Tan Hainu - Music Composer

Born in China, now in the United States.

The Conflict and Fusion of Japanese and Arabic National Music Cultures



National music culture carries recognizable markers that remain distinctive over time and become valuable contributors to research in the areas of musicology, ethnomusicology, sociology, anthropology, national culture, and aesthetics. This paper examines the simultaneous actions of conflict and fusion that result from differences and similarities between all demographical levels of Asian music cultures. China is the intermediary link between Persia-Arabia and Japan that as a consequence of migration over time, fused the multitude of musical styles into the unified system – a system that still distinguishes sub-cultural traits – now known as Eastern music culture.

Japanese and Arabic national music cultures come from opposite sides of Asia and so together take on a prevalent representation of Eastern national music culture. This representation is unique from the Western phenomenon for including the traits of conflict and fusion that resist absolute homogeneity, thus maintaining original historical connections. Ultimately, though musical scales and musical rhythm are more commonly analyzed worldwide, musical systems and musical temperament necessarily must also be given the close attention this study of Eastern national music culture describes.


Biographical Summary

Tan Hainu is an extremely dedicated music composer. Born in China, she came to the United States 3 years ago to pursue her doctoral degree under world class music composition professors. Hainu brings with her 5000 years of music culture to share and fuse with the Western world.



The Conflict and Fusion of Japanese and Arabic National Music Cultures

In the expansive Asian lands, there are more than 48 countries, a hundred nationalities and more than 3 billion people which accounts for two-thirds of the world's population. This huge area is the cradle of ancient human civilization from which rose four great ancient nations – India, Egypt, Greece, China – and three main religions – Islamism, Taoism, Buddhism. Abundant spiritualism, the exercise of acute wisdom and intellectual concourse, and aesthetical philosophies emerged and spread wide in Asia. The emerging effulgent music cultures developed not only within their individual societal spheres, but each also influenced the development of music in their neighboring lands. However, the national music of Asian countries – known more commonly by Westerners as traditional folk music – originated with numerous and complicated varieties, each having a special music culture the style of which none had been wholly substituted in any of the other counties. As such, the music cultures of the Asian countries all have their special, identifiable characteristics. Yet, it is common that each country also has "intercommunity" in the music culture between each of the Asian countries in which they all have their unique particularities combining different characteristics and similar characteristics in un-prescribed degrees. The similar musical characteristics of each country can be viewed as a link that connects them through a net-like system. Yet, because these similar factors vary in scope, they make room for different musical forms, also of varying scopes. It must be further noted that a country's boundaries do not dictate congruency in its music culture for the fact that music sub-cultures do develop. Thus, when considering Asian national music culture to mean the generalized whole, as the unification of all the music culture systems, it also means the integration of all the music culture sub-systems within each country. But homogeneity is only complete with the unanimity of conflict and fusion. The overall impact, then, adds intricacies to the study of Eastern music when compared to Western music, requiring additional perspectives. The scope of this paper will examine this in the fashion of working from a broad perspective and then narrowing down to a detailed study of Japanese and Arabic national musical cultures.

There are four reasons to choose Japanese and Arabic national music in this analysis relating to the comparative important if Japan and Arabia in Asian civilization. First, as will be seen, there are differences and commonalities in national music cultures that sweep over the Eastern continent and permeate the two sides of Asia: Japan and Arabia. Second, the "Great Change" in A.D 645 is symbolic of Japanese civilization in Japanese history. Japanese civilization grew up quite late amongst the other Asian countries, and its origin is attached to ancient Chinese civilization. The "Great Change" is an innovation that studied and imitated ancient Chinese politics and economic systems, coming from barbaric and uncultured origins into civilization. Third, Arabian civilization plays an important part in many world-conscious polarized political situations. Islam is the crucial instructional system in Arabian politics and society, and it created an effectually unique culture. Fourth, the music of Japan and Arabia belong to different musical systems, but they remain in the "same style of music." In the early 20 th century, the early Chinese comparative musicologist Mr. Wang Guangqi differentiated the different scales amongst the national systems: The Chinese musical system is based on pentatonic, Greek musical system is based on heptachord, and Persian-Arabic music system is based on the micro-scale. But, Japanese national music absorbed Chinese traditional music, shaping it into their national music. This became Japanese country music, Gagaku , and Japanese urban instrumental music, Zheng , and Japanese three-string music (Hisao 11, 159). Japanese national music has the same character as Han Chinese national music, music of most Chinese minorities, mixed with Korean, Mongolian, Vietnamese, and Indonesian. Arabic national music belongs to the Persian-Arabic musical system, and the characteristics of the micro-scale music system were created by the unique twenty-four musical temperaments. Arabic national music is the same as the Islamic national music found in the Chinese Sinkiang area, particularly like the musical character of the Wei Wuer and Ta Jike areas within Sinkiang. What ultimately resulted was, since China's location falls between Persia-Arabia and the Japan, Japan was greatly influenced by its Chinese origin, and separately, the music cultures of China and Arabia flowed mutually between the two countries. As a consequence of migration over time, China became the link where these three music styles fused into the unified system now known as Eastern music culture. It is very necessary, now, to introduce the detailed system characteristics of the Chinese musical system and the Persian-Arabic musical system before introducing Japanese national music to compare it to Arabic national music in detail.

The Chinese musical system has four detailed characteristics. The first is where the tone has the "qiang" characteristic where the singer consciously changes the timber, pitch, and force of the music.

The second characteristic is pentatonic tonality. The core of this tone system organization was created with a three-note group: one major second interval and one minor third interval. The mode was based on three notes. The pentatonic scale of the mode is not equal to the pure pentatonic scale. The melody is based on the characteristic of the pentatonic mode. The Chinese musical system also used hexachord and heptachord scales, but pentatonic is still the main backbone of the melody, and the three-note group is still the core of the melody. This is the difference in heptachord scales between the Chinese and European musical systems (Wiant 3) and one of the main influences on the Persian-Arabic system. There are three kinds of pentatonic scales and modes in the Chinese musical system (Zhou 8):

In looking deeper at these modes, the Yu mode and Zhi mode are the most simple and uniform. The relation of the intervals in their scales is in harmony. Shang mode has mixed emotional characteristics and the first three notes are the same as the Yu mode. The Jiao mode and Gong mode only have one three-note group. It is the same as the Yu mode and Zhi mode. They are all based on major second and minor third intervals but in different combinations and different orders of the combinations making the emotional characteristics different in each mode. Moreover, Jiao mode and Gong mode are not as common as the other three modes in most Chinese music because the Yu, Zhi, and Shang modes are more in balance having two major second and two minor third intervals as opposed to the Jiao and Gong modes which have three major second and one minor third intervals.

The third Chinese musical system characteristic is the non-functionality of average rhythms and many non-average rhythms. Non-average rhythm means the "free metres" (Xin 44) in the beat. This is very common in Chinese and Japanese national folk music. Average rhythms not only have "Ban" (downbeat), but also have "Yan" (upbeat). However, average rhythm in the Chinese musical system is less functional than in European specialty music. This means the downbeat and upbeat is not so regular in the Chinese musical system.

The fourth Chinese musical system characteristic is the single line voice of the layers of texture. Most musical pieces are all single line voice in the Chinese musical system. The melody has very high quality and becomes the spirit of the music (it has "linearity"). Although there is some compound voice in the Chinese musical system, the melody in other voice parts is still derived from the main melody. This is totally different than the harmony and counterpoint of the European musical system.

Like the Chinese system, the Persian-Arabic musical system also has four detailed characteristics. The first characteristic is where the tone has the "qiang" characteristic conditionally.

The second Persian-Arabic musical system characteristic is the core of the tone system organization that was created with a four-note group, but melodies have no surface layer meanings of harmonic functionality.

The third characteristic is that the downbeat and upbeat are different than in the Chinese musical system because the Persian-Arabic musical system always uses fixed rhythms and they all have names. It is very common to use mixed metres in the Persian-Arabic musical system as well as double beats, triple beats, quadruple beats and quintuple beats.

The fourth Persian-Arabic musical system characteristic is that the layers of texture not only have simple voice, but also have compound voice. These characteristics in the Chinese and European musical system are completely opposite. Some characteristics of the Persian-Arabic musical system are similar to the Chinese musical system, while other characteristics of the Persian-Arabic musical system are similar to the European musical system. It is the same in the geography; Persia-Arabia is in-between China and Europe and all three are affected by migration. Concerning all, we can compare the characteristics of these three musical systems in the following chart:

Chinese musical system Persia-Arabian musical system Europe musical system

The tone has the "qiang" character.

The tone has the "qiang" character conditionally.

The tone has no "qiang" character.

Notes group

1. The core of the

tone organization was created with a three-note group.

2. The mode has pentatonic character without harmonic functionality.

1. The core of the tone organization was created

with a four-note group.
2. The melody has no

surface layer meaning of harmonic functionality.

1. The core of the tone organization was crated with a four- note group, but the structure and the progress is different than Persia-Arabian musical system.
2. The melody has surface layer meaning of harmonic functionality.


1. Free metres
2. Non-average rhythm
3. Average rhythm

1. Average rhythm
2. Free metres
3. Mixed metres

1. Average rhythm

Layers of texture

Horizontal thinking

Horizontal thinking but it

will change to Vertical thinking when average rhythms appear.

Vertical thinking

Finally, the analysis of Japanese national music and Arabic national music requires comparing four points: the musical temperaments, mode scales, melody, and rhythm. First of all, the temperaments are very different. Japanese national music uses circle of fifth musical temperament. The relationship of the tone of the seven basic pitches is different than when hearing the seven basic pitches in twelve musical temperaments on piano. Although the pitch "E" and "F", "B" and "C" still are natural half tones, they are smaller than the half tones in the twelve temperaments. The relationship of other natural tones is bigger than the tones in the twelve temperaments. The difference of the tones was produced from the different ways of counting the tones (Danielou 73). Arabic national music uses twenty-four temperaments today, but it developed over time as follows: nine temperaments - seventeen temperaments - twenty-four temperaments. The details of the development are known as the Messel Theory (Yu 262) from the early days of the Arabian empire. This theory is for counting the musical temperaments. Messel got nine temperaments from the "circle of fourth": e - a - d - g - c - f - b b - e b - a b . The order of the tones is as follows (Yu 263):

In the 13 th century, the Persian music theorist Safi A-din (A.D.1230~1294) followed the "circle of fourth" theory and the nine temperaments, and then continued to count eight times more. He got the seventeen temperaments: e - a - d - g - c - f - b b - e b - a b - d b - g b - c b - f b - b bb - e bb - a bb - d bb. The order of the tones is as follows (Yu 263):

(" b " means to debase 114 frequency, " bb " means to debase 228 frequency.)

In the 19 th century, the Arabian musician M. Meschaqa used the Arabic traditional twelve musical temperaments to create the twenty-four temperaments. He added a temperament halfway in-between each of the twelve temperaments and got the twenty-four equal micro-intervals (1/4 tones). The frequency of the tones is 150. However, Meschaqa did not follow the twenty-four temperaments so strictly when musicians played the music. The total difference between Japanese national music using circle of fifth temperament and Arabic national music using the twenty-four temperaments results in offset tuning that is too subtle for the ear to perceive on a single note comparison, but becomes more distinct when a whole work is performed using the temperament forms from each. The advantage of shorter frequency temperaments of a certain length is that it makes more notes in the same space as longer frequency temperaments. The disadvantage is that if we have more notes in a certain length, it will make it harder for the instrument manufacturers and the musicians. Moreover, conductors and performers are disadvantaged because at some point the frequencies increase beyond normal ear perception. The larger point is that the temperament directly influences the manner in which music is produced, not just for Japanese and Arabic music, but also for world music.

Second, the comparison of Japanese and Arabic national music deals with the large number of mode scales. Arabic national music, for instance, has one hundred variations in the Makam system that begin from pitch "D." Yet, there is common ground between the scales of the two music systems. The basic Japanese melodic structure is not octachord, but tetrachord. There are two tetrachords having the same structure, juxtaposed to form a scale. There are four such scales in Japanese national music (Yu 7-9) :

The Gagaku is the oldest source of Japanese classical music. The scales in Gagaku are all Heptachords and they separate into Nu Xuan and Lu Xuan scales (Malm 38). The Nu Xuan scale is Zhi mode scale and the Lu Xuan scale is Shang mode scale. For example (Yu 10):

There are eight kinds of scales in the Makam system of Arabic national music. The emotional characteristic is from the scale, and the scale is from the interval, and the interval is from the notes, and the notes are from the temperaments, and the temperaments are from the frequencies. The scales are all created by different characteristics and combine with the second intervals (Yu 266):

Above all, Japanese scales and Arabic scales are in fusion with the "E," "B," and "F" notes inasmuch as they both apply semitones and micro-semitones to these notes. The pitches in the Japanese Lu scale and Arabic Rast scale are actually the same, but the "E" and "B" sound different because they have the different temperaments.

Third in the Japanese and Arabian comparison is "free metre" music, which is very common in Japanese and Arabian traditional melodies. The melodies are always developing gradually within musicians' minds. Melodies do not use symbolic logic like Western classical music and do not seek symmetrical and regular structures. However, Japanese melodies and Arabian melodies have different religious backgrounds. We can call Japanese music "tranquil music" because it has the peacefulness, farness, quietude and loneliness of Confucianism. It also has a Buddhist philosophical influence. In this, Japanese music is "felt" like the wind dying away. Arabian melody is based on Islamic culture and was created by the culture's own pattern of music: Arabesque (Stokes 92). Arabian melodies not only have the powerful male spirit, but also have the female charmed temperament. It has melancholy pain as well as lonely emotion. However, Japanese and Arabian music both like to use lots of ornamental notes. It is very common to see an abundance of ornament in the melodies of Asian national music.

The last point of the Japanese and Arabian comparison is that the rhythms always have a relationship with the languages. The Japanese language influenced Japanese "Ba Mu" rhythm style. This is almost always in duple time because the Japanese pronunciation has the cadence of the tone very similar to Chinese Han folk songs. Moreover, the Japanese melodies like to begin from the upbeat. The Arabic melodies are totally opposite from Japanese melodies. Arabic musicians think the accents are the most basic factors in the melodies. The rhythms can be in circulation because of the accents. In addition, the irregular rhythms in Arabic music are derived from the rhythm length of Arabian poems. For example (Yu 278):

This text has examined the conflict and fusion ensuing from the differences between and similarities of Japanese and Arabic national music cultures, cultures from opposite sides of Asia that encompass a prevalent representation of the Eastern phenomenon . National music culture is critical to research in the areas of musicology, ethnomusicology, sociology, anthropology, national culture, and aesthetics, and this is especially so for the richer traceability of Eastern music. Ultimately, though musical scales and musical rhythm are more commonly analyzed worldwide, the additional study of musical systems and musical temperament must necessarily be given close attention with the Eastern schema.




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Integration includes bringing together all the music cultures and music sub-cultures to become a harmonious whole. This is considered in the context of fusion, and is an important theoretical category of modern sociology.

The term "national" is again used in the context of a junction of cultures or sub-cultures.

Netter classified the research object of national musicology. He discusses three kinds of music: 1.) Music of non-literate society. 2.) All the varieties of music culture in Asia and North African which includes China, Japan, Java, Bali, southwest Asia, India, Iran and Arabian phylum countries amongst others. 3.) Folk music, meaning music inherited through dictation early in Asian civilization.

See details of Jiusheng Yang's "The cause and effect of small orchestra piece 'River.'" Published at Tai Wan, Journal No.244, March 1, 1994, as cited in Yu and Chen.

Circle of fifth musical temperament is based on the second pitch and the third pitch of the compound pitches in fifth harmony relationships where we begin to count up one more fifth harmony and get one more tone. Then we count up again to get another tone.

This standpoint is from Japanese music theorist Xiao Quan Wen Fu as cited in Yu.