>> write // subla neokulintang: liner notes

Redefinition of the Tradition
Subla was born out of the mutual musical interests of Danny Kalanduyan, Bo Razon, Frank Holder, and Chris Trinidad who sought to explore the indigenous gong music of the Maguindanao and Maranao peoples from the southern Philippine island group of Mindanao. This music is known as Kulintang and it is related to other gong musics of Southeast Asia including most notably Gamelan and Piphat. In its indigenous form, Kulintang dates back over a millennium to pre-colonial times. It is an exotic amalgam of intricately woven layers and patterns of sound produced by the different instruments in the gong ensemble driven by rich interlocking rhythms.

The traditional gong ensemble consists of a lead instrument of horizontally laid bossed gongs which, incidentally, is also called kulintang. In addition, vertically arranged bossed gongs called the gandingan accompanies with secondary melodic material, and the bass function is handled by two large vertically suspended gongs called the agung. A goblet shaped single-headed drum called a dabakan in concert with a handheld gong called a babendil complete the ensemble and take the role of time keeping.

Subla, which means "beyond" in Maguindanaoan, is a neo-kulintang group which takes its inspiration from the traditional gong ensemble and applies elements of Western music like form, harmony, and improvisation, while adding timbres from rock, jazz, and world music. This fresh perspective respects the melodies, patterns, and rhythms of kulintang while simultaneously experimenting with new sounds, ideas, and approaches.

The Music
The pieces featured on this disc evolved after many discussions and rehearsals. As Danny or Frank would teach us the traditional parts on the gongs, we would adapt the melodies and sequences to the guitar and bass guitar, respectively. Often, the guitar would take on the role of the babendil and the bass guitar played an amalgam of the gandingan or the agung parts. A constant challenge for us was working with the idiomatic tuning of the kulintang which is not set to western equal temperament. We had to adjust our ears to the tension between the string instruments and the kulintang, but after some time had come to become acquainted with the new pitch and interval relationships.

The pieces are not set repertoire in the tradition, per se, but are rather closer to melodic-rhythmic modes which the kulintang player, as lead instrument, can use as a platform for improvisation. As such, many variations exist within the tradition and the identities of the pieces can shift depending on the musicians. After applying our western lenses to the material, the result is the seven tracks on this disc. Three of these tracks find us playing the traditional gong parts which were an initial part of our study, while the other four represent the fruition of our multiple worlds coming together.

Karatung features all of us playing an agung a tambol, a set of handheld individual gongs played as an ensemble. This piece is often performed by the Tiduray people of Upi, Cotobato to accompany a dance. We play this piece to affirm our respect for the tradition from which our arrangements come.

Sinulog is an old Maguindanaoan piece commonly performed by women at social gatherings like weddings and other family events. Sinulog is derived from the root word sulog, which refers to the Sulu people. Our version takes a cue from the new school of kangungudan style of kulintang playing which evolved in the 1950s and features a more virtuosic and individualistic approach. At the entrance of the kulintang melody, Bo adapts the babendil part on guitar and plays this in unison with the bass guitar. On cue, Chris then adds the element of form and harmony by indicating a new section through the implication of chords. The guitarist then switches to the traditional gandingan part and the bass guitarist takes on the agung melody. A return to the unison babendil part for both string players builds tension which is then released with the traditional kulintang cadence and ending.

The word Binalig is derived from the root word balig, which in Maguindanaoan means "with a foreign accent." Many variations of this piece exist as the kulintang player often mixes and matches various melodic-rhythmic modes. This piece features Frank using the cajon, an Afro-Peruvian box percussion instrument. FrankÕs part is an amalgam of the agung and dabakan rhythms. The gandingan melody and their two additional variations are played in unison by the guitar and bass guitar after the percussion introduction. Bo then switches to an octave funk-inspired part based on the babendil. A mid arrangement break signals a guitar solo which is accompanied by Chris playing the agung part on bass guitar. Danny takes a turn at "comping," a term used in jazz which means complementary accompaniment, using the gandingan melody played on his kulintang. A recapitulation of the kulintang melody followed by an additional break cues a return to the gandingan melody played by Chris and Bo.

Tidtu means "straight" in Maguindanaoan and is generally set as an agung duel with kulintang melody and dabakan support. On this piece the group returns to playing the gongs: Bo and Chris set off against one another on agung in a friendly competition while Danny and Frank accompany. We play two versions of this, one at a moderate tempo and the other at top speed!

