EMIGRANT MELODIES (2016)
video (5 min, 10 sec), hand made musical instruments
(Ailanthus horn, black locust kaval, osage orange moldovan recorder, japanese knotweed overtone flute)
In his 1942 essay Racial Purity in Music, Béla Bartók refers to melodies that cross linguistic barriers on account of emigration, resettlement or invasion as “emigrant melodies,” including those that resulted in the diversity of Central European folk music. In their new cultural environment, foreign melodies transform adapting to the characteristics of the local language and thus become an integral part of the specific local culture.
Peasants made their musical instruments from materials they found in their environment, which were the easiest to mould and which provided the required sound. Based on this, today many plants native elsewhere – in North America, Southeast Asia – provide suitable raw material for folk instruments. Found everywhere, the Ailanthus tree’s spongy wood is perfect for carving alphorn; hollow as reed, the Japanese knotweed is suitable for making overtone flutes; the sound of the recorder carved from the black locust surpasses the ones made from fruit trees.
Since Bartók’s project of collecting folk music, not only has folk music in the traditional sense changed, but also the environment once accommodating the peasantry that played authentic folk music. Plantations of non-native plants have been created for their economic benefits – the Alianthus is food for the silkworm, the exceptionally hard Osage orange tree is perfect for tools and as railway sleeper, and the black locust is excellent for the reforestation of eradicated forests on salinized lands, or have been introduced as ornamental plants as the Japanese knotweed.