Traewong: The Changing of Colonial Aesthetics to Urban Noise Pollution

Keynote
28 August 2019
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“Traewong” is a Thai term used for labelling a fusion marching band that consists of a combination of Western wind and brass instruments in combination with Thai rhythmic percussion. This unique music is one of the socio-cultural phenomenons that developed during modernization Thailand. The history of Traewong extends back to the reign of King Rama IV, when his younger brother, King Prabatsomdejphrapinklao, made an effort to develop his royal army unit through European-style training. 


Early on, the music played consisted of European and American marching tunes. Later, the Thai military music unit developed their own music by utilized Thai traditional songs and adapting them as Western marching pieces. Later on, a hybridized sound of Thai brass bands became incredibly popular not only among the Thai military corporations but also among the Thai people, similar to the common traditional Piphat, Kruangsai and Mahoree. 



The musical language found in Traewong music, in terms of orchestration and harmony, is very different from that of Western music. Whereas the typical Western Brass Band emphasises homophonic and polyphonic/ contrapuntal textures, the Thai Traewong rather enjoy playing heterophonic music, or even free-improvisation, like that of the traditional Piphat. Even though a more systematic approach to harmony was introduced to standardize the Tarewong by H.R.H. Prince Paripatra, the majority of common Traewong still make their music by ear and by whatever skills they can develop through self-learning. Traewong serves Thai society in the context of community activities such as ordination ceremonies, temple fairs, wedding ceremonies, funerals, and Ramwong dances. Original songs from Thai traditional Piphat and Mahoree ensembles develop unique colours when played by Traewong performers. The exciting sounds of Traewong always stimulate the community’s spirit. People can easily enjoy Traewong by simply listening, watching and even freely dancing along to its energetic rhythm. 


However, within the rapidly changing world, where live music is replaced by new technologies and where community spirit is disappearing, the aged breath of Traewong is becoming weaker and weaker. 


In modern Thai society, the vigorously sounds of the Traewong have somehow become ”noise pollution”, an unwanted sound of urban habitats. Many urban dwellers, communities and religious organisations now have negative associations with the activity of Traewong. This paper examines the existence and future of Traewong in Thailand.