Duyog is a celebrational piece is commonly performed by women during wedding celebrations. It also refers to "catching one another" in the sense of the dabakan player driving the tempo and the feel. Our arrangement starts with Bo playing muted harmonics on his guitar based on the original babendil part. Chris then plays the traditional gandingan part at half time until the kulintang melody comes in. After the mid piece break, Bo treats us to a guitar solo inspired by his study of kutiyapi, or traditional boat lute melodies, which is then followed by a bass guitar solo elaborating on the gandingan melody and kulintang mode. He then switches his bass line to the agung part which signals a percussion solo from Frank. Danny briefly reprises the kulintang melody which then cues the common ending.

The Maranao Suite consists of a blend of three pieces indigenous to the Maranao people: Kanditagaonan, Kapmamayog, and Kapagonor. Kanditagaonan tells the tale of two young girls who were not able to attend a wedding because they did not own a malong, or a tube skirt that they could wear to the event. Kapmamayog draws its influence from a courtship vocal song called mamayog. Kapagonor proclaims the story of honoring an important guest at the wedding. On our arrangement, you can hear the Kapagonor melody after the one bar break following the cadence of Kapmamayog. The element of harmony is reintroduced in Kapagonor as Chris plays a bass guitar part inspired by the babendil rhythm and alternating between two bass notes. He then pedals a single bass note while maintaining the rhythm which signals the eventual end of the suite.

The Musicians
Danongan 'Danny' Kalanduyan plays the kulintang in Subla. He is one of a very select few master scholar-artists on these shores of the western United States who has freely shared Kulintang with any who would care to take the time to learn and to foster the tradition. Born in the small village of Datu Piang in the Maguindanao region in Mindanao, Philippines, Kulintang was a part of the social fabric of DannyÕs childhood. After earning his undergraduate degree in community studies, Danny became a traveling cultural ambassador through his work with the Darangan Cultural Troupe. The University of Washington invited Danny to share his knowledge of Kulintang with the music department and in the process earned a graduate degree in ethnomusicology. After some time teaching and performing in the Pacific Northwest, he found his way to Northern California through a series of invitations from various Filipino cultural organizations wanting to learn more about Kulintang. Danny is a National Endowment Award recipient and is currently a Distinguished Artist-in-Residence at San Francisco State University.

Bo Razon is a Filipino-American guitarist and percussionist who has studied a wide variety of music and has performed with musicians from across genres. Bo has worked in a musical capacity with the Alliance Fran¨aise, Goethe Institute, Instituto Cervantes, and the British Council as producer, composer, arranger, and performer. He has worked with artists such as Patti Austin, Pauline Wilson, Kevyn Lettau, Jim Chapell, Grace Nono, Joey Ayala, and Bob Aves. He taught World and Afro-Latin Music at the College of Music of the University of the Philippines from 1998 to 2007. A long-time resident of the San Francisco Bay Area and now living in Nevada, Bo continues to be active in the Latin and World music scenes.

Frank Holder is a Filipino-American percussionist born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. A founding member of the Kulintang Arts Ensemble, his collaborative work on the CD release Cycles was critically acclaimed and was awarded the Isadora Duncan Award for Best Original Sound score for Choreography. Frank also released his own modern kulintang composition CD entitled Birthmark. He has studied, toured, and performed extensively with Danny Kalanduyan. Frank is mentioned in the second volume of the Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World for his work and contribution to the diaspora of Kulintang music in the United States.

Chris Trinidad is a Filipino-Canadian multi-instrumentalist who now makes the San Francisco Bay Area his home. With Subla, Chris plays bass guitar and percussion. In addition to his bass playing, as a freelance session musician he is also often called to accompany on piano or drum set, or to perform as a choral singer. As a seasoned veteran with experience in multiple genres of music, Chris balances practical musicianship and applied artistry with a solid background in academia. He holds undergraduate degrees in Jazz Studies and Music Education with additional earned graduate degrees in Music Education, Liturgical Studies, and Lasallian Studies. His far ranging interests also include work in academic research, secondary school teaching, record production, liturgical ministry, and choral conducting.

Binalig | Sinulog a Kangungudan | Duyog | Maranao Suite


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