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Brendan

Posts: 157
Joined: Oct. 30 2010
 

East is east 

Is this true:

https://nmbx.newmusicusa.org/elements-of-japanese-music/

Allowing for the inevitable east-west absolutism.

Relevance: guitarists get to choose between three ways of playing the same note, and a lot of flamenco aesthetic is more about texture and timbre than strong melody.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 23 2018 8:43:52
 
Piwin

Posts: 2087
Joined: Feb. 9 2016
 

RE: East is east (in reply to Brendan

Not familiar all that much with traditional Japanese music.

But I wouldn't minimize the importance of timbre in Western "classical" music. Especially with certain composers of the late 19th century (Debussy, Mahler, etc.).
He may be right that "the trajectory of Western instruments has long held the goal of equalizing the sound quality across the full range of the instrument", but, the fact is that that goal was never reached. To put it simply, you could write a complexe orchestration on a computer program or synth, it could sound great on the digital feedback, but then when you have it played live by a real orchestra it might sound like crap. It's patently obvious with most brass instruments. On a synth, you can play those instruments as high as you want and still have them sound "soft". Play those same high notes with the real instruments and there's no getting around the screaming, almost grating, quality of sound they will produce. As a result, the "musical language developed to acommodate those differences" in timbre between pitches, just like he says it did in Japanese music. Dunno, maybe he's right that certain Western musicians feel the "urgency to fix the natural sounds of musical instruments". But the fact remains that they haven't been "fixed", every instrument has its own physical limitations and a good composer takes those into account.

As for his "ma", I see it, and I raise him Cage's 4'33.

As for the comparison with flamenco guitar, I tend to think that the main component of aesthetics here is rythm. The difference you make between "texture and timbre" and "strong melody" in my mind is really just the difference between accompaniment and falsetas.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 23 2018 16:01:14
 
kitarist

Posts: 390
Joined: Dec. 4 2012
 

RE: East is east (in reply to Brendan

quote:

ORIGINAL: Brendan

Is this true:

https://nmbx.newmusicusa.org/elements-of-japanese-music/


I am skeptical about the claim that the west pushed for consistent timbre across an instrument range (and, really, the first example is the piano/keyboard which is about the only "western" instrument without any ability to vary timbre due to the indirect way of producing the sound). This might be true in the context of large orchestral performances (however the author just states it in general, and without providing evidence), but not for chamber or solo works. I can see how, for large orchestras, a composer might work with "fixed" timbres in their mind (one per type of instrument) to create layers and textures using different types of instruments. Not so for chamber and solo works. None of this is addressed in the article.

Further not helping matters, the author provides a guitar-like instrument as the example for east embracing its timbre variability. But the ("western") guitar has the same embrace and employ of timbre variability, so I am not convinced there is an east-west difference there in a solo or chamber context - or at least, if the thesis re: timbre is correct, this is not a very good way to argue it.

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Konstantin
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 23 2018 16:44:53
 
Brendan

Posts: 157
Joined: Oct. 30 2010
 

RE: East is east (in reply to kitarist

Yes, I guess I was wondering whether anything remains after the obvious retractions and reservations have been added.

Perhaps he is just trying to explain his devotion to a form of music that doesn’t have tunes you can whistle. Who amongst us has not been in that spot?

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 24 2018 8:51:07
 
Piwin

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Joined: Feb. 9 2016
 

RE: East is east (in reply to Brendan

quote:

Who amongst us has not been in that spot?


I'm shyly raising my hand
But yeah I do know what you mean. I'm sure there are differences in the conceptual approach to music. The "ma" probably doesn't have the same significance as silence does in Western music. Just like things like compas don't necessarily fit all that well in the conceptual framework of Western music.
When I listen to the video at the bottom of that article, I can clearly whistle the tune. Much more easily than say whistling Dire Strait's Sultans of Swings (if you ever want a challenge, try to hum the vocal part of that song and get someone to guess what you're humming. In my experience (yes I play some very dumb games!), they only guess it if you hum that one famous guitar riff from the chorus.). But even if I can hum it, and I guess this is what matters really, I probably don't even notice the things I'm supposed to be noticing, the things that would be important for their sense of aesthetics and that probably just go right over my head.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 24 2018 17:35:03
 
kitarist

Posts: 390
Joined: Dec. 4 2012
 

RE: East is east (in reply to Brendan

I think in general there are identifiable differences in Japanese vs. western art aesthetics, but I was worried it was just some confirmation bias from recognizing examples and elements as I was reading this. However now that I looked around for actual research, I found some interesting bits and pieces. Still, "Almost any general statement made about Japanese aesthetics can easily be disputed and even disproved by citing well-known contrary examples." Keene (1969).

