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War Chant
Thoughts on Male Vocal Range with Polymachus and James

Good evening,

Happy to see you writing. I am afraid I don’t have much to say about about male up-talking other than its is obviously employed by striver class men to signal harmlessness, which, of course, signals untrustworthiness. Its related vocal mannerisms, male lisp, I suspect may be older than valley girl era TV. I remember watching a history channel doc with raw footage of a naval bombardment of a Japanese controlled beach and an off-camera male voice said "Its beautiful!" with a bit of a lisp - so it's possible this particular mannerism goes back a-ways. Then again, many European languages lisp, the Castilians and Bavarians come to mind, so that could be how it found its way into American English. I dont know. Then again it was the Navy.

Within the last two years male lisp and up-talking have become so common they no longer serve as useful signaling devices for displaying gays. That function is now served by... regular gym attendance. I'm almost at the point that when I hear a young, up talking, lispy male voice it's a certain sign it belongs to a straight man. Amongst the young, gays and straights are reversing mannerisms.

Within the last 8 months I've noticed a new vocal phenomenon among young males, which is the complete abandonment of resonant speech in favor of continuous croaking speech. I haven't had time to determine the social cue this serves. My current hypothesis, which I hope is wrong, is simply that American masculinity has degenerated to the point where many young men have no desire whatsoever to even fake being useful. I say this because that kind of croaking speech can only occur from someone who is obese, easily winded, lacking the testosteronal development associated with longer vocal chords and larger lung capacity, and low T-caused perpetual nervousness which results in rapid, skiddish speech, as well as the absence of the kind of functional social feedback mechanism which would signal to its user this kind of speech is utterly repulsive to anyone with an ear or a soul.

I'm sorry I couldn’t offer a fuller analysis, and that I'm not drunk at this moment, but that's not the only purpose of the email.

I wanted to ask you about war chants. I understand you don’t know music but perhaps your familiarity with the classic canon could point me in the right direction.

Long story short, when I write diatonic music, I channel the past, sometimes real, sometimes imaginary, often idealized. When I use slow tempos my jumping off point is meditation. The issue is I don't know how (from a creative level, not a technical one) to write fast, diatonic music. I had a hunch that war chant could be my jumping off point. If the first movement is slow and meditative, maybe the second movement is fast and does whatever it is a war chant does. It's just a hunch.

So I wanted to pick your brain about songs the ancients used to prepare themselves for various types of combat, if you knew, or knew where to point me. Or more broadly, how a member of a traditional warrior caste prepares himself for testing - what rituals were used, and what symbolism did they serve.

It's very important, because simply speeding up meditation music doesn't do the trick. Escaping the ego or becoming one with the universe is a totally different vibe than locking horns with an opponent whose soul you honor by attempting to destroy his body.



A Spartan War Song

Polymachus, in 2012 I adapted some of the verse of Tyrtaeus for a time travel story set in 323 B.C. Hellas. It is not bad, I think, and is copied below. That is how long it’s been since I’ve been down that rabbit hole and the echoes in my non-musical mind wane in the false distance of decrepitude.

“Now it is noble for a brave man to die…

Not yet has Thunder-chief withdrawn his favor from you.

Neither dread you, nor be frightened by a host of men,

But let Menander hold his shield right against the foremost fighter;

Having counted life hostile, and the dark fates of death dear as the rays of the sun…

Yet sympathy attends the brave man’s bier;

Sees on each wound the balmy grief bestowed;

And, as in death the universal tear

Through life inspires a homily of truth.

While a million hail, with fond, adoring eyes,

The deeds of many a hero meet as one!”

Tyrtaeus has an entire extant book of jingoistic blood chants that read to me much like meditations to be accompanied by the lyre, but I just don’t know. At the bottom of this page find links to Amerindian and Polynesian war chants, which sound shrill to the postmodern psychopathic ear. They have their purpose though. First, perhaps consider my thoughts on musical combat accompaniment.

War Drums

Indian War Chants and Dances, as well as African, were mustering chants which served the purpose of gathering the focus of the community on the impending duty of the warriors. In the Amerindian context a sense of unity is achieved in a rather noisy, rhythmic way, instilling community support for an operation which would usually occur far away over the following days, perhaps even moons. The shrill aspects could place the follow-on warpath—much of it conducted in silence—experience in bold relief in the warrior’s mind. Thus the rhythmic element of community support existed alongside the stark notes of separation, a case of community rhythm validating its martial opposite, the broken note of discord. Primitive people thought about war more deeply than we as a pillar of community life with the toxic potential to destroy its own font or purpose.

Alternatively, the salacious war dancing of Zulu maidens before the warriors hoping to mate with them after the upcoming battle was intended to encourage martial vigor via a promise of sexual reunion at homecoming.

More civilized gathering music, used for getting the attention of soldiers and even signaling specific actions, fell to horns such as trumpets and bugles with the former more likely used for mass musters and parades and the latter optimized for compactness and mobility relative to the sound it produced.

