Tuesday 11 December 2012

Caló don't live here anymore!

Di Sarli, Fresedo, D'Agostino, Garcia, Malerba and De Angelis have moved out as well. Biagi, Rodriguez and Tipica Victor have decided to limit their repertoire to the purely rhythmical stuff and obviously D'Arienzo will be asking for a pay raise soon. He should do so - having to play all evening long! 

Yep. I am talking of the „Milonguero“ events and traditional Milongas. Not all of them. But a large number are obviously trying to re-enact the Cachirulo (see note below) as close as possible. Now this is a nice Milonga - I‘ve been there a couple of times. Respectful dancing in a closed embrace, nice music with a strong emphasis on the rhythmical Tangos: Tchaka-tchaka-boum most of the night - at least when was there! That‘s fine in Buenos Aires, because even the most passionate Cachirulo fans will go there only once a week. The rest of the week, they‘ll be at other Milongas with a slightly different repertoire.

But what about the habitués of a traditional Milonga in Europe: Do the have any other Milongas of that kind to visit? And what‘s with the visitors of an Encuentro: They have travelled from afar. Do they really want to dance to rhythmical music only at all Milongas of the event? Won‘t they miss something? The nice lyrical Tangos by the afore mentioned orchestras... The soft and extra-cuddly embraces to a romantic Tanda... Is this boring now? Are we now supposed to run and play with rhythmical variation all night long? 

But now earnestly:
In the last 2-3 years there has been a significant shift in DJing style at the traditional events and Milongas. Some years ago, you could always expect to hear a mixture of lyrical and rhythmical music with a more dramatic Tanda once in a while. Nowadays you can be happy, if the is one Tanda by Di Sarli or Calo per evening. The rest will be pure rhythm with a strong emphasis on the late 20s and early 30s. The 40‘s are rarely played anymore and the danceable 50‘s never - except for a late D‘Arienzo or Troilo. That cuts the repertoire of traditional and danceable Tango music in half!

Mind you: when I am speaking of a harmonic mixture of rhythm and romantic, the portion of lyrical music will still be smaller. Why is this?
When I dj, I use the TTMTTV system and alternate rhythmical and more lyrical Tango-tandas methodically. As Milongas and most Valses will be perceived as rhythmical music as well, that makes 4/6 of rhythmical tandas. Leaves maximum 1/3 of Tandas with stronger lyrical components. 
Why do I not only write „lyrical Tandas“? Many of the quasi-lyrical Tangos have strong rhythmical components as well - think of Di Sarli of the 40s, D'Agostino and the likes... I‘d classify them as rhythmical-lyrical. The percentage of pure lyrical music is therefore quite small even in a well-balanced DJ set. So, when I complain about the lack of lyrical music, I only request some more Tandas with stronger lyrical aspects. (See definition of musical style at the end of this article.)
But many of the hardcore Milonguero DJs will only play 1 or 2 more lyrical Tandas in an evening of 5 hours. This is 6,8 %. Not enough.

Now, some of you will say: Sure, that‘s Melina with her weird emphasis on the intimate embrace and her aversion against D‘Arienzo. She‘s just old and does not like to move. 

Only half true: I do like a rhythmical Tango by Biagi, Canaro, Donato or Rodriguez. I like playing with rhythmical variation in Vals and sometimes I even dance a tanda of Milonga - if there‘s an appropriate partner. But I also like to cuddle to romantic music, to interpret a more complex melody with both lyrical and rhythmical components or even to dance a Tango with more dramatic aspects. And so do many others.
And even if I had a preference on lyrical music... There are more dancers with the same bias. The last years have seen a segregation of dancers who prefer close embrace in a traditional setting from those who like a fluid embrace in a setting with less codes of conducts. We have also separated events with traditional Tango music from those who play a mixture of traditional Tangos, Electro-Tangos and Non-Tangos. We have got Festivals with live music and Festivalitos with recordings of the „old“ orchestras only. Do we need to separate the lyricalists from the rhythmicalists as well? Can we not dance at the same Milonga? 

I think that there are some indicators, that my opinion is not freakish:
  • The last encuentro that I visited sported 6 Milongas. Two of the Milongas were pure rhythm and the DJs received almost no applause. The DJs who received the most applause at any event that I‘ve visited in the last years were the ones who presented a well-balanced mixture of lyrical and rhythmical music with a very small choice of dramatic Tangos.
  • At the purely rhythmical Milongas, Vals and Milonga tandas are less appreciated. There will be less dancers on the floor. I guess this is because they all had their share of rhythmical music and need a break. During a well-balanced evening, all Tandas will be equally appreciated and populated.

