May 13, 2004  (STAR) ARTWEB By Ruben Defeo  -  There was certainly a European air about him. An ubiquitous figure on campus – usually in white polo shirt, khaki pants and sandals – José Monserrat Maceda was more than a university institution. Unknown to many, his name was most celebrated in the international music scene.

Maceda, 87, succumbed to acute respiratory failure as a result of the final stages of prostate cancer late evening of Wednesday, May 5, at his residence in Area I on campus. Now, that figure of a man walking the campus of UP in Diliman he served so well is now a memory.

I had the rare privilege of working with him in the early 1970s when we were both members of the UP President’s Council on the Arts (UP Prescounarts), with Virgie R. Moreno presiding. I distinctly remember that during meetings, his was an eminent, if not, immense, presence. In the rare instances that he expounded on an idea or an issue, everyone of us listened and savored each word he uttered. Even the irrepressible Virgie dared not to butt in.

Maceda had a gift, not only of music, but of speech. His was so elegant. He treated words as musical notes; ergo, even with one word, he could create a full samba out of it. When the nation recognized him as National Artist for Music in 1997, there was a hum of approval.

One of the outstanding works I remember of Maceda was Udlot-udlot premiered in 1975.

Commissioned by the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the UP Prescounarts, it was presented in conjunction with the Third Asian Composers Conference Festival. The setting of the musical happening was the CCP parking lot along Roxas Blvd.

Maceda, then, was chairperson of the Asian music department of the UP College of Music. He was assisted by painter Roberto Chabet from the UP College of Fine Arts, who designed the ground lay-out for the musical components of the 40-minute production.

Some 800 UP high school students were bused in to perform Maceda’s sound produced through clapping, buzzing, pounding and blowing instruments fashioned from the lowly bamboo. Using almost every conceivable arrangement, the afternoon show brought out a carnival of sounds produced by four instruments, like the kalutang or sonorous sticks, balingbing or buzzers, tongatong or stampers, and ongiyong or flutes.

The primary consideration in Udlot-udlot was the achievement of the proper densities and thickness of sound produced by three musical components: The repeated sounds (produced by the kalutang), the mixed sounds (balingbing, tongatong and ongiyong) and the human voices.

As designed by Chabet, the mixed sounds were produced by 10 groups positioned in 10 squares within a circle 16 meters in diameter. Also within the circle was a vocal group arranged in two columns facing each other. The group that produced the repeated sounds of sonorous sticks walked clockwise the circle.

Through Udlot-udlot, Maceda succeeded in expressing what he called "another kind of musical language." He also provided ample proof that one need not resort to sophisticated electronic gadgets to create or interpret what is now internationally hailed as new music.

Maceda became famous for his compositions that blend Asian and Western music and for his staunch dedication to the promotion of a national cultural identity that initiated and inspired the study of the music and culture of Filipino minority tribes.

He was known for his experiments that paved the way for new trends in composition. As one writer puts it, his method "combines elements of drone, distribution of labor, separation of musical functions, relative values of pitch and level of timbres."

Aside from Udlot-udlot, among his well-known works are Pagsamba, (performed in 1968 with a repeat in 2001) with 116 instrumentalists and voices played by more than 200 people distributed in the circular chapel of the UP Diliman Parish of the Holy Sacrifice; Ugma-ugma (1963) with native instruments and chorus using blocks of sounds alternating with tense-high voices; Ugnayan (1974), using 40 radio stations as music instruments spreading sounds through radio receivers held by hundreds of participants in public places around the city; Aroding (1983) featuring 40 bamboo mouth harps making up a murmur of syllables, overshadowed by five men’s voices heard through a thin curtain of high-pitched whistles; Distemperament (1992), unifying all dissonances of 36 orchestral instruments from the lowest to the highest pitches into one consonant tempered sound; Music for Gongs and Bamboos (1997), fitting together the Western scale of the flute and contrabassoon with the slendro scale of Javanese metallophones; and a recent work, Colors without Rhythm (1998), employing a full orchestra with seven keyboard instruments in floating sounds, the beat lost in instrumental layers hiding behind the regularity of the beat pattern.

Rowena Lumen, who once was a researcher of Maceda and now based in California, remembers: "Way back in the Sixties, I worked as a student assistant to Dr. Jose Maceda and in so doing learned the ethnology side of music. The Grundig tape recorder at the office became an archetypal cache. Out of it issued music of the Manobo, Kalinga, Tagbanua, Maguindanao and other segments of our clan who have managed to elude the Eurocentric mold. These musics we faithfully recorded and catalogued at the Department of Asian Music and Ethnomusicology through roll-over grants from the social research arm of the UP administration. Afterwards came a grant for the maiden performance of Dr. Maceda’s Pagsamba. Hundreds of performers flocked at the round chapel for a mass performance of bamboo zithers, jew’s harps, gongs, agongs and drums. The mathematics of the contrapuntal percussive claps was palpable, in fact, countable if one would analyze the note values for each instrument line in the gargantuan conductor’s score. The actual rendition was mesmerizing. Woody sounds clicked, traveling round and round like a spellbinding yet weird concert of crickets. Right then and there I knew it was a one-of-a-kind experience I must treasure forever. Then many years passed by and I forgot. Blame it on the calendar, the tides, more so the seasons. They come and go, charting a flow long memorized – day in, day out; ebb and flow; blazing summers after monsoon floods. Though comforting, the cycle misleads for it nurtures a tendency in us to assume that each and ever person known and loved will forever be around, doing magical things they alone can conjure."

Just as he was remembered for his kind of music, long before the trend caught up with our pop musicians who now have gladly incorporated indigenous music in their compositions, Maceda was also a giant in music research.

A respected scholar in music research, he has extensive studies in the Philippines, Southeast Asia, Africa and Brazil. He also has a number of publications, the latest of which was The Structures of the Principal Court of Music of Asia published in 2001.

Boy Abaya, director of the Office of Initiatives for Culture and the Arts in UP Diliman, forwards that Maceda pioneered research on ethnomusicology in the Philippines. And Ramon Santos, University Professor, concurs, thus: "Siya ang kinikilala nating nagsimula ng modernong pamamaraan sa pananaliksik sa musika dito sa Pilipinas, maagham na pananaliksik mula sa isang pananaw na pinagaaralan ang musika sa konteksto ng kultura. Sa kanyang pagtuklas ng bagong pananaw, mas nakatuon siya sa village cultures, hindi sa high art culture. Binigyan niya ng bagong kahalagahan ‘yung mga kadalasang binabaliwala natin."

Boy, who worked as a researcher for Maceda in the early 1970s, remembers him for his efforts to relate ethno-music research with other disciplines like anthropology and mathematics. His stint with Maceda served as his initiation to ethnographic research. Even when his contract with the office had already terminated, Maceda would still continue to provide him not only encouragement but even raw materials for research like cassette tapes. This was at the time when Boy was doing his research on the Aetas.

Maceda’s name is also synonymous with the UP Center for Ethnomusicology in Diliman where he served as its executive director since its creation in 1997. The center recognized Maceda’s ethno-musicological collection of about 2,500 hours of music in tapes, field notes, music notations, song texts, photographs, music instruments, music compositions, personal files, about 2,000 books and journals as his original work and authorship.

Maceda may be gone now, but through his pioneering efforts, our understanding and appreciation of the musics of East and Southeast Asia have become deep that we can now bridge the musical philosophies that divide Asia from Europe.

As Santos sums it up: "Maceda levelled Philippine music with the music of other Asian countries."

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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