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Listening to the Raga Yaman played by Zia Mohiuddin Dagar


Did it ever occur to you that music, as well as water, food, the atmosphere is being
subjected to pollution by human-created noise, chemical elements, light, dirty
electricity? I’m not referring simply to the quantity and quality of man-made sounds
and noise and their deafening loudness and intensity but rather to a much more subtle
and dangerous type of contamination caused by Western music with regards to other
musical traditions, due to the diffusion everywhere of instruments created specifically
for the West.

Since the 1980s there has been a boom in the production of musical instruments in
the West, as well as in Japan and China. The world has been flooded with guitars,
pianos, electronic keyboards, synthesizers, wind instruments, etc. and finding a guitar
or a synthesizer even among the most remote tribes in Africa is not all that unusual.

At this time with the proliferation of Western musical instruments, the term world
music was coined specifically as a marketing device. These two phenomena are
interdependent and the latter, in a way, “culturally” justifies the commercial business
of the former.

World music was meant to be the music that reflected the unity of cultures, but even
under this new banner the dynamic West (or those cultures that imitate this type of
aggressive succession of historical phases) continued its relentless crusade to conquer
the entire world market of music. All musical expressions with which it came into
contact have been subjected to the laws of commercialism, transforming their
innermost essence, from music to the instruments and even the quality of the musical

From a purely technical point of view, the musical instruments the West spreads
throughout the world are the expression of our Western musical system. This means
that they correspond to the system known as “equal temperament”**, a system that
however has nothing to do with Indian, Arabian or Chinese music.

Throughout the centuries every culture developed its own system with the relative
musical instruments that are the expression thereof and the music they make is unique
to that system, to that geographic area and to a specific culture. In other words, Indian
or Chinese music sounds different from our music because basically their musical
systems (and consequently the instruments) are not like ours.

The only instruments that could work with any musical system are the human voice,
string instruments (violin, cello, etc.) and all those instruments that can conform to a
system that is not tempered.

but North Africa and the Middle East are also being threatened. This creates a profound technical-musical contradiction: the instruments do not correspond to the system and vice versa. for purely commercial reasons. We are imposing on the world a musical model whose validity is on the wane. The phenomenon of “contamination” from the West has branched out in all directions: North. turning them into an endangered species. with that of other cultures that are not musically in a critical phase. Arab or Chinese (to name only a few) musical systems. we must necessarily return to the same basic laws of harmonics that underlie the Indian. Radio. we adapt the raga to the piano. Personally I am not aware of the existence of an international organization (such as UNESCO) working to protect musical cultures threatened with extinction. The Orientals play their music on our instruments. World music is based on this same contradiction. written vertically.In view then of the fact that every musical instrument is the direct expression of its underlying system. of all things. the great diffusion of our instruments is imposing a system that does not belong to the cultures of the countries where they are being sold. nor am I passing judgment on world music– it would be senseless – but simply because I believe that others should be made aware of things rarely talked . The score for the shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute). a system that has disintegrated as its inherent possibilities have approached depletion. are precisely the ones we are contaminating and nullifying!! It cannot be denied that for more than three centuries the equal temperament system has stood in good stead to the West. In writing these few lines I have no ethnomusicological or even anthropological pretensions. internet and fashions all contribute to its spread to the point where in an increasingly “globalized” society there is also a “backlash” from the rest of the world to the West. East and West. But what is even more serious is that the crossover or contamination brought about by our instruments is transforming century-old musical cultures and traditions. as demonstrated by the vast classic-romantic tradition. is being transposed into Western (European) 5-line staff notation. My second observation is of a moral nature. We are exporting and spreading. South. which. This contaminatio therefore contraposes the music of our culture. television. a musical system that has been in a critical phase for almost a hundred years. with music transmitted from the local stations on a Euro-American model. currently in a critical phase. In greatest danger for now are those of the countries closest to Europe and North America. in Africa young people have their ears glued to their portable radios. But – paradoxically – we are aware that to overcome the impasse in which our music and system finds itself today.

But precisely on this account they put our own arts at a great disavantage. Walter Branchi …Japanese music is above all a music of reticence. well suited to the western arts. ** The Equal Temperament is a musical system in which all the intervals are “adjusted”. is jeopardizing their existence and bringing them to the verge of extinction.about and that the contamination being perpetrated by our musical industry. Yet the phonograph and radio render this moments of silence utterly lifeless. we prefer the soft voice. the understatement. 06405 . and are. Inc. Stony Creek. In conversation. to the detriment of other cultures in the world. In Praise of Shadow. the greater part of its charm is lost. of atmosphere. too. tempered. Most important of all are the pauses. *** Junichiro Tanizaki. There may be groups of fans of this instrument in California or in Italy who play it and know the technique. These machines are the inventions of Westerners. as we might expect. *** Junichiro Tanizaki * The Rudra Veena is one of the string instruments played in Indian music (Hindustani tradition) that is in risk of extinction. CT. or amplified by a loudspeaker. to obtain a division of the octave in twelve equal parts. Leete’s Island Books. And so we distort the arts themselves to curry favor for them with the machines. 1977. When recorded. but listening to it in its original context is by now extremely rare.