLITH and appears later by the composer himself and a group of friends just after the mid-point of the piece.


THE MONOLITH was realised in the studio of the Offenes Kulturhaus, Linz, using an IBM 386, Microsoft Soundtools and the NMS programme devised by Gunther Rabel and Klaus Hollinetz.


THE MONOLITH has been part of a wider cultural exchange project, the Six Reflections on Valley Tonga Music



Pretext: Hugh Tracey, the famed Afroethnomusicologist, was invited to the Gwembe Valley for ten days in 1957 by the Rhodes-Livingstone Museum,"to record some of the music of that section of the Valley Tonga tribe which will be forced to leave their riverside homes when the water of the Kariba Dam begins to rise next year, 1958." Even Tracey, backed by 30 years of recording and analysing music in sub-Saharan Africa, was puzzled by Tonga nyele. He describes it as "a loud and cheerful noise devoid of any melody with everyone, men and women and children shouting, singing, and whistling as they shuffle to the impulse of the drumming." The strangely contemporary sound of this ancient music has now caught the attention of six ,progressive' composers from Austria, Zimbabwe and South Africa, each of whom has tried to make sense of the nyele by writing creative responses to its remote sound world.


Peter Androsch, Linz/Austria: BINGA MUSIC; A composition for two asynchronous CD-players on eight loudspeakers; containing variously digitally processed samples from Luciano Berio, György Ligeti, Charles Ives and others..

Keith Goddard, Harare/Zimbabwe & Klaus Hollinetz, Linz/Austria: THE MONOLITH; Wounded Earth and The Monolith were derived from field recordings made in the Binga area combined with the nyele-horn composition, Toende Tukalime, by Tonga composer Peter Mwembe.

Klaus Hollinetz, Linz/Austria: DISTANT HORNS; An electroacoustic composition based on sound samples from the Tonga area, consisting of four parts: The Drought; The Exile; The Plain; Across the River;

Lukas Ligeti, Vienna/Austria : STORIES OF THE UNKNOWN; An extrapolation for electronic percussion solo, played in a choreographic way based on patterns of movement;

Werner Puntigam, Linz/Austria: MO(VE)MENTS # 1; An interactive sonic picture for twelve trombone voices played simultaneously on twelve tape recorders;

Denzil Weale, Johannesburg/South Africa: TONGALITIS; An Afro-Indian jazz-derived work built out from different simultaneous bpms (beats per minute);