East + West=?

Last updated 7 Jan '10

Many people may understand that music of the east has influenced music in the west.
It might not occur to them that the influence has also gone, and continues to go, the other way.

I would first like to say a little about what I mean when 'the east'. I would like to concentrate on India, Pakistan, China, Japan , Indonesia (Gamelan from Bali and Java). I will then argue that the fertilization of these influences has been due to a range of factors including technology - including travel and the internet. I am exploring the affect of technology on music in another essay - electronic music.

In the age of the internet and the mp3, and even since the advent of recorded media (record, tape, CD), it is quite easy for music
(whether composed in 1200, 1750 or 5 minutes ago) to be sent from London to Tokyo for example or vice versa.

WHY, and HOW have musician from e.g. China and Japan studied in Europe, been influenced by western music?

The American composer/performer La Monte Young (Toop, 91/95, p 177), born in 1935, understands that "it was possible toabsorb all this information and to bring it into new a manifestation in which the whole was really much more than the sum of the parts."


La Monte Young (in Toop, 1991/95, p176) said

"in the middle section of Four Brass, I became very inspired to begin writing long sustained tones.
I was definately hearing Indian classical music and Japanese gagaku music. When I got to UCLA I was a
musicology major. They had a student gagaku orchestra and also, some time at that timeframe, I heard
the first recording of Ali Akbar Khan on Angel Records with Yehudi Menhuin announcing"

Terry Riley was influenced by Indian music.

"Hindi movies have always borrowed heavily from Western pop, plundering everything from ragtime to raga*,
from opera to hip hop" (John Lewis, Beginners Guide to Bollywood, on Nascente records, 2003)

The Indian composer & performer Ravi Shankar, worked with such apparently disparate musicians as The Beatles
and composer Phillip Glass (Chapaqua (1968), Passages (1990), Orion (2004)).
Beatle George Harrison produced
& participated in 2 albums,"Shankar Family & Friends" and "Festival of India". Shankar also collabporated with
the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, with whom he created viollin (traditionally a western instrument)
and sitar (a traditional Indian instrument) music.


Film allows music to travel from the country/ies of production to the country/ies of viewers. It also allows music to be put into a geographical/chronological context. Viewers may come to an understanding of Indian music through watching Indian films,
to an understanding of Chinese music by watching Chinese films. Film makers have been influenced by films
from other countries, and some films are international.

Bollywood-Indian film music

In the sleeve notes for the Rough Guides / World Music Network® release Bollywood Gold (2007) DJ Ritu explains that the increased ease with which people could travel between continents after world war two led to the cross fertilization of Western and Eastern music. 'Indian composers became influenced by Western sounds like Rogers and Hammerstein, The Beatles and other forms of Eastern music like Oum Kalthoum'. Ritu further explained that 'Although Bollywood music was mainly based on classical raags* it took an epic turn by becoming increasingly orchestral, with lush strings, brass and woodwind sections'

"Hindi movies have always borrowed heavily from Western pop, plundering everything from ragtime to raga,
from opera to hip hop" (John Lewis, Beginners Guide to Bollywood, on Nascente records, 2003)

The Hindi film composer A R Rahman was born in Madras (India) & studied in Oxford (UK). Lewis suggests that Rahman was influenced by string harmonies & electronic music ("razor-sharp breakbeats" (Lewis)) from the west. In 2004, Rahman reused a melody he had written in 2000 for a Tamil film (& used again a Hindi film) in a western musical produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber (Bombay Dreams).

Techno also seems to have influenced musicians in Bollywood; in 2000, Rajesh Roshini, "an MD who's always used
fantastic breakbeats", wrote Pyar Hai, "a bleepy piece of techno" (Lewis) for the film Kaho Naa (2000)
and Rajesh a "stomping piece of disco" for the film Lootmar (1980).

Earlier, in 1967, RD Burman used a "Chuck Berry-style guitar shuffle" (Lewis) for Aame Saame. In 1968,
OP Nayyar composed a "Benny Goodman-ish big band swing" piece for the film Howrah Bridge.


New York"also offered Varese important opportunities to meet artists connected to a glittering variety
of musical traditions: ... Chinese composer Chou Wen-Chung...and Japanese composer Michiko Toyama."
(Toop, D., 1995/2001, Ocean of Sound, Serpents Tail, p196).

The China Philharmonic orchestra played its first world tour in 2005, "integrating the classical repertoire of East and West, placing works by Bartók, Rachmaninoff and Rimsky-Korsakov alongside music by contemporary Chinese composers Ye Xiaogang and Hua Yanjun." (Rowe, G., 3/05, Youthful Energy and Polished Sheen: The China Philharmonic on Its First U.S. Tour, nytimes.com). Included in the orchestra's repetoire is Ye Xiaogang's Das Lied auf der Erde, a new song cycle which shares it's title and text (Chinese poems adapted by librettist Hans Bethge) with Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde. The new cycle was commissioned by the China Phil and more akin to Chinese operatic traditions than German Romanticism. Rowe suggested that the Chinese pianist Lang Lang has some way to go in his performance of some of the 'classics' of the West such as Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee and Liszt's Petrarch Sonnet No. 104.

Between 14/11/05-2/12/05 the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, (with violinist Midori and pianist Yefim Bronfman) conducted by Mariss Jansons, will play 10 concerts in Tokyo (Japan) and 6 other Japanese cities as well as 2 concerts in Shanghai (China). The programme is comprised of 11 works by Beethoven, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky, among others. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur on nytimes.com, 29/9/2005)

The Naxos CD label has a series of Japanese Classics and a series of , which it uses to argue that many musicians (indeed composers) from these areas have been influenced, often by studying in the respective are, by music from Europe and/or USA. Shiro Fukai (Japan, 1907-59) even went so far as to parody 4 Western composers - Falla, Stravinsky, Ravel and Roussel in 1936.

A number of Chinese and Japanese musicians have studied in Europe, including Long Yu, the Shanghai-born, German-trained conductor and impresario of both the relatively new Beijing Music Festival and the very new China Philharmonic. Conductor Li Delun (who died in YEAR at the age of 84) was a pioneer of Western concert music in China. It might be surprising to note that one of Delan's favourite pieces was the American Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings. In 2001 the orchestra presented the world premiere of American Philip Glass' Cello Concerto with Julian Llloyd Webber as soloist.

Another Chinese musician who has studied in the west (USA) is Bright Sheng (1955-), a composer, pianist and comductor. After studying composition in Shanghai he moved (in 1982) to New York's CUNY and Columbia University, where he was taught by Leonard Berstein, Chou Wen-Choung, Mario Davidovsky, George Perle and Hugo Weisell amongst others. The impact these teachers had on Sheng may be difficult to assess without studying these composers works up to this time as well as Shengs work before and after this period of study. However, he does feel that the works he composed before 1988 were "student works"; he obviously feels his period in USA affected his music to some extent [although his 1985 work Two Poems from the Sung Dynasty remain in hiscatalogue]. He has composed for a wide range of contexts; chamber music including string quartet, art song, music theatre (with a libretto by Glass collaborator, David Henry Hwang), concerto and work for mixed chorus and orchestra. In 2002 he was associate professor of composition at the University of Michigan.

In Sheng's China Dreams of 1992-95, the first movement is a "lyrical, atmospheric prelude" (Sheng *), and "its themes have the folk flavour of the North-West region of China". A 'brilliant, percussive fanfare' is followed by a well known Chinese tune from the South-West region of China played by strings. The fourth movement develops material from the prelude. Sheng also seems to feel it important to remember some of the history of China, for example its literature; the two poems used in Two Poems were written during the end of the Sung Dynasty (960-1279 AD) and represent a change of style of Chinese poetry. Nanking! Nanking! (2000) is a threnody to 300,000 Chinese who were attacked by the Japanese army in 1937. Using a solo instrument (the chinese pipa) allowed Sheng to "tell a story from the world of one person". * Bright Sheng, China Dreams/Nanking! Nanking!/Two Poems from the Sung Dynasty, NAXOS 2003. [ notes by Keith Anderson/Sheng]


'Gagaku is classified into three categories: original foreign music, pure Japanese music, and music composed in Japan using influences from other countries. Gagaku has its origin in China, Korea, and other countries in Southeast Asia or South Asia. To-gaku [Chinese], and Komagaku [Korean] are both styles of orchestral music, known as Kangen and when accompanied by dancing is called Bugaku. Pure Japanese music, called Kokufu kabu or Japanese Song Dance, is based on very ancient music performed at shrine rites and Court ceremonies.

The last category includes Saibara with its origin in folk songs and Roei for chanting Chinese poems. These styles are for voice and instrumental accompaniment. Instruments used in Gagaku are mouth organs, flageolite-type instruments, flutes, drums, and zither. Arrangements of these instruments differ depending on the genre of music. Gagaku is performeed at Court, shrines, and some temples. Recently it has attracted young people's attention and is sometimes used in contemporary music. Shomyo, formed during the Heian Period, is buddhist vocal music and influenced Japanese vocal music which developed later.' (Uni of Texas)

La Monte Young (1935-) (in Toop, 1991/95, p176) said

"in the middle section of Four Brass, I became very inspired to begin writing long sustained tones. I was definately hearing Indian classical music and Japanese gagaku music. When I got to UCLA I was a musicology major. They had a student gagaku orchestra and also, some time at that timeframe, I heard the first recording of Ali Akbar Khan on Angel Records with Yehudi Menhuin announcing"

Since the latter part of the 19th century, Japan has been increasingly exposed to the "western classical tradition" (Morris, 1999, 269). For example, Kossaku Yamada (1886-1965) studied in Berlin and went on to write symphonic poems, operas and songs. Yasuji Kiyose (1900-81) "combined western influences with a Japanese nationalistic style" (Morris, 269). It was after World War 2 that Japan more fully "embraced and assimilated" the western tradition. Morris suggests that Japanese music has been influenced by composers "from Debussy to Cage and Stockhausen". He then says that most Japanese composers working in a western tradition have studied in the West [e.g. the Berlin example above] and have been "caught between the twin tugs of the two traditions." According to both Toru Takemitsu (1930-96) and Toshiro Mayuzumi (1929-) have been influenced by the French composer Messaien (1908-92). One of the most obvious ways in which Japanese music has been influenced by the western tradition is the use of the symphony orchestra as an alternative to the traditional Japanese gagaku. One example of the combination of these two ensembles can be found in Maki Ishii's Sogu II (1971). Toshi Ichiyang (1933-) is one such composer influenced by Cage.

