Pasifika Sounds

An encounter between traditional music from French Polynesia and jazz

Non-Traditional Research Output (IRMA, The University of Sydney, 2013).

The Pasifika Sounds project is one of the creative outcomes of Geoffroy Colson’s research about aesthetic and cultural issues of musical change in French Polynesia. In fusing elements from traditional music from Tahiti with jazz, he seeks to exemplify how the creative exploration of musical syntheses can be viable responses to vulnerable traditions in conciliating modernity and cultural identity, and how this valuable traditional heritage can propagate in the world culture.

In this project, Geoffroy investigates how transcultural artistic creations based on ethnomusicological research might provide a model for the sustainability of traditional heritage. Drawing on a methodology derived from structural ethnomusicology, he has gained an in-depth understanding of musical systems, conceptual tools, sociocultural practices, and local ontologies, epistemologies, cosmogonies, and metaphysics, which have informed his own creative process. Ultimately, the original compositions resulting from this work seek to exemplify the path opened by Pacific Islands leaders, scholars, artists, and writers such as Albert Wendt, Epeli Hau‘ofa, Jean-Marie Tjibaou, Jean-Marc Tera‘ituatini Pambrun, and Vilsoni Hereniko, who have been working towards the conciliation of modernity and cultural identity.

Tales from Tahiti comprises five original pieces for jazz quartet and quintet bridging Tahitian musical heritage with jazz and improvisation. They constitute the result of a four-year investigation into Tahitian traditional heritage, including a period of fieldwork of the composer in Tahiti.

This creative exploration of musical syntheses represent an effective alternative or at least additional approach to be considered to processes of cultural revival through engagement with an indigenous community. It relies on a concept of sustainability extended to the global cultural environment that might be termed meta-sustainability. In allowing aspects or elements of Tahitian music to be transmitted by way of a repository of global intangible culture, it enacts a proactive and cosmopolitanist response to perceptions of out-of-control globalization processes.

The creative processes involved in the creation of this body of work have been informed by a number of factors: an in-depth understanding of the musical system, sociocultural practices, and symbolic and metaphysical elements, along with their interrelationships. The compositions incorporate traditional Tahitian musical instruments such as the tōʻere (slit drum), the pahu (membrane drum) and the Tahitian ukulele into a conventional jazz quartet. But beyond the simple blend of instruments, specific compositional processes have been applied, including textural conceptualisations, arrangement techniques, and structural models derived from traditional music. Ultimately, the compositions lean on the knowledge gained from research into local ontologies, epistemologies, cosmogonies and metaphysics.