Music Research in Asia
(Talk for the Koizumi Award)
May 22, 1992

José Maceda

I am most grateful to the Koizumi Fumio Foundation for Ethnomusicology for the award I am going to receive today and for its kindness in having chosen me to be the recepient of this award for the year 1991. The late Professor Koizumi's generosity in the establishment of this Foundation shows his dedication to this discipline of which he was one of the forerunners in Asia. Several months ago, I received a telephone call from Professor Yoshihiko Tokumaru who informed me in advance that I was being named to be the recipient of this award. It was a great surprise to me to know that it was myself receiving it, instead of a friend whom I recommended, so I would like to thank Professor Tokumaru and the Foundation for this advance information before I actually received a formal letter, and now , the award itself.

I am also thankful for the opportunity that the Foundation is giving me to talk about research in Asia which is in need of a coordination of efforts to bring forth concepts about Asia as a whole, as a unity within its diversities. Ethnomusicological studies have contributed much to a knowledge of Asia's musical forms, making it possible to support with data this idea of a musical unity.

Although a focus of study may be on music in particular, the many ramifications of music in culture, religion, theater and dance demand assistance from the fields of anthropology, linguistics, history, archeology and philosophy. These relationships are general as well as specific, but in both cases, a joint effort of collaboration between scholars and institutions, an exchange of unpublished reports, and a translation of important works, sources, and articles would help clarify these relationships that come up in the course of individual, separate studies.

In archeology, a study of diggings containing music instruments in mainland China would show how a distribution and concentration of bronze, wind and string instruments in certain areas are also a unity of music culture, contrasting with a unity of musical instruments made of bamboo and plant materials in Southeast Asia. The contrast between archeological artifact and present ethnological data does not necessarily mean that the artifact is older. Bamboo, as it is used today was also a pre-neolithic plant that may have produced instruments corresponding in age to the first usage of bamboo tubes to cook rice in an open fire.

Moreover, ancient Chinese music instruments may be compared with bamboo instruments using the musical scales of which thier music are built. Archeological artifacts of bone flutes in China are apparently not tuned according to the classic cycle-of fifths tuning of the pentatonic scale. These findings are supported by a current use in Hainan island and in the Philippines, in the islands of Panay and Mindanao, of rare flutes with one or two stops near the blowing hole, producing two or three pitches with no consciousness of a measurement of stops in relation to the tube's length. This lack of a system of intervalic relationships indicates the existence of isolated and little known music cultures that may have preceded a culture conscious of fifth-degree relationships in Northern China. A pre-pentatonic music culture such as the aforementioned tuning suggests, is a clue on how fifth-interval relationships in pentatonic scales may not have appeared out of nowhere without a precedent practice, related or not to the cycle-of-fifths theory of scale formation.

Other data on scales refer to a manner of measuring flute stops in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. The first hole located mid-length of the tube, searches for the octave of the fundamental, and subsequent stops produce four other tones that make dual hemitonic and anhemitonic scales with separate music repertoires and social functions. From the foregoing, three scale systems -- the pentatonic cycle-of-fifths, a pentatonic based on the octave, and a non-intervallic scale system -- demonstrate how present ethnomusicological data posit a larger, broader background of musical scales in Asia and a partial explanation or a clue to differences in pentatonic tunings so widespread in the region.

Archeological discoveries about bronze kettle drums in South China and Vietnam invite questions on how these instruments spread out to insular Southeast Asia. Although there is a great difference in profile and make between bronze drums and bronze gongs in Southeast Asia, there is a musical link in the manner the two instruments are played. The bronze drum is suspended from a tree or a support, like bronze gongs. The right hand with a padded mallet hits the center of the instrument as the left hand with a thin stick hits its rim, resulting in two contrasting sounds -- a focused central sound and a dispersed rim sound.

Another set of bronze instruments are bronze bells of China. In the excavation of the tomb of the Marquis of Yi of the Chou dynasty, three layers of bells with smaller bells on the top layer, with bigger, fewer bells in the bottom layer, and with separate players for each level denote a distinction of musical functions. Since separate functions of musical instruments are an important feature of musical organization in gamelan and gagaku, a question arises on how these functions may have actually existed in ancient times.

In contemporary field research in mainland China, folk songs from different parts of the country are being gathered and transcribed in cipher notation, bringing data that would show how these songs may be related to each other according to regions. The number of music tones in a melodic line would relate language and music. In the Philippines and parts of Southeast Asia, songs are frequently sung to texts of seven syllables. In China, songs with 4, 5, 7 and more syllables or characters per line invite questions on how poetry, numbers and melodic line relate to each other, across mainland Asia and insular Southeast Asia.

Musical structures in Chaozhou, Hakka and other musical forms in Taiwan and mainland China, in Nan-kuan, in Ching and Ming dynasty music, in Japanese gagaku, Korean court music and other forms are all based on a pentatonic scale system. The behaviour of melodies in these musical forms is confined to a kernel of five tones and subsidiary tones related to each other by the fifth interval.

