My lasting impression on The Ritual Sound of Vietnam
The ethnic minorities in Vietnam’s central Highlands believe ritual gongs can help them connect with the spiritual world. In November 2005, UNESCO recognized the gong as a masterpiece of “the oral and intangible cultural heritage of humanity”
The ethnic minorities in this region of Vietnam have long acknowledged the scared power of these brass instruments. Many believe that a god lives inside each one and if the gongs is older the god is older and therefore more powerful, which often explains why threes instruments are valued as two elephants, several buffaloes or thousand of bamboo trees.
Traditionally these brass relics have retained the most important position in religious ceremonies and the cultural rituals such as the ear blowing ceremony (blowing a spirit into a new born), weddings, buffalo-stabbing festivals or rice harvesting ceremonies.
The majority of these ethnic groups – the Gia Rai, the Ede, Kpah, the Bah Nar, the Xe Dang and the Brau – consider gongs an instrument reserved exclusively for men. However, others including the Ma or the Mo Nong allow both sexes to use them. And Among the Ede Bih, only women can perform on the gong. Although the technique is deceptively simple, it requires great skill to master the instrument, and each ethnic group has cultivates its own style and method. Some use hard sticks to thunder out noise and rhythm. Others use soft sticks to create lighter sounds. Some even punch the disc to create fantastic whispers. But regardless of the technique, these complex instruments can yield additional tones besides the basic ones. An array of six gongs can emit 12 or more different sounds which explain why they can release tones that are deep and complex.
Many minorities express their happiness, sadness and sorrow through this tradition. And some believe these gongs are the most important of their music. Other instruments, Such as the To Rung, Kloong Put, Goong, Koni, pan-pipes and flutes, are tuned in accordance with the gong.
In the central highlands, an ensemble of gongs is commonplace. Technically, each instrument only sounds one basic note so many are required for a melody. Often these ensembles, with as many as 12 musicians, play in an open space, creating the illusion of one gigantic instrument. The sound waves curve accordingly to the arrangement of the ensemble so if the gongs are arrange horizontally, the sound will move on a horizontal line. If the gongs form a circle then the melodies move in circle. Besides experiencing the tone, the audience can also hear the width of the notes, a 3 –D effect rarely heard outside of this style of Music.
Until the 1960s many considered the Truong Son Mountains and the central highlands to be neglected countryside where impoverished locals relied on primitive farming techniques. But despite these harsh conditions, respect for the gong has grown far and wide, and Vietnam and the rest of the world have finally awoken to its beauty and its role in shaping the region’s culture, philosophy and artistic vision.