Chou Wen-chung

Excerpts from “East and West, Old and New”


[In ch’in music] Over one hundred symbols (chien tzu) are used in ch’in’s finger notation for achieving the essential yet elusive qualities of this music: subtle inflections in the production and control of its tones as a means of expression. They indicate the articulation and timbre of either a single tone or a series of tones. They specify the occurrence of variable microtones between fixed scale tones. And, they control the rhythmic and dynamic organization within each tonal aggregate. In fact, they even evoke a certain state of mind to the performer for the execution of each detail. Such a system naturally makes possible to its music a wealth of resources that has been beyond the realm of pre-electronic Western music.

…The old days of indulging in so-called “exotic” scales and melodies are gone. The new order of the day is a serious interest in compositional concepts and techniques. …There has been growing interest in certain Eastern philosophies, such as Zen, Tao and I Ching. Zen and Tao as applied to music would seem to be carrying the fundamental idea of “sound as a living matter” even deeper, as they have for a long time influenced the music of East Asia. I personally feel that I Ching, with its concept of continual transformation and superimposition of trilinear arrangements of two polar opposites, its concept of the transitory and changing within a continuum of the timeless and unchanging, and its system of binary arithmetic, could be developed into a much more sophisticated serialism as we now know it.

There is always the danger, unfortunately quite prevalent today, of superficially acquiring new concepts and techniques purely as a matter of extrinsic procedure and calculation. The greatness of Eastern music is indeed in its wisdom of “using things as things” and in its avoidance of any kind of extraneousness… the purely materialistic adoption of Eastern practices will only bring forth more “Turkish marches,” twentieth-century style.

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