So please, dear DJs: listen to the dancer‘s rating!

At last, let me focus on some side effects of purely rhythmical DJing at Milongas. As a dancer and teacher I can tell, that the choice of one specific musical style will influence your capacities as a dancer.
  • If you dance to rhythmical music only, you will most likely dance „fast“ most of the time: You will use more normal and double speed to play with rhythmical variation. You will less often slow down to half speed or even make pauses. Slow movements and pauses require a better BALANCE. It‘s like driving a bike slowly. In our classes, we encounter many dancers who are physically not able to slow down. And if they only dance to rhythmical music in Milongas, they will never get the chance to practice this skill.
  • When dancing rhythmically, you will most likely concentrate on very simple moves to interpret the rhythmical variation within the music. That‘s totally fine and we do the same. But lyrical and slower music allows for a more complex repertoire that creates a unique level of suspense in the dance. Some dancers almost never change into crossed system because the speed of their movements makes it impossible for them to cope with the higher COMPLEXITY. Sure, an experienced dancers will also have the ability to dance more complex moves to a rhythmical music, but most beginners won‘t dare. And they will never try, if the music will not allow for it.
  • Last of all, the range of MUSICAL VARIATION in lyrical or rhythmic-lyrical music is immense: a complex lyrical melody will suggest pauses, half speed, normal speed, double speed, different quick-quick-slow patterns, syncopations... Sometimes, a deceleration is followed by a syncopation. What a challenging contrast! And the use of different step dynamics in lyrical-rhythmical or even dramatic music can be such a pleasure! Dancing only to pure rhythmical music will limit your musical interpretation to one kind of step dynamic and only certain rhythmical variations. I have danced with many men who will even stick to their usual normal-speed and quick-quick-slow patterns in the most challenging Tango of Di Sarli with Podesta. They are not used to this kind of music anymore. That is so sad!

So, I think we all agree, that danceable traditional Tango music is very rich. We can chose from a great variety of Tangos from the late 20‘s to the 50‘s ranging from rhythmical, over lyrical to more dramatic music.

And I wanna have it all!


Appendix A: A mini-definition of musical styles

In my Tango world, there are three pure forms of Tango-music: lyrical, rhythmical and dramatic music. In addition to that, there are three kinds of mixed forms: lyrical-rhythmical, dramatic-rhythmical and dramatic-lyrical music. Let me give you our definitions of the styles that I mention in the text.
(This categorization is - as any categorization - a  simplification of reality and the examples are up for discussion as well. A Tango that I perceive as rhythmical, might be perceived as lyrical-rhythmical by someone else. But: different forms of music offer different options for our dance. It makes therefore sense to define some objective factors that influence our movement apart from "el sentimiento".)

Rhythmical music:
Music with an audible basic count (1234) played mostly by the contrabass, the left hand of the piano or a bandoneon. The melody is played in staccato more then legato and emphasises the faster rhythmical variations, e.g. 123 or 134 or syncopations.
Because of more strong or important notes in one measure (13, 123, 134, 1+34, +13 or sometimes even 1234 as in many D‘Arienzo Tangos) the music is perceived as faster - there are more notes that encourage us to make a step.
Examples: Most late 20‘s Tangos, most D‘Arienzo‘s, many Biagi‘s, Rodriguez, Donato, Lomuto, Canaro, Tanturi, lots of Troilo...

Lyrical music:
Music in which the basic count is not always audible because the melody is dominant and legato. The violins will play a stronger role or a singer will have a bigger part. Because of the fact, that there are less strong notes per measure (1 or maybe 13) the music will be perceived a slower.
Examples: most late instrumental Di Sarli, some De Angelis

Lyrical-rhythmical music:
There are two kinds of lyrical-rhythmical music and many, many Tangos can be placed into this category. The first kind is music, in which a legato melody is accompanied by a strong and driving basic count, like many Tangos by Fresedo or Calo. The second kind are Tangos in which rhythmical and lyrical phases interchange like many pieces by Biagi (with Alberto Amor), Demare, Di Sarli with Podesta or Rufino and some Tangos by Rodriguez or OTV.

