Chou Wen-chung

Excerpts from “East and West, Old and New”

Keynote speech given at UNESCO International Music Symposium, Manila, Philippiines 1966.

It is my conviction that we have now reached the stage where the very beginning of a re-merger of Eastern and Western musical concepts and practices is actually taking place. By re-merger I naturally mean that I personally believe the traditions of Eastern and Western music once shared the same sources and that, after a thousand years of divergence, they are now merging to form the mainstream of a new musical tradition.

It is generally acknowledged now that the West, in its preoccupation with polyphonic writing, has more or less ignored these particular aspects in music which the East has remained master: variable tunings, melodic types and modes, rhythmic modes and patterns, the self-sufficiency of melodies rich with organic ornamentation, the independence enjoyed by individual tones and their timbres, the improvisatory freedom accorded performers, the state of mind associated with the execution of details. All these aspects and more have survived in that music of the East but have been sacrificed in the West for the sake of its achievements in polyphony.

Today… the more adventurous younger composers have already begun to exploring the immense resources in musical expression afforded by the application of inflections in pitch, timbre, duration, articulation, and intensity — precisely the same elements that have always been of primary concern to Eastern musicians.

Take Chinese music as an example: the Confucian philosophy of music clearly states that tones are the image (i.e., the substance) of music, and melody and rhythm the ornament (i.e., the appearance) of tones… In other words, music is sound, and sound, living matter. This is particularly manifest in Chinese ch’in music.

But the same philosophy with its attendant symbolism may be found almost everywhere in the East. It is at the root of the means of musical expression in the East which now find striking parallels in the new music of the West. A few examples come to mind: in Indian music, the art of gamaka, the expressions of srutis in a raga, the living interplay between independent yet coordinated rhythms in a tala; in Korean Ah Ahk, the registral and timbral antiphony; in Japanese Gagaku, the stratification of instrumental groups; in Indonesian gamelan and other Southeast Asian ensemble music, the simultaneous variations in pitch, register, timbre, and duration.

Page 1 of 2