Revered by academics and music lovers alike, the polyphonic Bunun song “Pasibutbut” is a cultural treasure. First documented by Japanese ethnomusicologists in 1943, it turned the world’s understanding of ethnic music on its head.
“Pasibutbut,” which is sung as a sacred prayer for the millet harvest, can be translated into two parts: “pasi,” meaning “harmonious sharing,” and “butbut,” meaning “mutual support”.
Said to have been learned from swarming bees, “Pasibutbut” is performed by a group of Bunun men standing in a circle with linked arms. When in harmony, the music contains intervals of thirds, fourths and fifths, and other overtones. Beginning low in pitch and soft in volume, the song slowly rises in volume — and microtonally in pitch — in a hypnotic performance lasting about ten minutes. It has captivated music scholars for its complex structure practically impossible to document in written form.
Taiwan’s aboriginal music was already gaining global appreciation during the early 20th century, and in 1943, Japanese music scholars (who deemed Bunun tribal music as the epitome of Taiwan’s ethnic music) were sent to document a Bunun tribe from Taiwan’s Riranzan village in remote Taitung County.
The singers featured in “Consonance” are direct descendants of those recorded in 1943 (and published in the book/CD “Sounds from Wartime Taiwan 1943”), and are the first to be recorded in a manner which preserves the circular aspect of their music. Thus, ”Consonance” is ground-breaking for its extremely accurate documenting of a cultural treasure and for defying of the inherent “front facing” limitations of stereo and other typical surround audio formats.