Monash University
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The Eternal Pulse: creating with konnakkol and its adaptation into contemporary vocal performance

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posted on 2017-02-27, 05:18 authored by Young, Lisa (Elissa M.)
This research examines the use of konnakkol in the creative musical practice of select contemporary artists, resulting in the creation and performance of a new composition for jazz quartet, and demonstrating how the konnakkol art form continues to evolve and be adapted on the world stage. Commonly described as a sophisticated style of vocal percussion, konnakkol is the performance art form of the intoned rhythmic recitation of solkattu, the vocalised rhythmic syllables of South Indian classical music and dance. My ethnomusicological field research finds that as a musician’s companion, the Carnatic system of solkattu/konnakkol has a broad range of practical and creative functions. In-depth interviews with konnakkol artists Kaaraikkudi Mani (India), Suresh Vaidyanathan (India) and Lori Cotler (USA) provide insight into the way these musicians work creatively with konnakkol in traditional and cross-cultural projects. The research demonstrates how artists fluent in konnakkol move beyond its pedagogical role to employ its use as a highly creative tool, in which konnakkol provides a conceptual framework for metred numerical calculations, improvisation, composition, rhythmic comprehension and analysis, transference of musical ideas, and expression of musical pulse. It also demonstrates the use of atypical konnakkol syllables, along with timbral and pitch variations in contemporary konnakkol delivery. For this research I created and performed the song cycle The Eternal Pulse with jazz musicians Ben Robertson, Stephen Magnusson and Dave Beck. In composing this work, I explored the expression of ‘eternal’ and ‘internal’ pulse, understood as the musical metre and the internal sub-divisions of the metre respectively. I used intoned and pitched konnakkol as a fully integrated vocal and musical expression in a Western contemporary jazz context, embedding konnakkol and wordless lingual sounds within this format to create a unique ‘vocal sound-bank’ as the basis for my vocal expression. This style of pitched konnakkol is a distinctive feature of my creative practice. In this process, The Eternal Pulse created a new style of composition and performance by integrating konnakkol language and concepts as melodies, riffs and the language for improvised passages. The Eternal Pulse, the related reflective analysis, and the insights drawn from fieldwork interviews all demonstrate the adaptive and evolving use of konnakkol in contemporary performance practice. The resultant new knowledge is a documented articulation of a practitioner’s perspective acquired by taking the tradition of konnakkol into a Western creative context. This also represents a contribution to the knowledge of broader practical and creative applications of konnakkol in contemporary performance practice.


Principal supervisor

Margaret Kartomi

Additional supervisor 1

Robert Vincs

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts