All Breton music sounds the same!
Debate or de bait? 🙂
All forms of music sound alike within each genre to the uninitiated.
That’s what I like about it.
In his wonderful Field Guide to Irish Music, Barry Foy says ‘of course all Irish music sounds the same. That’s how you know you haven’t wandered into a session of Macedonian or Senegalese music by mistake.’ Might be my favorite part of the whole book.
Write something interesting, then maybe.
@Kess, set this up better. Examples? What do you mean "the same"? To my mother "Bank of Ireland" sounds the same as "Rakish Paddy" but not to me.
Are you suggesting all the tunes are in one key? Same rhythm? Same mood? Please answer your own challenge first.
Only in the same way that Mozart, Beethoven, Hip Hop, Jazz, Pop, Breton, Latin…. etc do.
Holmes McNaughton PI, eight key, simple system Fl in D: https://app.box.com/s/oh3givl2xfuhe74fnutp
I’m not sure of all the Breton(Gaelic?) styles of music, but I don’t think Cape Breton and Irish music sound alike. From the handful of Cape Breton recordings I have, I sense that it may typically feature different instrumentation and rhythmic accent?
I get the impression from YouTubes that Breton music really works when it’s an ongoing wall of sound coming from a lot of different instruments all on the go together - accordions, various bagpipes, bombardes, fiddles, you name it, swelling and diminishing as different instruments start and stop, like some giant python flexing and adjusting its coils around one; and that one really has to be there, probably on wings of Breton scrumpy. I myself haven’t been there.
An ‘an dro’ played as a single melody in a session isn’t quite the same. The Breton dance tunes (the ones I’ve heard, anyway) seem to lack something without the cumulative effects/harmonies/rhythm and melodic shifts/general red mist that the sort of full-on performance I’ve described seems to give them.
The band General Humbert did a nice Breton set on their album "General Humbert" - it had these shifts, and build-up. The Chieftains have done some, but for whatever reason I’ve never got off on their sound, for all that I recognise their talents. However, they did a rather splendid, moody Breton tune whose title began ‘Pardon…’ (it’s a category of tune), which I heard on one album of theirs and have never managed to trace since. I’ve forgotten the album title. I’ve been through discographies, though maybe not thoroughly enough. Info on this tune would be welcome 🙂.
One of its distinguishing features is the call and response. In instrumental music this is typically where the bombarde takes the lead for a short while, then has a rest for the player to get their breath back. In vocal music it is where the lead singer sings a phrase and then everyone else joins in to repeat that phrase.
I’m not sure what we are to be discussing, as it depends entirely upon what one’s definition of "the same" is, and how much similarity is allowed within a type of music before it fits your definition of "the same". By my own take on it, I’d say that no, it doesn’t all sound the same. Again, it depends on how similar something must be before it fits one’s criteria to be considered such, and how broad or narrow that criteria is.
If this is your own opinion, I’d like to know a bit more about your experience with Breton music in order to understand specifically why you have come to this conclusion, as well as how similar two things must be for you to then consider them to be the same.
fiddlelearner: "I don’t think Cape Breton and Irish music sound alike"
I believe that the OP was referring to Breton music - not Cape Breton music.
- Cape Breton music being from the island of Cape Breton (a province of Nova Scotia, Canada) and Breton music being from Brittany (north-west France).
Two very different styles!
"It all sounds the same" is what you always hear from people when they’re talking about a genre they haven’t heard very much of.
Every genre has stylistic parameters. People who spend most of their listening time within a genre take these parameters for granted (sometimes to the point of not being consciously aware of them) and hear the wide variety within the genre. People from outside the genre, who have only had limited exposure to it, hear ONLY the defining parameters so indeed it all ‘sounds the same’ to them.
The same thing happens with accents. People outside of a particular group of accents tend to hear the defining parameters of a group of accents, while people within the group hear the diagnostic sounds that distinguish the accents that comprise the group from each other. So, Canadians and Americans sound alike to Australians and New Zealanders but quite distinct to each other, and Australians and New Zealanders sound alike to Americans but quite distinct to each other.
So "it all sounds the same" is one of those statements that can always be dismissed out of hand. Other immediately dismissible statements: the _____ (fill in the blank) religion is a "cult" (as someone said, a cult is a church you’re not a member of); people with the _____ (fill in the blank) accent sound "nasal"; people with the _____ (fill in the blank) accent sound "guttural".
