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The album Mudanin Kata (World Music Network UGCD1032 ) unites singers from the Wulu Bunun people of Taiwan with the sounds of cello pioneer David Darling, to create a striking reinterpretation of an ancient tradition. David Darling – a classical trained cellist – creates his own place within the distinctive eight-part harmonic singing of the Wulu Bunun. Interwoven around a range of singing styles, he melds his unique style of playing to produce an album of intricate and beautiful sounds.

When working on Mudanin Kata, Darling spent time recording and composing in Taiwan with the Wulu Bunun. The Wulu village of Bunun is located in the southeastern part of Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range at over 700m above sea level. Although the language and culture of Taiwan’s indigenous people – including traditional Bunun methods of harmonizing – is rapidly disappearing from the impact of modernization and the strong influence of a primarily Han Chinese culture, because of Wulu’s relative isolation it is currently the most unadulterated of all the Bunun villages. With only sixty households in the village, Wulu is home to the most traditional styles of Bunun singing, and before this project the Wulu Bunun had never heard their voices accompanied by an instrument.

At the core of this extraordinary collaboration is the ancient Bunun tradition of polyphonic choral singing. The unique singing of the Bunun originally caught the attention of Western ethnomusicologists in the 1940s. ‘Pasibutbut’, the Bunun people’s sacred song, with it’s unique eight-part harmony, negated the theory that music originated in single-note melodies, progressing to two-note harmonies, and then onto more complex arrangements. Said to be inspired by the sounds of humming bees, a rushing waterfall, and the sounds made when crossing through a pine or bamboo forest, ‘Pasibutbut’ has also been called the ‘sound of nature’.

Singing in harmony is an essential part of daily life for the Bunun people – they sing while weaving, celebrating, drinking and hunting. They pass down and record their culture and history in music and this album is built around the traditional Bunun song repertoire, ranging from drinking songs to harvest prayers. With hunting being a vital part of Bunun life, many songs are about this, such as ‘Sima Cisbug Bav’ (traditionally sung after a hunt) and ‘Malkakiv Malvanis’ (about how hunters will share the game after a big hunt).

Much of the music for Mudanin Kata was recorded in the surroundings of a forest and valley in Taiwan, which cut outside interference to a minimum and made full advantage of the natural sounds of the surroundings. Back in the studio, a full string quintet was added to the Wulu Bunun’s polyphonic choral singing and David’s cello. Layers of cello were added on top of this until it became an integral part of the album – a vehicle of sorts to bring the voices across from Taiwan.

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