Dramatic music:
A large part of the Tango is dominated by a dynamic melody with a very strong bass beat. There is an extra strong accent on the 1, as if all instruments of the orchestra played it together at maximum volume. Dramatic contrasts  are used (high/low, loud/soft) and also the speed may change. All in all, this music feels more aggressive or powerful. Because of it's expressive character, this style of music is mostly used for Tango-performances. In a Milonga, it should be played rarely and with consideration as it encourages dancers to do bigger and more energetic moves.
Examples: Most Pugliese, very late Biagi, late Troilo, late De Angelis, very late D'Arrienzo, Varela


Appendix B: A short note on the Cachirulo Milonga in BA

I know that they do not play ONLY rhythmical Tangos in Cachirulo and I surely don't want to criticize this highly respected Milonga. But it seems to be the most prominent example for a more rhythmical musical choice and referred to all the time by many "Milonguero" DJ's and organizers as their model.
As I am told right now, even Cachirulo might have changed it's repertoire to a more balanced style in recent times. So please, tell that to the DJ's, who try to play exactly as they think, the Cachirulo habitués would prefer. ;-)



Tina said...

Oh yes, I do love a well-balanced evening. There is so much beautiful music and I too want it all! And Di Sarli and Calo are essential.

My big music complaint is that almost nobody plays Troilo lately. Only with Fiorentino once in a while and that is it... and there is so much beautiful Troilo! For me, leaving out Troilo is like forgetting to put salt in the pasta water.

I was (and still am when I can be)a Cachirulo regular and even there it certainly wasn't all rhythmic - there was lots of sensual Di Sarli and Pugliese as well. Lots of sensual and romantic embracing to be had, in addition to the faster rhythmic music. But I guess it is definitely more of a rhythm-based milonga than a lot of others. I'll have to go back and see. ha ha.

I think the trick is knowing when to play what.

Melina Sedo said...

Yea... I KNOW that there is not ONLY rhythmical Tangos in Cachirulo and I surely don't want to criticize this lovely Milonga. But it the most prominent example for this kind of musical choice.

Good day to you, Tina! :-)

pasi y maria said...

in my world the pure rhythmical period in the milongas with late '20's, early '30's, biagi, d'arienzo -kinda stuff was already over something like two years ago and is now replaced with more dramatic music like Varela and late d'Angelis. and of course pugliese is BACK! i guess in encuentros there are other dj's than in my world. anyway, i so totally agree with you. breathing is essential inside the music, inside the tanda and during the whole milonga. too much energy ends up to be too little energy if it is consumed and forced too much. I am happy to inform all the tango people around the internet, that in finland we have excellent dj's playing in local milongas especially concerning the variety of music.

Melina Sedo said...

Thanks dear Pasi and Maria!

I met some nice DJs indeed in Finkand! :-)
And there are many grreat DJs at the Encuentros and traditional Milongas too. DJ's who play a great choice of all styles of Tango, like Theo Chatzpetros, Lampis Zalavras, Celine Deveze, Alain Spotti, Enrico il Mali, our Tangokombinat DJ's of course and many others...

But there are also a large number of others, who developed into a more unidimensional sense. A tendency that I hope may still be turned around. ;-)

(As for late De Angelis, Varela and Pugliese... I'm not a big fan of that overly dramatic music at Milongas. But even these aspects of Tango music cannot be totally ignored, I guess...)

Good night friends!

Samira said...

Hi Melina, very interesting to read about the situation in your community. as mentioned above also in my world (european marathons) the djs play more melodic, romantic and dramatic music (e.g. calo, fresdo, demare, di sarli, troilo, pugliese, 40ies/50ies in general), i would say since two years now. and i have the feeling that it is still going in this direction. i personally appreciate this development a lot but i especially agree with you that there should be the whole range of (classical! tango!) music represented in a milonga and not only a certain style.

msHedgehog said...

Do you not think that this might be a regional-market preference rather than going with any particular type of event? Specifically Italy, or the Med? I don't remember it being the case in Celje or in Germany or England, even where the format is the same, and so are a quarter to a third of the guests. I could be wrong. Italy is big in that scene but it's not overwhelming.

Melina Sedo said...

Ms Hedgehog:

You are of course right when in comes to the regional preferences. The Encuentros and Milongas that I am describing (the ones with the strong rhythmical tendency) are indeed rather the southern events - but the guests are often very international, so the DJ's should cater to a more general taste.

HW said...

Hi Melina, I couldn't agree more with you (small exceptions below). During the last maybe two years I sometimes feel like kicked around on the dance floor. Not by some respectless dancers (happens too, sometimes), but by the music played.

I my opinion especially encuentros are an excellent place to calm down the music, playing even more lyrical stuff, as people are getting "in the mood" to go slower, deeper.

Your categorization is a little bit too strict for me. Many of the end-20ies or beginning 30ies tangos are rhythmical, as you said. But many of them also have wonderful melodies which take away the hard pushing part which is present at many d'Arienzos or the like after '35. Unfortunately many of these tunes have never been re-recorded later by the big orchestras. But I love to follow the melody lines of those tangos.