Anyhow about Breton music, being a Highland piper I look at it from the piping perspective, the bands called "Bagad", like a Highland pipe band but with a Bombarde section in addition to the ordinary Pipe section and Drum section. This music is very exciting to listen to and very different from Highland piping. As mentioned above there is the ‘call and response’ thing going on, where the Pipes and Bombardes play a phrase together, then the Bombardes drop out and the pipes alone play a response.
There is, at least on the Bagad albums I have, less variety in key and in metre than on typical Highland pipe albums. Highland pipe band music uses various keys A Major, A Mixolydian, B minor, D Major, and sometimes G Lydian, while on the few Bagad albums I have (from top famous bands) every single tune is in B minor. (Played over an A drone BTW, one would think that they would retune the drones up to B).
Likewise a typical Highland pipe band album will feature a number of metres such as marches in 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, (there’s even one 5/4 that’s commonly played), 6/8, 9/8, plus strathspeys in 4/4 and jigs in 6/8 and 9/8, and hornpipes in 2/4, and airs in various metres. On my Bagad albums every dance tunes seems to be in 4/4, and there are slowish marches in 4/4 also.
But these things certainly don’t make all that Bagad music ‘sound the same’.
I forgot I posted this yesterday! 🙂
Ahh guys you were relatively tame on me !
I was expected the usual tirade of negative comments, criticisms and downright personal insults that so often fall upon unsuspecting ‘posters’. 🙂
To set the scene…. I’ve learnt a few Breton Tunes and enjoying playing them (they seem to be almost hypnotic) but while listening to Jean-Michael Veillons album ‘Beo’… I’m thinking is that the tune I play?… yes it is… oh no its not…. oh it is… oh no its not… etc etc.
Maybe its because I haven’t really heard that much… (which isn’t a crime by the way!)… but to my ears the tunes all sound so similar its hard to distinguish one from another , I could be wrong but there doesn’t appear to be as much diversity in Breton Music (huge generalization I know) than Irish Folk Music.
I’m wondering am I missing a whole area.
"they seem to be almost hypnotic"
No ‘almost’ required in that sentence. The tunes go with line dances which are very repetitive and can go on for a while, so they can induce a mild trance-like state. Get along to a Fest Noz if you ever get a chance. More so than with Irish music I think you have to do the dances to really ‘get’ the tunes.
"I’m not sure of all the Breton(Gaelic?) styles of music, but I don’t think Cape Breton and Irish music sound alike."
As Mix has already clarified, ‘Breton’ and ‘Cape Breton’ have nothing to do with each other. *Breton* influence, if any, is more likely to be heard in the traditional music of neighbouring Quebec and other Francophone areas of Canada. (Although, presumably, Cape Breton was settled by Bretons at some point, before the Brits shoved them out.) Cape Breton music, while distinct from Irish music, is much more closely related to that than to Breton music.
Another point: The term ‘Gaelic’ doesn’t apply to Breton people, culture , music or language. The Breton language belongs to the other (Brythonic) branch of the Celtic family and is closely related to Welsh and Cornish.
That said, many players of Breton music also play Irish music and some have successfully managed to incorporate Irish stylistic elements into their playing of Breton music.
Ok, I see now. So Breton isn’t exclusively synonymous with Celtic or Gaelic?
Not at all. If anything, Breton and Gaelic are sub-branches of Celtic, just like azure and marine are shades of "blue".
Debate of de bait …. priceless, Jim!
No, Breton refers to someone from Brittany, in France. Like American refers to someone from the United States.
Cape Breton, an island off coast of Nova Scotia in Canada, was initially named by the French in the 1600s (the French, like other European nations, liked naming things after places in France), but later, the 18th and 19th centuries, the predominant European settlers who moved there were Scottish, mainly from the Western Isles. Therefore Cape Breton music sounds more like Scottish music than anything else.
[*Debate or de bait …. priceless, Jim!*]
Well, after 11 years on here, there are no surprises 🙂
Ah ok. 🙂
Check out Guidewires to hear a Breton/Irish crossover
Breton music has an arguably greater diversity than Irish music
- more dance types (at least 10 major rhythms, which in turn are specialized into several dozen more)
- I find a wider variety of "innovations within the tradition": different ways if composing, arranging, varying and improvising while still being danceable (and literally, danced to) music.
Because of some of the instrumentation, available keys to play in can be limited. And for the same reason most tunes span only just over an octave.
I personally really dislike the wall of soundness of pipe bands and, like in Irish music, I prefer a small combo of 2-5 people.