The fifth interval is an important element of culture. A technique of bipolarity, in an opposition of one fifth against another fifth is also a technique of logic, of an order of musical statements found in many musical forms in Asia and in dominant-tonic resolutions in Western music. In Europe, this opposition of fifths, basically between the first and fifth degrees of diatonic scales, unified European music since that opposition was introduced in the Middle Ages. By contrast, in Asia, this opposition is based not only on two tones, but on fifth relationships between five tones,resulting in a diversity of these oppositions in their corresponding musics in Asia. In pursuing the logic of these melodic movements, we are also tracing a manner of reasoning, the workings of a discipline, or an order of statements expressed in music.

A knowledge of different logical statements of the fifth interval in several forms in Asia would clarify the process of musical thought in Asia. In contrast to the musical unity that the fifth interval achieved in Western harmony, the fifth interval relationships in Asia were the roots of a diversity of musical forms and orchestrations in East and Southeast Asia, still flourishing today, of ancient historical and cultural backgrounds primarily using fifth intervals.

These musics in Asia are also governed by regular counts of two or four, by a hierarchy of instrumentation -- instruments having separate musical functions and degrees of importance in as ensemble -- and by pulse or a regular beat. Further more, in China, musical structures of 4, 5 or 7 counts invite inquiry into the role of numbers in various musical forms in East and Southeast Asia. In philosophy, Xu Guan Xi, a scholar of the Ming dynasty, was convinced that arriving at principles through numbers was the basis of thought in the West, but in Chinese music, it has to be pointed out that numbers play an important role in musical organization.

All the above musical-cultural elements slowly surfacing in the course of researches in Asia are only a part of the picture of other facets of musical culture, without taking into consideration research related to dance and theater, or without hearing from specialists about their ideas concerning the relationships of the musics of the region. Yet, there are already enough leads to work on them, and to bring out other kinds of relationships. This search for cross-cultural factors is not impelled by theories of kulturkreis, pan-Asianism, or a return to the procedures of comparative musicology of the past decades.

However, the aforementioned musical-cultural factors may be organized to become a musical theory based on musical structure, on elements actually found in musics of East-Southeast Asia, to repeat: pentatonic scales, counts of four, hierarchy, fifth interavals, bipolarity, augumentation (doubling of speed-counts not mentioned above) and numbers -- which by their assembly and usage, form a musical technique. The theory lies in the interconnections between these elements which are just what we are trying to explore.

The above elements seem to revolve on two of them -- on fifth intervals and a bipolarity between them. Perhaps, counts of four tend to rule over fifths, but those counts would be meaningless without the fifth intervals, and these intervals would be inert if they were not moved by an either-or opposition of bipolarity, and especially, if one pole is not declared more important than the other.

In this kind of opposition, we encounter its basic structure in the syllogism of Aristotelian logic the historical and philosophical background on which oppositions of dominant and tonic rests. It is acknowledged that Aristotle created the science of logic "absolutely ex nihilo," but in China a similar logic that has some traces among the Mohists does not seem to have written references in music. The bipolar oppositions that we now find in music may have structural connections with literary forms and the application of musical forms to poetry, or to roots in linguistic structures and their relationships with different languages of Asia.

What is of utmost significance in this structure of opposition is that, two musics on opposite sides of the European-Asia continent produced two completely different musics while using the same elements of opposition between fifth intervals. The whole difference in their applications lies in that Europe's fifths were applied to diatonic musical structures. If bipolarity and fifth intervals may be viewed in geographical and historical perspective, Europe and East-Southeast Asia represent extremes of musical development using these same elements --Europe using them with polyphony and harmony, and Asia setting them in cultural patterns of pentatonic statements expressed in several orchestras of varying instrumental colors.

At one time, Professor Laurence Picken spoke of a unity between the musics of Europe and Asia. Indeed, the fifth interval and its use in bipolar opposition are fundamental attributes of that unity. Somewhat differently, Professor Joseph Needham distinguishes Western science from Chinese science. The distinction is explicit in music, in the workings of fifth-degree relationships in diatonic music in Europe and in pentatonic music in Asia.

In sharing with you these ideas and perceptions, I am also seeking for comments, support or collaborative work with scholars in Japan or elsewhere. In Taipei at the National Institute of the Arts, where I have been giving periodic courses in ethnomusicology during the last two years, I have found encouragement and assistance from a few students, professors and the administration. I hope in the coming years to collaborate with more researches, especially in an input of ideas for the revelaton of hidden facets of music in Asia.

I thank you all for your kind attention, and once again, I would like to reiterate my gratefulness to the KoizumiFoundation for Ethnomusicology for this award and for an opportunity to express views concerning ethnomusicoly in Asia.


Suigyu Library (Japanese)