CambodiaHistorically, Cambodia was the dominant culture in peninsular Southeast Asia, whereas the others exerted their independence more recently (i.e. the last 500 years). Here it is the royal court music which is very highly developed and the most stimulating.
Cambodian court music is roughly similar to that of Java, i.e. choruses with large orchestras based on struck keys & gongs. This music gained a world-wide reputation in the 1960s, shortly before the dramatic political problems in Cambodia. Now it is struggling to recover.
As such, most of the available recordings are fairly similar. The most substantial recording of the big court styles:
- Cambodge: Musiques du Palais Royal
- Années soixante Ocora (Radio France) C 560034
There is another similar recording on Auvidis Unesco (both recorded in the 60s). There is a recording devoted to the pinpeat style on Auvidis Inedit, as well as a Ramayana recording on Ocora, and a folk disc on Auvidis Unesco. There is a new recording on the Music of the World label. There is also a fairly recent 3CD anthology of music from throughout Cambodia on the Celestial Harmonies label which has some interesting material in a variety of styles, both court & folk. These can be rather intriguing.
With record distribution becoming more difficult to track these days, it is entirely possible that there are now other items worthy of note.
VietnamThere is an amazing variety of musical style in Vietnam. The number of different instruments alone is astounding. I cannot begin to survey the field, nor can I pretend to really understand it. However, some thoughts are still in order.
Despite the wide array of different cultures, some basic centers do crystallize. One area which had a highly developed musical culture, based on various unique & intricate modes, was the central part of Vietnam centered on the court at Hue. This was the center of the medieval state of Champa, which had a direct relation to those in Indonesia, and was eventually overturned and replaced with rule by ethnic Vietnamese some decades before the European arrival.
A few recordings have illustrated some of the court songs and ceremonial music from this area, although for the most part it is pieced together from a post-French diaspora. Among these, the chamber repertory for the solo 17-string zither, incorporating both composed and improvisatory passages, remains among the most intriguing & distinctive. The following recital is a good one:
- Vietnam: Tradition of the South
- Nguyên Ving Bao, Trân Van Khê Auvidis Unesco (Anthology of Traditional Musics) D 8049
When it comes to "true" Vietnamese music from the North, an intriguing vocal style has begun to appear on record:
- Viêt-Nam: La voix des maisons de chant
- Phó Kim Dúc et al. Buda "Musique du Monde" 198 728
Other Vietnamese styles incorporate Chinese or Thai influences, while others are completely unique. There are supposedly a hundred or more musical instruments in use. A 3CD set on the Celestial Harmonies label makes a nice survey of the variety.
ThailandThailand is certainly the best-known of these countries to us today. The music is very cosmopolitan, borrowing ideas from many of the surrounding cultures, especially Cambodia. As such, it sounds rather mixed to me, and is definitely eclectic. Thailand is also fortunate to have the fine ensemble Fong Naam recording its traditional music. This ensemble consists of both virtuoso performers and musicologists. They have several recordings, and in my opinion one of the more unique & characteristic is this one:
- Siamese Classical Music, Volume 5
- The Mahori Orchestra Fong Naam Marco Polo 8.223493
There was an explosion in the availability of Thai music recordings in the 1990s, although it remained a secondary interest for me. This wave of releases seems to have abated, however, for whatever reason.
LaosBesides the court orchestras represented above, Northeast Thailand and Laos also have a more distinctive native tradition of improvised song and mouth organ (khene). The mouth organ sounds rather like a bagpipe, although the musical style is a bit different. The improvised songs (Lam) are impressive in their vitality. A superlative recording:
- Laos: Lam Saravane / Musique pour le khène
- Nang Soubane Vongath, Sengphet Souryavongxay, Nouthong Phimvilayphone Ocora (Radio France) C 559058
There is now a CD devoted to the Lam Sithandone style of improvisation (as opposed to the Lam Saravane above; there are six major styles of "Lam" in Laos) on the World Music Library label, which although valuable, lacks the highly charged atmosphere of the Ocora selection above.
BurmaBurma (Myanmar) has orchestral styles similar to Thailand and an unusual style of chamber music (the harp is the primary instrument) with a delicately ethereal sonority. A quality recording, illustrating both styles:
- Birmanie: Musique d'art
- Ocora (Radio France) C 559019/20 (2 CDs)
Elsewhere...In addition to the lists for Java and Bali, there are other styles in Indonesia. Most of these cannot really be called "classical" (although there is a move to create a national style, combining tradition and innovation, and recordings of this music are available in a series from Lyrichord), and I will not list them. Otherwise, there are some related song traditions in Sunda, dating to the 19th century which are getting more exposure of late.
Finally, this disc from South India is as closely related to the other items above as it is to Carnatic music. It illustrates the primary percussion-based ceremonial styles (along with chant recitation) surviving in the state of Kerala:
- South India: Ritual Music and Theatre of Kerala
- Le Chant du Monde LDX 274 910 www.medieval.org