Artem Erkomaishvili (1867-1967) was one of the giants of traditional Georgian vocal music of the 20th century. Until today, his last name stands for a long list of famous Gurian singers and choir leaders, going back far into the 19th century (cf. Anzor Erkomaishvili, 2018). With the Tbilisi State Conservatory recordings of 1966, a remastered selection of which has recently been released under the name Pearls of Georgian Chant (Ilia Jgharkava, 2016), Artem Erkomaishvili has left a legacy which is invaluable in a number of ways. Since chanting was prohibited during the Soviet period, people have argued that without these recordings the tradition of the Shemokmedi chanting school might not have survived the last century (Shugliashvili, 2018).
Secondly, what makes these recordings so precious for research today is the special recording setup which was used. Since in 1966 there were no fellow singers left, Artem Erkomaishvili had to perform all three voices by himself, which he did sequentially in what is now called overdubbing technique. The top voice, which in Georgian chant is also the leading voice, was recorded first (as solo voice), then played back to him while he was singing the middle voice, and so on. This overdubbing technique turned out very helpful for the reconstruction of the pitch tracks and the subsequent preliminary study of the melodic and harmonic tonal organisations (Müller at. al, 2017; Scherbaum et al., 2017a, b). Subsequently, Rosenzweig et al. (2019) developed a computational approach to detect stable regions in the frequency trajectories (Rosenzweig et al., 2019) which makes it possible to quantitatively determine and visualize Artem Erkomaishvili’s tuning practice for each chant.
It turned out that for all the recorded chants, Artem Erkomaishvili seems to have used non-tempered tunings with non-equal distant intervals and some common features for all the chants. Differences between the individual chants, however, exist in the frequencies with which the different „anchor pitches“ of this tuning system are used.
From the analysis of the recordings it can also clearly be demonstrated that at certain positions in the chants, Artem Erkomaishvili adjusted his middle and bass voice pitches to obtain particular vertical (harmonic) tunings (cf. Scherbaum et al., 2017). Very similar characteristics have already been described by Siegfried Nadel (1933) for recordings of Georgian prisoners of wars in WWI.
Graphical score with note and pitch tracks for the chant Gushin Shentana. The pitch distribution used in this chant is displayed vertically on the right side with the „anchor pitches“ given by the black horizontal numbers. The interval values are indicated by the tilted blue numbers. The most frequently used anchor pitch in this chant is given by the red number in cents. The cent values of absolute pitches are always relative to 55 Hz.
Overall, the application of computational tools offers new insights, but also new questions, regarding a number of long standing issues related to the ethnomusicological analysis of traditional Georgian music. In this context, the recordings of Artem Erkomaishvili turn out to be not only a cultural treasure but also an extremely valuable source of information regarding his performance practice which can now also be studied using computational tools.
Erkomaishvili, Anzor (2018). My grandfather Artem Erkomaishvili, Nova Science Publ. Inc., New York, 356 pp.
Jgharkava, I. (2016). Pearls of Georgian chant. CD.
Müller, M., Rosenzweig, S., Driedger, J., & Scherbaum, F. (2017). Interactive Fundamental Frequency Estimation with Applications to Ethnomusicological Research. Accepted for presentation at the Conference on Semantic Audio, 2017 June 22 – 24, Erlangen, Germany 8 pp. she also: https://www.audiolabs-erlangen.de/resources/MIR/2017-GeorgianMusic-Erkomaishvili. (PDF)
Nadel, S. F. (1933). Georgische Gesänge. Lautabt., Leipzig: Harrassowitz in Komm.
Rosenzweig, S., Scherbaum, F., & Müller, M. (2019). Detecting Stable Regions in Frequency Trajectories for Tonal Analysis of Traditional Georgian Vocal Music. Submitted to ISMIR 2019.
Scherbaum, F., Müller, M., & Rosenzweig, S. (2017a). Analysis of the Tbilisi State Conservatory Recordings of Artem Erkomaishvili in 1966. Accepted for Presentation at the 7th International Workshop on Folk Music Analysis, June 14-16 2017, Malaga, Spain, 8pp. (PDF)
Scherbaum, F., Mueller, M., & Rosenzweig, S. (2017b). Rechnergestützte Musikethnologie am Beispiel historischer Aufnahmen mehrstimmiger georgischer Vokalmusik. Submitted to INFORMATIK 2017, Lecture Notes in Informatics (LNI), Gesellschaft Für Informatik, Bonn 2017, 12 pp. (PDF)
Shugliashvili, D., (2014). Georgian Church Hymns, Shemokmedi School.
Shugliashvili,Davit (2018). Foreword. in Erkomaishvili, Anzor (2018). My grandfather Artem Erkomaishvili, Nova Science Publ. Inc., New York, p. XIII -XVI.