Some interesting (or pithy) quotes from research papers. A number of these ideas resonate with the flamenco experience actually.

"while the Western culture typically “believes in control of nature” and “romanticizes technology,” the Japanese culture “believes in the fundamental uncontrollability of nature” and “romanticizes the nature” (Koren, 2008, p.27)


Some from Keene (1969):

"A number of headings under which Japanese aesthetics might be discussed come to mind: suggestion, irregularity, simplicity, and [impermanence]."

"Beginnings that suggest what is to come, or ends that suggest what has been, allow the imagination room to expand beyond the literal facts to the limits of the capacities of the reader of a poem, the spectator at a Noh play, or the connoisseur of a monochrome painting."

"The emphasis on beginnings and ends implied a rejection of regularity as well as of perfection."

"By choosing suggestion and simplicity the Japanese forfeited a part of the possible artistic effects, but when they succeeded they created works of art of a beauty unaffected by the shifting tides of taste."

"Beyond the preference for simplicity and the natural qualities of things lies what is perhaps the most distinctively Japanese aesthetic ideal, perishability. [...] The visible presence of perishability in the cracked tea bowl carefully mended in gold has been appreciated not because it makes the object an indisputable antique, but because without the possibility of aging with time and usage there could be no real beauty."


Now from The Moral Dimension of Japanese Aesthetics (2007) by Saito:

"Japanese aesthetic concepts, such as wabi, sabi, yugen, iki, and mono no aware, have become better known, some even popularized today. [...] The authors of all these studies generally characterize Japanese aesthetics by focusing on aesthetic concepts and phenomena that are "unique to" Japan and ''different from" non-Japanese aesthetic traditions, the Western aesthetic tradition in particular. [...] I characterize the long-held Japanese aesthetic tradition to be morally based by promoting respect, care, and consideration for others, both humans and nonhumans."

"Concern for the aesthetic in our everyday life is neither frivolous nor trivial. It has a close connection to the moral dimension of our lives. Eaton points out that, ultimately, there is a "connection between being a person who has aesthetic experience and being a person who has sympathies and insights of a kind required for successful social interaction.""


Keene, D. 1969. Japanese Aesthetics. Philosophy East and West, Vol. 19(3), pp. 293-306.
Koren, L. (2008). Wabi-sabi for artists, designers, poets & philosophers.
Saito, Y. (1997). The Japanese aesthetics of imperfection and insufficiency. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 55(4), 377-385.
Saito, Y. (2007). The moral dimension of Japanese aesthetics. The Journal of aesthetics and art criticism, 65(1), 85-97.

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Konstantin
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 24 2018 18:43:17
 
Ricardo

Posts: 10857
Joined: Dec. 14 2004
From: Washington DC

RE: East is east (in reply to Brendan

quote:

ORIGINAL: Brendan

Is this true:

https://nmbx.newmusicusa.org/elements-of-japanese-music/

Allowing for the inevitable east-west absolutism.

Relevance: guitarists get to choose between three ways of playing the same note, and a lot of flamenco aesthetic is more about texture and timbre than strong melody.


East vs West comes down to modality vs tonality and it’s that simple. However addressing specifics gets complex. Saying instruments are designed to have ambiguous timbre across the range misses the importance of HARMONY and being able and WANT to change keys on a single instrument....which simply can’t or shouldn’t be done on modal instruments. From that base you can then go on and on about the differences and likenesses.

Flamenco is unique in that is comes directly at the heart of this fundamental difference between east and west, and I am not talking about the superficial relation of the cante to eastern type singing...but rather to the way the GUITAR functions tonally AND modally as a sort of hybrid not seen (to the same extent) in any other music style I have come across. It goes to the point of needed to re define the basic Circle of 5ths with a higher tier of “keys” as they relate to flamenco forms, yet KEYS none the less, quite different than what you have with say “ragas” and other such modal forms.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 24 2018 22:44:29
 
El Burdo

 

Posts: 404
Joined: Sep. 8 2011
 

RE: East is east (in reply to Brendan

quote:

The "ma" probably doesn't have the same significance as silence does in Western music


'Ma' is the sound of silence. We in the West don't generally listen to it and treat it as the absence of information. Like nature, we abhor a vacuum, but it is an opportunity to listen to oneself. You meet someone, you have nothing to say. Listen to yourself. Ma.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 24 2018 23:06:42
 
estebanana

 

Posts: 7497
Joined: Oct. 16 2009
 

RE: East is east (in reply to Brendan

I have all the sashimi. I just want to make that clear.

Japanese aesthetic is like Western aesthetics, there's a lot of range for debate and evaluation. But I agree with the writers premise that instrument design, the real ancient ones, a lot is based on making a certain envelope of sound. I could go farther into that.

Japanese musicians and composers are interesting because Japan embraced Western music in the 19th century and created some forms that blend modal and western harmonic thinking. One form is called Enka, and there are classic songs from the early to midtwentieth century that were often used in film score that use Western structure, harmony and Japanese composition tenets together.

Enka is to Japan what Fado and Flamenco are to Iberia. It's also pretty deep once you look at the Japanese West intersection.

One other thing I can say having been in Japan for some time, it ain't like what you see on TV. It's much weirder. You won't find Japanese people are like aesthetically in sinc. My friends will argue aesthetic points that from the outside looking in you would imagine are set formally.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 25 2018 11:23:11
 
Piwin

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Joined: Feb. 9 2016
 

RE: East is east (in reply to El Burdo

quote:

We in the West don't generally listen to it and treat it as the absence of information


If we're talking in general terms, I agree. However, in music I don't think it's treated as an absence of information at all. The most common purpose it serves is that of punctuation. And punctuation carries a lot of information. But that punctuation is always "secondary", in the sense that it serves the more important role played by the words/notes. As you describe it, "ma" doesn't seem to function that way.

Anyways, if the Japanese want to make this particular form of aesthetics accessible to me, they better get their scientists working hard to find a cure for tinnitus. Because I can listen to myself alright, literally! But I doubt that's what I'm supposed to be hearing There's a certain tragic poetry to that. The elusive ma that I can only idealize but no longer hear. My ma is the Freudian ma, the one I secretly want to f*ck but can't.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 25 2018 15:45:08
 
El Burdo

 

Posts: 404
Joined: Sep. 8 2011
 

RE: East is east (in reply to Piwin

I once came upon a band (a percussion band) called 'Ma' and asked my Japanese wife what the name was supposed to imply. Evidently, Ma is the silence between events. The Chinese character used in Japanese for 'ma' means 'between'. It isn't silence in itself. Not the vacuum, not the absence. I'm not sure if 4'33" is ma or not. You can be trained to use ma effectively, like in telling a joke, or in making a presentation. Noh is the art of ma. The bus stop scene in Totoro is a well known example in Japan. In terms of music, I was thinking more of silence in a solo shakuhachi piece, rather than the pauses in Ace of Spades but they seem to be the same.
  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 25 2018 23:14:20
 
estebanana

 

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Joined: Oct. 16 2009
 

RE: East is east (in reply to kitarist

quote:

I am skeptical about the claim that the west pushed for consistent timbre across an instrument range


I'm not so sure. There is away to overstate this and say the West worked to make instruments consistent - but because instruments are physical things with limitations based in actual physics of how the thing operates it will have make changes in timbre naturally from one end of the range to the other. There is a tendency for Western instruments to strive for sameness across the spectrum, for evenness in volume, playing in tune etc. While in the East some of these attributes as something wanted in a design are not so important.

I can give one example of a vestigial design issue that continues to nag at the Western ear, but it not a Eastern problem The nylon 'G' string on the guitar poses the problem ( not for me) because classical guitarists feel it as a disruptive transition between bass/midrange and treble passage. To remedy the disjunction string makers proposed a 'rectified nylon' G string with the intent of closing the sound gap between treble and bass by making a G string that blends more with the D string.

That is a design tenet that swerves to fix a consistency problem. In flamenco the extra funky non fitting G string made with regular nylon can be a boon because it offers an Oud like color and a different timbre to play with in a scalar context. In classical playing the rectified string intended to make chords more even, in Flamenco why bother? It gives you more nuance in tone color to work with.

I could cite several other examples in western instruments where the design agenda moves along the consistency track. The woodwind family is designed with consistency in timbre are a guiding principal over several centuries. Brass also. And if comparing Western woodwinds to Japanese winds, the author is generally in my view, getting the story straight. Shakuhachi design is not codified in terms of timbre, it all over the place, whereas a modern clarinet, pretty much sounds like a modern clarinet. There's more spread in variation of timbre in what would be considered a usable professional shakuhachi than there is in a violin or clarinet.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 26 2018 3:46:12
 
estebanana

 

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RE: East is east (in reply to kitarist

quote:

"while the Western culture typically “believes in control of nature” and “romanticizes technology,” the Japanese culture “believes in the fundamental uncontrollability of nature” and “romanticizes the nature” (Koren, 2008, p.27)


This is also totally wrong. East and West views in Japan on the control of nature are surprisingly similar. Whoever wrote that is setting up a simplistic binary opposition that serves their point, its not true at all. Each of these vantage points on the romantic and the control of nature exist concurrently in West and East. This Koren person does not know what they are talking about. It's not unusual to find Japanese scholars who are not knowledgeable on the West to make snap comparisons about aesthetic value. Wade deep into some literary references and its easy to parse out. Both East ad West share a multiplicity of vantage points on the control of nature.

If someone s trying to set up a reason, which is not needed, for the development of instruments with less regard for timbre consistency in the East, the place to look is the time line of the industrial revolution. It's not a function of romantic vs non romantic in nature, it's more practical than that. Eastern culture is defined by it's writing systems, in the West the writing system is streamlined and naturally lends itself to be mechanically reproduced, so mechanical reproduction began earlier. In Asia language is culture, it's inseparable, and to not use mechanical means to reproduce language ( books) was not a function of inherent romanticism for nature, it was a conformation of the pragmatic order of society. Music exists both inside and outside this idea.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 26 2018 3:56:55
 
Ricardo

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Joined: Dec. 14 2004
From: Washington DC

RE: East is east (in reply to estebanana

quote:

Enka is to Japan what Fado and Flamenco are to Iberia. It's also pretty deep once you look at the Japanese West intersection.


If you say so... please show us to such an example where the music is tonal (uses accidentals) but not in a major or minor key.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 26 2018 11:35:12
 
estebanana

 

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RE: East is east (in reply to Brendan

I was referring to its relationship to culture. Enka is mostly fishing songs and songs that are similar in theme to flamenco letra. It has a fado flavor too, there are sings about women wh wait for the men to return from fishing trips. Or brave captains who either get lost at sea, or save another boat- and then everyone drinks shochu and goes to the spring festival to look at plum blossoms. It's like flamenco. Live stock, horses, the sea, death, drinks...The music part is modal, but tends pull towards minor for resolution.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 27 2018 10:23:10
 
Ricardo

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From: Washington DC

RE: East is east (in reply to estebanana

I searched for some....reminds me of Greek/Turkish style popular bar music.

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Feb. 27 2018 12:43:46
 
Brendan

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RE: East is east (in reply to estebanana

Thanks for these ruminations—exactly what I was hoping for. On the subject of East-West bifurcations, here is a non-puzzle:

This country is a group of islands with the Eurasian landmass on one side and a great ocean on the other.

It has one of the few really preposterous and expensive monarchies left in the world, and a dodgy imperial past with which it has not entirely come to terms.

It has a bland cuisine, which the natives attempt to liven up with mustard that makes your nose hurt.

It is a tea-drinking culture.

Social relations are somewhat reserved and formal, so much so that even people who know each other well have to get steaming drunk to enjoy each other’s company.


Where in the world are we?

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  REPORT THIS POST AS INAPPROPRIATE |  Date Mar. 4 2018 11:10:38
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