Maybe some DJs think they have to keep up the energy by using mostly or only rhythmical stuff. But IMO this is completely contradictory. People get tired, dance with less attention, and more and more they are getting stressed. At least, that's what I notice for myself.

It seems to depend a lot on the place you're DJing: In France it happened to me twice that I was asked to play another d'Arienzo just before the end of the night. I never felt that a d'Arienzo was right in place that late at any other place, especially not in the region where I mostly DJ (Rhein-Main, Cologne, Düsseldorf, etc.).

Many DJs you mentioned indeed follow a very balanced pattern, but unfortunately not all. In a big encuentro (it was in 2011 - you were there, too) one of the DJs only changed between drama and pushing rhythm for far more than three hours. I really got angry and had to go outside to calm down again. I simply needed to breathe - what otherwise I could have done dancing.

At the same encuentro, one year earlier, Theo made such a wonderful evening, constantly changing the pattern and even using the cortinas to make this change more noticeable. He got everybody on the floor, all the night. One of my best evenings ever.

To finish here, it's good to read about this topic, as I always think about what the music has done to me at a certain evening. Sometimes I'm tired, but sometimes I leave with a big smile and completely awake even in the early morning. The latter always happens at milongas with a very balanced selection of tandas.

Good night!

Melina Sedo said...

Thanks, HW for your long comment. I remember that encuentro well. And behold, Theo saved the last Encuentro as well! ;-)

just a short note:
I did NOT write that all Tangos of the late 20s and early 30S are rhythmical. There are are few that I would indeed classify as rhythmical-lyrical. But as I also said earlier: this is of course individual. ;-)


Melina Sedo said...

A commentary that I received by mail and that I promised to post here:

Melina, you speak for my heart… and a lot of good comments.

Most of my dancing is in a large and diverse tango community (Hamburg) and the (average) level of dancing and DJing is not the same as you would expect in an encuentro or a marathon.
Still the same applies and I would like to add some thoughts.

Discussing with DJ’s, they often talk about the energy curve. I understand that in general they start with a predesigned energy curve assumed to fit the clientel which they know pretty well. Then they will sense the energy in real time and adjust as necessary during the milonga. Unfortunately some of these hocus-pocus curves have flat slopes. This can mean that you get 2 lyrical tandas at the start and 2 at the end of an 5 hour milonga and the DJ thought he did a great job. I can’t lose the impression that these DJ’s have mystified themselves with borrowed abstract concepts, while lacking in insight to interpret and apply those as they were intended.

Now what’s this energy of the milonga and how does it relate to the energies and the feelings of individual dancers? And can you measure it?

I am not aware of a broadly shared definition, so let me make some suggestions:

1. Motivation, the numbers of dancers wanting to dance this song (approximately the number of dancers on the floor)
2. The amount of physical energy released (number of dancers x number of steps/minute)
3. The sum of cognitive energy consumed by the dancers (quality of the dance)
4. The sum of emotional energy felt and consumed by the dancers (facial and body language observation)

Like so often, what you can easily measure is not necessarily what you want to know.

One DJ said to me, that he would not play some (lyrical) songs because the vast majority of the dancers would not dance to it “properly”. While I could agree with his judgment in sense of “dance performance rating” my observation is, that the majority loves these songs and jump up to dance whenever they are played.

Surprisingly I have not observed a correlation between the music styles and the dancing style at our local milongas, the most popular milongero style place also having the most lyrical music.

Still I often feel the frustration of having to arrive earlier than convenient or stay late for the lyrical stuff. Or when surprisingly there was a beautiful D’Agostino/Vargas tanda and you were totally immersed in the dance and you want to relax and savor the feeling but you hear di Sarli coming. This could be the last lyrical one for hours and you dance this one as well and the next one…. Your dance is deteriorating. You should take a break to regenerate your energy but you risk losing the last of these precious tandas. So I end up wasting my energy on suboptimal dancing and “playing stressful mind games with the DJ”.

Just as the Tanda concept and TTVTTM have become recognized standards, we could use something equivalent to ensure a good balance and predictability of the music played in terms of rhythmic/ lyrical.

How about Tl-Tr-V-Tr-Tl-M. For traditionalists, who dance one tanda at a time that should do it. For those favoring to dance multiple tandas (with one partner) in sequence, Tl-Tl-V-Tr-Tr-M could be more appropriate.

The “energy experts” can still build their concepts on top of this…………

and they lived happily ever after.