Another Japanese composer who has been influenced by music from the west was Qunihico Hashimoto (1904-49). From 1993, Hashimoto attended the Toykyo Music School which had facilities for studying western music. He studied with Kiyoshi Nobutoku, a pupil of Goerg Schuman, who had studied in Berlin. In the late 1920's Hashimoto showed a "command of the French Impressionists' sense of harmony" (CD sleeve, Naxos). Mai combined Japanese elements with a Japanese take on sprechstimme, a technique made famous by Schoenberg. Between 1934-37, Hashimoto was in Vienna and discussed such topics as atonality with a pupil of Schoenberg. At this time Hashimoto's work was broadly in the German romantic style. Hashimoto turned to writing for film, TV and broadcasting, and added jazz to his range of styles. As well as atonality, he was interested in made use of microtonality.

Morihide katayama (CD notes,Shiro Fukai, naxos) explained that Shiro FUKAI (1907-59);

"allied himself firmly with French musical traditions, absorbing, in particular, the musical language of Ravel. The latter's Bolero is echoed in the crescendo of Chantes de Java, with its repeated theme, whilst Ravel, Falla, Stravinsky and Roussel provide the inspiration for the Quatre mouvements paradiques. The ballet Creation, an amagam of ancient Japanese imperial dance music, vaulting rhythms and opulent orchestral sonorities..."

Toop, (1995/2001, Ocean of Sound, Serpents Tail, p196) suggested that Sate's Gymnopedies were a
"recurrent obsession with the Japanese" using the example of Beat Takeshi's film Violent Cop in which

"Ryuichi Sakamoto plays a loud distorted version of Erik Satie's Gymnopedies...
swaggering bazouki version turns up during a walking scene."

Akira Fukube (1914-2006); Sinfonia Tapkaara, Ritmica Ostinata, Symphonic Fantasia No. 1 (naxos)

Japanese Orchestral Favourites inc Ifukube, Akutagawa & Toyama (Naxos)

'the last 3 tracks of David Byrne & Brian Enos My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts from 1981, predicate fruitful rhythmic possibilities -
a kind of segmented, crab-wise movement of unlocked rhythm relationships - along with the suggestion of a studio-generated music
which ex-plores ritual gravity (an electronic equivalent of Korean ancestral shrine music or Japanese gagaku).' (.....)


K Anderson, in his notes for K.Isaang Yuns (1917-95) Chamber Symphony (naxos) suggested that the composer

"exercised influence over a generation of younger composers, many of whom studied with him
in his adopted country [Germany]. Yun's own compositions reflect a synthesis of East and West,
in a technique of writing that, while contemporary, draws on an older Chinese and Korean tradition."
(China: Smith, Ken., (Oct 2001) China Philharmonic Is Credible, but Not Incredible nytimes.com)


Whilst at Roehampton I discovered that Debussy heard music of Indonesia (Gamelan) during the 1910 exhibition in Paris. La Monte Young (Toop, p177) pondered "what it meant to Debussy when the gamelan came to Paris and what an enormous things it must have been for him" and suggested that the world was so much smaller for his generation; "As an ethnomusicology major at UCLA I got to listen to a lot of recordings from places like Siam, pygmy music from Africa, gagaku music, Balinese and Javanese music."

Steve Reich had listened to gamelan (music from Bali and Java) as well as African drumming
(which surely inspired him to compose his 1975 work Drumming).

© 2013 Rupert Cheek, London









Raag / Raga: somewhat comparable to the
western idea of
a Mode or Scale,
each Raga is associated
with a time of day or mood.





Ragtime: music with a syncopated melody, most popular around c1895-1920, usually for piano. E.G. Scott Joplin. Often considered a form of / precursur to jazz.

Opera: literally meaning 'work'. Usually used to refer to a combination of music, singing and drama/theatre.

Hip hop:an African-American style, c1970s-1990s, consisting of rap accompanied by beats

Hindi: a language
spoken in India.

Techno, 1980s, Detriot, USA: Expect the unexpected -
'the music is anything but predictable - electronic music fused with injections of P.funk, Soul, Jazz & stripped-down
to basic core elements
of drum, bass, rhythm, vocals. serene, melancholy.
soulful but never out of control.' (True People:
The Detriot Techno Album,
REACT, 1996)