I once had an ambition to write a series of blog posts presenting a taste of different traditions. I only got so far as these 5 videos of Breton music:
- Plinn par Ebrel/Kergoët: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zm8SzRtwd4M
- Gavotte par Le Menn/Le Bour/Bodros: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFziaxde8Uk
- Rond de Saint-Vincent par Tchikidi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ksc4aFA5J0w
- Mazurka par Landat/Moisson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H10IZZX2xek
- Tour par Hamon/Quimbert: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mLbirEoeys
Thanks Tirno, those dances look like fun…
Tell is this a typical Breton Tune?
Yes it is. Not necessarily played in a very typical way (Carlos Nunez tends to go for the "make pretty celtic music" end of the spectrum), but andros (or en dro or an dro) are pretty common (and related to the tour - e.g. the last video I posted)
In support of my claim of greater variety, where is the irish music equivalent of this?
(It’s super interesting in that a) it mostly works, though I think there’s a lot of room for improvement, as it’s barely matured beyond "yeah that’s fun and will sell concert seats" b) there is no compromise in terms of the singing - it’s not suger coated, it’s, for lack of a better word, pure drop.)
"So Breton isn’t exclusively synonymous with Celtic or Gaelic?"
Getting past "exclusively synonymous" being redundant (there’s no such thing as ‘partially synonymous’ because something is either synonymous, or it isn’t) you’re confusing various things there.
"Celtic" can mean many things but if we’re talking linguistics it refers to a branch of Indo-European, and many think that Latin and Celtic form a sub-branch because they show so many similarities.
At some point, one group of Celtic speakers began pronouncing the sound ‘K’ (often written as Q) as ‘P’ and thus the Celtic languages split into two groups, called "Q" and "P" Celtic. "Q" Celtic is called the Goidelic branch, "P" Celtic the Brythonic branch. Both branches existed at one time in Europe, Britain, and Ireland.
The individual languages which survive (or at least survived until fairly recently) are in the Goidelic branch Irish, Scots Gaelic, and Manx, and in the Brythonic branch Welsh, Breton, and Cornish. Manx and Cornish died out but lived long enough for their sound-system and a quantity of literature to survive.
Anyhow knowing the K/P thing is handy because you have pairs like ceann/pen "head" and mac/map "son" and so forth.
So far from being synonymous, Gaelic and Breton are more like cousins, each being a member of separate (but related) families.
The way the OP phrased the discussion title confused me. People use these words so inaccurately. Since no one ever talks about Brittany, I first assumed Breton meant Celtic meant all the countries together. When I said "exclusively synonymous" I was asking if one(Celtic *or Gaelic) was synonymous with Breton, making one exclusive with Breton, excluding the other. Now discovering that Breton is it’s own, not to be confused or bunched with another.
Tirno thats an easy one!
This should bring a smile to anyones face …
It seems Breton tunes have come into vogue a bit amongst players of Irish or other ‘Celtic’ music. I’ve dabbled with a few tunes, and I’ve listened to a fair bit of Breton music (and had the delightful opportunity to attend a couple of festou-noz while studying in France years ago—what a rush!). Some of the sameness stems from the use of modes our western ears aren’t used to—if the hypnosis wears off, I find the music can actually be fatiguing, like spending time in a country where I don’t have mastery of the language. (My kingdom for a dominant seventh cadence!)
Aside from Breton music being lumped in with other ‘Celtic’ forms, I find it has almost nothing in common with Irish music. In part, that’s because Breton music is still connected to traditional dance in a way Irish music often isn’t. So to play the music properly, one needs to know the dance form the tune fits—otherwise one won’t get the rhythm right. When I play my little handful of Breton tunes, I generate a nice series of notes, but I don’t think I’m really playing an an dro or a plinn or what have you. (As an aside, when Irish bands play Breton tunes, they often don’t sound quite right, but I haven’t seen people get up in arms the way they do if a non-Irish group doesn’t get the feel of a reel quite right. Double standards?)
I don’t have links handy, but there are some interesting reads on Breton music online. Steve Winick is one author. Desi Wilkinson has also done research on the subject (I believe he plays the Breton clarinet). And a search for ‘Breton’ turns up some interesting links and threads right here on Ye Olde Mustard Boarde.
Lovely video, Kess, but not at all what I meant. The bodhran, though much maligned by some, is "part" of irish music and the rhythms played in the video are what bodhran players of irish music do all over the place.
Here there is beatboxing + polyrhythms and microrhythms that are not usually played in breton percussion.
To me it’s kind of like John Joe Kelly playing along with a lilter, doing even weirder things than in his usual bodhran solos, and making it work.
