(Forthcoming) Chanting rhythms: Exploring the Tahitian pehe

Fifth International Conference on Analytical Approaches to World Music (AAWM 2018), June 26–29, 2018
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece


In this paper, I investigate a fundamental component of the polyrhythms accompanying traditional Tahitian dances, which Tahitians refer to as pehe, or rhythmic sequences performed in the percussion ensemble. The aim is to explore the syntax governing the composition of these rhythmic patterns, and to identify their qualitatively relevant properties.

To this end, I analyze an ensemble of base versions of thirty-four pehe, as the culture bearers teach them. The paradigmatic analysis draws on Arom’s structuralist approach to musical systems, and extends the method proposed by Vida Chenoweth for analyzing melody to the Tahitian rhythmic realm.

After identifying the basic rhythmic cells and investigating their interrelations , I explain how these elements participate in the rhythmic macrostructures. Subsequently, the study explores the poietic processes and the processual dimension at work.

The research brings out elements governing timbre, form, temporality, multidimensionality, and significance within the studied pehe repertoire, and characterizes their combinatorial and sequential nature. In highlighting the resonance of these characteristics in other musical contexts such as strumming techniques and traditional singing, this study opens the path for further research within the performed repertoire, and for comparison with other drumming repertoire in the area and beyond.

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