Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


Leave a comment

Musical Monday (2022/01/03) Kōauau

Creative Commons: Kete New Plymouth

Today’s music is somewhat different in that the title of this post refers not to a song but to a musical instrument – the kōauau. This a traditional Māori instrument usually made from wood or bone and often elaborately carved. It one of many types of flute used by Māori and produces, at least to my ear, a hauntingly beautiful sound.

To western ears, traditional Māori music (as opposed to modern forms of Māori music) does not use musical scales with specifically set notes or tones, but instead uses microtones that slide, instead of stepping, from one tone to the next. To the Western ear it may sound monotonous and somewhat mournful or melancholic, but then to those who are more familiar with forms of traditional Asian music, Western music sounds similarly monotonous and dull.

I frequently suffer migraines at which times many sounds become unpleasant and painful. This often includes music especially if percussion instruments are present or where the tune generates a beat or repetitive pattern. Usually the human voice is fine, but if accompanied by piano, guitar or similarly struck or picked instruments, the result is at best unpleasant during a migraine. Interestingly, during a migraine attack, most drum sounds are unpleasant, with the exception of taiko drums, which I actually enjoy. I have no idea why that might be.

I find the microtonal sliding shifts created by the koauau and many other traditional Māori wind instruments very soothing to the soul when a migraine interferes with my ability to feel human. At such times, the haunting sounds of the koauau and similar instruments provide an anchor to reality – the knowledge that I actually exist.

Here are a few Youtube video clips that convey the sound of the koauau. The first clip includes an accompanying guitar, which can be unpleasant depending on the nature of the migraine.

Traditional kōauau sound with accompanying guitar

I find this next clip absolutely beautiful. The koauau is accompanied unobtrusively by traditional percussion instruments, and if you listen carefully, you’ll also hear the purerehua (bullroarer).

koauau accompanied by purerehua and percussion instruments.

Finally, a video clip where taonga pūoro(taonga: Treasure, pūoro: sounds/vibrations of nature), Māori musical instruments, are combined through the magic of modern technology into my ideal “migraine music”. It’s doubtful that traditional musical instruments were played together as an ensemble. It seems to have been a single instrument played alone or accompanying the human voice.

Experience Jerome’s collection of around 40 unique and rare Māori musical instruments from Nguru (Whale tooth nose flute) to Pōrutu Pounamu (Greenstone long flute), Kōauau Toroa (albatross wing bone flute) to the unique Pūtōrino (a cocoon shaped bugle flute made from the mighty totara tree)