I liked the second and fourth of those videos best - the ones with instruments, particularly the accordeon. Quite apart from the tunes and singing, the interplay of sounds and rhythms was intriguing and compelling. I was less grabbed by the unaccompanied singing, which to me seemed to lack this dynamic and just go on and on for rather a long time.
I wondered if its vast audience was saving itself up to burst out of the hall at the end convulsed with penitence or some other strange fervour and run round and round the town in the altogether, practising flagellancy.
Nicholas, I wouldn’t presume to tell you what should and shouldn’t grab you.
But the singing in all three singing videos is sheer genius (which maybe is not readily appreciable without a lot of exposure?). The subtle ways in which pitches and rhythm vary, the interplay between this and the words, the energy that is created and sustained - when dancing to this, you get a form of "transe" - not so much in a mystical sense, but just in the sense that the singing and the other dancers carry the movement so that you’re no longer so much dancing as being danced. (I’m in two minds about your last sentence - yes, it’s amusing viewed from the outside - but hard as it is to believe without having tried it, it *was* one of the main forms of entertainment of traditional breton society - something that you kind of have to be on the inside of to poke fun at)
I should have added: 😉😉..!
I appreciated your provision of the clips. I looked at some more connected to the Landat/Moisson one.
Mix: You might like to hear that Cape Breton Island is part of the province of Nova Scotia, not a separate province, though it seems like a different planet, and people who grew up there say so. And in re: what DRSilverSpear says, there is still a lot of Acadian (French) presence, but also a lot of Scottish. Anyway, about the original question: It’s not quite the case that any music would sound "all the same" to an uninitiated listener/player, but that is some of it. It’s also true though that there can be a spectrum of variety. There are some musics that have wide wide variety and others that are more "centripetal." I come from the classical/modern classical world, and one often hears much more variety in register, instrumentation, rhythm, etc. (So Mozart might sound similar to uninformed listeners, but it really does have a wide grasp of variety nevertheless.) It’s just a different thing, neither good nor bad. People also say (Japanese) shakuhachi music "all sounds the same"—but the coherence and consistency within shakuhachi and Celtic music is for me a big part of the appeal: it’s like having a more concentrated vocabulary, and then the variations and idiosyncrasies mean more. A simple example is for Celtic: a lot of trad tunes have lots of eighth notes, they keep to certain patterns of phrasing and form, etc.: to some it seems "all the same." Until you try to remember how the tune goes! Yet people who learned from childhood at their father’s knee (like my Cape Bretoner duo partner) can always get it right—doesn’t sound all the same to them. I often think my students (composers etc.) miss out in having things be so eclectic (in mod/ classical) since we do not have a shared vocabulary. Anyway, I am keen to check out some of these Breton clips—thanks all for posting.
I play a couple of andro’s myself. I agree that they are very much alike, moreso than Irish tunes in the same category. However, I think you can get a unique sound amongst andros by performing them differently.
I play a couple of andro’s myself. I agree that they are very much alike, moreso than Irish tunes in the same category. However, I think you can get a unique sound amongst andros by performing them differently, rhythm wise, alterering solo’s.
That’s a bit like saying you can play a trad tune with a reggae beat… but is it still trad? Yes you can get a unique sound but at what cost to the original? Sheep may all look the same to some, but those who know, understand the - often slight - variations; and so with tunes.
"That’s a bit like saying you can play a trad tune with a reggae beat… but is it still trad? Yes you can get a unique sound but at what cost to the original?"
Treating an an dro (or any other kind of Breton dance tune) exactly as if it were an Irish tune is not ‘trad’ by Breton standards. If what Boyen means by ‘alterering solos’ (sic.) is passing the tune between musicians, then that is very much trad where Breton music is concerned.
All zebras look alike.
I remember reading something somewhere recently about Breton music typically having a smaller range of tones that most Irish music, typically spanning less than a whole octave. Might that give the impression of all tunes "sounding the same"?
In reply to Rose Marie McSweeney’s last comment, you must admit that even the most culturally ignorant could distinguish between different compositions of Mozart. Put aside the dance music (jigs, contradances, menuets, etc.) found largely in his divertimenti, even a chimpanzee would hear the difference between, for example, Sarastro and Donna Elvira or between one of his piano sonatas and his clarinet concerto. You should not forget the main function of traditional music, whether it be from Brittany, Scotland, Ireland, Acadia, or Zimbabwe, is to make people dance. You cannot compare it to the music of a composer like Mozart whose entire life, all 37 years, was dedicated to understanding and creating some of the most beautiful art mankind has ever produced. The composers of trad were too busy fishing, hunting and farming to have been able to create serious music. It is like trying to compare the Incredible Hulk comics to Macbeth.