War Cry

Something like the Maori haku, a vigorous form of showy shouting, is a primer for the great efforts required of the warrior in bone-breaking combat with heavy and relatively crude Stone Age weapons. Loud displays are also intimidating to the non-warrior and may serve as extreme forms of posturing in order to illicit submission. The short shout of solidarity at the end of a football huddle or a workplace motivation session, may be reminiscent of unifying shouts intended to encourage group cohesion. War cries are intrinsically motivational, and, in some eras, in which combat was engaged without uniforms, might have served to permit comrades in battle to identify each other according to their partisan declarations.

The paean was an ancient Greek lyric song of triumph, generalized to eulogy, praise, heraldic introduction, pronouncement of duty and sacral intent that we may envision as a highly refined evolution of something like the Maori haku, often sung by a chorus.

Totemic sounds, including the canine howl [imitated by the horn], the lion’s roar [imitated by the battle cry], the bird’s song [imitated for encrypted signaling] and the barking and snorting of other beasts [I once fought a sick fighter who barked when we crossed sticks] and the clashing of antlers and horns are all possible origins for much of the music associated with primitive warfare.

War Dance

In ancient Hellas war dances would be accompanied by flute or double flute or not at all. I recall no information on possible percussion instruments or the use of a chorus, though their absence would be, anthropologically speaking, unusual.

There was one dance in which the performer roleplayed a raid and abduction of a woman, which may have been extremely ancient and I would expect to be accompanied by a chorus.

There was the shield-bearer’s dance, similar to a martial arts kata or form in which the methodology of individual shield and spear combat were demonstrated and practiced.

There was the parade or procession heralding an outgoing or returning body of men which may or may not have been musically accompanied.

There were the mating and god-invoking bull-leaping gymanastics and boxing of the Knossians, which might also have been accompanied by music.

The Greek attitude to music beyond the lyre—particularly with wind instruments—is hard to fathom, as there was a great fear that blowing on instruments [and also committing sucking] could deform the face and hence slaves were utilized for much music and for oral sex.

Death Songs

The chanting of a preparing warrior in primitive societies might have served the same calming function as the pipers who accompanied Spartan warriors, who were said to march silently into battle to the flute playing of boys, which scared the shit out of their opponents. The silence of the Spartan [they were called The-Men-of-the-silent-land] advance to flutes was certainly related to marching music as much as to the death song.

The Roman gladiatorial experience, which was the sacral duel between war slaves in honor of Rome’s chief virtue, courage in war, was also accompanied by music, with ancient art media depicting the a great curved horn and a water organ. It should not be forgotten that gladiatorial combats were funerary rituals which would naturally feature death music.

In relation to this, ancient Mesopotamian combat rituals such as wrestling and boxing seem to have been accompanied by the beating of a drum which may have been related to the type of drum intended to communicate with the spirits of the departed. Using music to draw attention to the heroics of the living among the unseen dead as well as heralding the actions of men on behalf of their unseen gods, should not be removed from our consideration and may constitute the primary purpose of martial music on the field of battle.

Marching Music

Marching songs were still used in modern military training the last time I checked in the 1980s. The value of having drums to keep time for rowers or formations of marching men cannot be underestimated once masses of armed men begin to be arranged within sight of the enemy and subject to the sound of proximate combat. Various drums are optimized for the purpose of troop arrangement, with the Black Powder Era fife, drum and flag section of a company serving as the most iconic example.

Shouted commands and answering chants would serve this purpose under more primitive conditions, as could the shrill wailing of women behind the rear ranks in European tribal combat.

Ultimately, the best cadence-keeping instruments were intrinsic to the percussive qualities of the combatants and their tools: the stamping of feet, the beat of hooves, the clashing of shields and weapons, the swishing of the Macedonian sarrissa, the rasp of blade on scabbard and the crackle of musketry.

In our distant place, here at the end of a storied heritage, the postmodern person should consider the use of music in war movies, by cruise ships to shock and terrorize pirates and by psychological operations units using heavy metal music to drive skulking dictators hiding in embassies insane; all these uses regarded in the light of the fact that modern war has outstripped the old music of war, rising as its own deafening chorus of strife, with sounds so powerful and pervasive that men are driven mad, broken, rendered forever deaf and turned into quivering leaves before the winds which are its sonic breath. If Alexander, the most strident of all ancient warriors, had been brought forward through Time to fight beside or against Ernst Junger on the Western Front, he would have certainly thought that his bid for goodhood was at an end and that War had found his own voice and had risen from his bed of skins and scalps to drown out all of the petty calls from men for his attention with his own ghastly thunder.

Some audio references

To the Soldiers After a Defeat, by Tyrtaeus of Sparta

A Hero’s Life, and a Hero’s Death, by Tyrtaeus of Sparta

Sibelius - Atenarnes sång (War Song of Tyrtaeus)

Ancient Greek war music - Winds of Ithaca

Tāwhirimātea (Maori Haka Chanting)

Stone Age Chimpout Soundtrack

Gathering Song

Masculine Axis: A Meditation on Manhood and Heroism

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