Last update : May 9, 2021
Skor daey is a goblet drum used in wedding music phlenh kar and aye aye. Skor arak, similar to the previous one, is played in animist arak ceremonies. Both were once made of clay, but because of their fragility, wood is preferred, especially jackfruit khnor, which is light and strong. These two drums are about forty centimeters high with a head of about fifteen centimeters in diameter. The membrane was traditionally made of snake skin (reticulated python, Malayopython reticulatus) or large lizard skin (genus varan, trokuot) but today synthetic materials (plastic) tend to supplant them. In the past, the foot was sometimes carved with Angkorian floral motifs.
The skor daey is played either on the knees or under the arm. A hand is sometimes inserted into the opening to obtain a dull sound.
The French ethnomusicologist Jacques Brunet offers a description of skor arak in an article published in 1979 and following research carried out in the 1960s. We report here a part of its contents*. The spelling of the terms, different from the one used by ourselves, has been preserved.
*(Brunet Jacques, L'orchestre de mariage cambodgien et ses instruments. In: Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient. Tome 66, 1979. pp. 203-254.
The phleng kar orchestra consists of one or two one-membrane drums known as skor dey = earth drums. In the past, the body of the drum was indeed made of clay, which is still sometimes found in phleng arak ensembles, but because of their fragility and for obvious reasons of convenience of transport, these drums are now almost always made of wood. These drums are called skor arak (or skor memot = "spirit drum") for two reasons: firstly, because they provide shelter for beneficent and other "spirits" during propitiatory ceremonies, and secondly, because their beating serves as a call - or invitation - to the spirits to participate in kru chol, a shamanic type of healing and exorcism ceremony.
The skor arak is a goblet drum whose moal = mouth opening is covered with a taut snake skin. The khluon body of the drum has a domed part khbal skor = head of the drum, at its upper end, part supporting the tension links of the membrane. These are connected and held by a metal hoop or rope that encircles the base of the khbal skor at the choke; this hoop serves as a tension support. The sbaêk membrane = the skin, is either a reticulated Python skin (Malayopython reticulatus - Schneider, 1801) or, increasingly frequently, a synthetic membrane. The rattan ties are attached to holes drilled in the membrane and stretched parallel to each other; a braided cord attached to the middle of the khbal serves to keep the ties parallel by tightening them tightly on the drum wall. Preparing and tensioning these rotors on the drum concerns the operation known as chak chhboh = piercing and tying.
The membrane is prepared over a long period of time with successive baths of lime and acid solutions in order to obtain from this skin both a sufficient solidity to resist tension and an absence of elasticity which does not make it too sensitive to climatic variations and humidity. In order to ensure that the skin is definitely tight, it is placed on the instrument during a cool night so that in the heat of the following day it will stretch and tighten by itself. Since the rotors do not have a sliding tensioner, the tension of the membrane is permanent and cannot be further reinforced. (…)
The skor arak are the object of particular cults both in their manufacture and their maintenance. On the other hand, these drums can play a magical role either with the musician, or sometimes with the members of the orchestra and even with the whole village community. Thus the making of the skor requires the letter carrier to observe many rites. Here is how a musician from Antassom (Takêo) proceeds. After making a tray of food offerings, he addresses the geniuses of the forests and the tree he has cut, asking them for permission to make a skor. Afterwards, he locks himself in a room and surrounds himself with offerings of rice, candles, and incense sticks to Preah Pisnokar, the protective god of craftsmen and musicians. He will not emerge from this room until the drum is finished. Before beginning this work, he must observe a purification ritual ordered by a monk. During all the duration of his work, he must not speak to anyone (except his wife and children outside working hours). He may not step over the instrument being made or his tools, no one may touch them. Finally, he must light new incense sticks each time he returns to his workplace. All these prohibitions vary from one village to another. They are all the more important as the drummer is often a rup, that is to say an exorcist-medium. Very often, however, the making of a drum -- as well as any other musical instrument -- is done without any ritual other than offerings (incense sticks, betel leaves, candles) to Preah Pisnokar. The skor arak has a shape that varies little from one maker to another. However, there is no standard model that would be found throughout Cambodia, and diameter and length are far from being identical on each instrument. The average dimensions give for the length about 40 cm and a membrane diameter of about 20 cm. If the body of the drum is made of terracotta, the composition of the material and its firing are done according to the same techniques as for the manufacture of pots. When used in pairs, skor arak are usually tuned to the same degree. But here again we can find variations according to regions. For example, in Siem Reap the two drums are sometimes tuned to a fifth interval, in Antassom to a fourth interval. The skor arak are used for all forms of Khmer boran phleng, that is to say for all the music known as "traditional (ancient) Khmer music", grouping as we said above the music known as phleng arak and of course the music known as phleng khmer or phleng kar. (…)
Contemporary skor arak remains surrounded by prohibitions. Among other things, it should not be straddled or stepped over; this is also true for all the instruments of the Khmer phleng orchestra or the pin peat. Beyond the spiritual reasons behind such beliefs, there are common sense reasons related to the physical preservation of the instruments. In the past, spanning has probably been linked to falls of musicians and damage to instruments. It must be recognized that the space available for musicians in any ceremony is generally cramped. Also, moving around the instruments is often perilous. When you add fatigue, alcohol consumption and sometimes darkness, you understand that prohibitions and common sense come together. Such prohibitions exist in a large part of the world.