Buddhism, Animism, and Entertainment in Cambodian Melismatic Chanting smot – History and Tonal System
The Cambodian Buddhist Chanting style smot is highly elaborated in terms of melismas and therefore unique to this area of Southeast Asia. As the style in its most sophisticated form needs extensive vocal training and precise knowledge of the correct ornaments to present, monasteries give smot training courses running over years with final exams finding the best singers. The musical parameters like the tonal system or performance style is discussed in relation between measurements and the musical concepts of infor- mants. Here both, the pure tone Western and the equal Cambodian tuning exist side-by- side even within one piece. The melodies and melismas of smot are fixed and therefore little improvisation is normally done which is different from most chanting styles where the pitches and length of sections may be caused by semantic reference e.g. to mental visualizations (Chong 2011). Still in the follow of dharma, the Buddhist doctrine, this chanting is for enlightening and healing the minds of listeners and therefore can also and indeed is often sung by layman people, too. As literature about the existence of smot is known from times before the Red Khmer regime from 1975-1978 and only a few sources are available today, a fieldwork in 2010 was to determine if this chanting is still used. Indeed it was found to be vividly alive and recordings could be done in several monasteries. Cambodian Buddhism is known to have strong elements from Hindu and animistic traditions and also the Khmer Rouge seem to have taken over not only prac- tices of Buddhist performances but also of musical and lyrical styles. This could explain the survival of smot as a musical form rather than a Buddhist doctrine. As the style is not often performed in public but rather at monastic ceremonies or in private healing or cremation contexts it is much less known to the Western world compared to other chanting styles.
Soundfiles of different phrases
Sara-Panh Phrase 1
Sara-Panh Phrase 2
Sara-Panh Phrase 14
Read more in the following paper by Rolf Bader: