[Smt-talk] Theory of "Intercultural" Composition

Linda Seltzer lseltzer at alumni.caltech.edu
Fri Apr 24 07:34:29 PDT 2009

The incorporation of non-Western theories and philosophies into Western
music has enhanced the creativity of Western composition.  My teacher in
Indian music, Ustad Vilayat Khan, was always highly concerned about the
reverse, that the incorporation of Western music, particularly pop music,
was damaging Asian culture.  In particular, are Western influences causing
Asian music to lose the subtleties of tuning and intonation, the gradual
changes of pitch and timbre in the course of a long note, and complexity
of rhythmic structure.  To some gurus of classical Indian music, Bollywood
music is a travesty, while other classical musicians have participated in
popular music for the money.  This has caused rifts even within families
and gharanas.  In Japan, many people know only Westernized pop culture,
where traditional Japanese music is almost like a museum culture.  There
are serious questions about whether music, particularly pop and rock, has
become a form of colonialism attacking the musical identity and pride of
traditional Asian cultures.  Are Westernized Asian musicians composing to
an oversimplified Western view of Asian culture, based on primitive
pentatonic scales and exoticism?  At Princeton the students from India
formed an Indian music organization.  One of their publicity materials
asked their fellow students to come and hear "exotic" music.  At one of
the meetings I asked the students why they were labeling themselves as
"exotic."  Fortunately the classical Indian music tradition still has
great shining lights like Sanjay Subramaniam.

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