Music systems the world over are melody-centric (focussing primarily on successive notes) or harmony centric (employing simultaneous combinations of notes like chords/counterpoints).
Evolved systems of each type have very well defined rules based on universal as well as cultural aesthetics. For instance, Indian and Persian music have been built upon millennia of intricately organised melodic principles while Western Classical and Jazz are examples of highly developed systems anchored by harmony.
Issues in world music collaborations
The melharmonic approach is founded upon a very important point - for any collaboration to be mutually true, one must introspect deeply about aspects that anchor each system. Without this, a collaboration could be exciting but often at the cost of the very fundamental character of one or both systems.
Technical: The biggest issue is of course the varying technical approaches that melody and harmony based systems have evolved over centuries. The traid-centric approach to harmony is in sharp variance with the sequential, scalar approach that melody based systems like the raga (modal) system of Indian music. Triadic harmony can never work across the board for all modes even if they are based on 7 tone scales as can be seen below:
Even the fundamental triad in Major Scale C E G (Sa-Ga-Pa in Indiian solfa) will never be appropriate from the melodic perspective of an Indian raga like Shankarabharanam. Though the notes of both are exactly identical, CEG is not a combination that works melodically for the raga since it thrives on phrasings like CDE, DEF, FGFE (SRG - RGM - MPMG etc). CEG would actually suggest a different raga called Sindhumandari (which was probably created to explore this chord by 19th/20th century Indian composer Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar).
(a) Many modes have different sequences in ascent and descent. Which may mean that the same type of chords will not work in many notes. For instance, a Carnatic raga like Bilahari which has C D E F A C - C B A G F E D C (Sa Ri Ga Pa Da Sa - Sa Ni Da Pa Ma Ga Ri Sa or simply S R G P D S - S N D P M G R S in Indian solfa) will make a chord like G-B-D (Pa-Ni-Ri) sound out of place even though the B is there in descent.
(b) Many may have non-straight sequence-structures like raga Kadanakutoohala, which has C D F G B E G C (Sa Ri Ma Da Ni Ga Pa Sa) in the ascent. Again a chord like G-B-D will sound out of place even though the note is there in the raga.
(c) Many modes can be based on 6, 5 or even 4 or 3 note scales, which means several notes absent in ascent and/or descent like raga Hamsadhwani which has C D E G B C - C B G E D C (S R G P N S - S N P G R S). Here a triad from D will be inappropriate though a composer steeped in harmony will employ it routinely.
(d) Ornamentation and oscillations: Even for modes with straight 7-tones certain rules of oscillations on notes in certain contexts will make a plain chord seem out of place. For instance, in the harmonic minor (Keeravani), the 3rd (Ga), 6th (Da) and 7th (Ni) are oscillated many times whereas the 1st, 2nd and 5th are not. 4th is oscillated occasionally. So a standard chord obviously played plain like CEG (Sa-Ga-Pa) will seem quite at variance to listeners used to the oscaillation on the 3rd.
A few more technical aspects are explained in the melody section. There are a few more issues like:
- Cultural: While each system sounds very good when presented by top artistes or orchestras, it is not uncommon to see people used to harmony finding melodic systems uni-dimensional or those bred on the rigorous melodic rules centered on modes (raga) not being able to reconcile the notes or chords that are 'foreign' to a scale/mode being featured in harmony-centric compositions.
- Melodic: It is unrealistic to expect composers used to only harmony-based systems to be aware of thousands of rules in hundreds of scales/modes (ragas) in advanced melodic systems like Indian classical such as of sequence, hierarchy and ornamentation of notes in various contexts.
- Harmonic: It is equally impossible for specialists of melodic systems to be aware of the chord/counterpoint approaches in harmony-centric systems and they may unintentionally violate many while creating pieces with multiple parts.
- Collaborative: Since several technical and aesthetic aspects of Western systems can be sharply at variance with those of melody-centric systems, fusion between these even featuring high quality artists/orchestras can end up mixing, violating or ignoring them, leading to unsatisfactory results.
In the video example, Steve Kurr (Conductor, Middleton High School Orchestra, WI) attempts Western triadic harmony to write parts for a section of a traditional Indian Carnatic piece in a Kalyani (which uses the same basic notes as the Lydian-mode). This approach illustrates an important area of divergence between the melodic and harmonic approaches. The very first triad (built on the tonic) C-E-G (Indian notes - Sa-Ga-Pa) is a combination that would be inappropriate for the raga Kalyani successively or simultaneously even though they are present.
This led to Ravikiran formulating the concept of melharmony in the year 2000 with an aim to find musical solutions for literally thousands of such issues in world music collaborations. Melharmony has since opened up new vistas for composers, musicians, orchestras and audiences all over the world.