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date: 14 November 2019


  • Mireille Helffer


Brass cymbals of Tibet. The term means music in general, but is commonly used for cymbals with a large central boss, also known as sbug-chol or sbub-chal (sbug(s) or sbub(s) meaning ‘hollow’ or ‘cavity’ and ‘chol or ‘chaly meaning ‘to be thrown together confusedly’). Various models of sbug-chol are distinguished by the relationship between the diameters of the central boss (phobrang: ‘palace’) and of the rim: in the most common sbug-chol the boss is half the total diameter (about 30 cm or more), while in the Hor-sbug (‘cymbals from Hor’) it is three-fifths of the total.

The cymbals are used alone or with the rnga drum (played simultaneously or slightly out of phase) to punctuate Buddhist ritual recitation and song, as well as to mark the rhythmic patterns of instrumental music (for illustrations, see Dung-chen ) and to accompany the ritual ‘cham dances. According to oral tradition, confirmed by written reports, one of the pair represents ‘the mother’ and the other ‘the son’. The two cymbals are held horizontally, facing each other, by narrow leather or fabric straps attached to the centre of the boss, and moved vertically in a codified series of gestures. The sound produced is considered violent, hence the instrument’s frequent association with the so-called fierce deities. Performance is governed by precise rules expressed in terms derived from the count of the cymbal strokes: ...

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