Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chinese classical music - Seagulls

The oldest musical instruments that we know about are flutes, dating back possibly to the Divja Babe flute from Neandertal times, fashioned from a bear's leg bone.  String instruments appeared all over - the Bull Lyre of Ur being perhaps the oldest known.  China's music dates back 3,000 years, and like many cultural tropes from the Middle Kingdom had achieved a stable form by Han times (200 B.C.).  So with the Guqin, perhaps best described as the Chinese guitar.

That poor description does it no service, as it is revered in China as "the instrument of sages" - remember, this is a Confucian society that afforded great honor to scholars and sages. Music has been composed for this from Han times right up until today; the Voyager spacecraft's record disk containing the sounds of earth included a Guqin song.

The seven strings are plucked, but the tuning is quite different from western stringed instruments, giving the music a haunting, almost eerie effect (to my ears at least).  The fact that this sort of music encourages reflection and contemplation is no accident.

The sound quality of this video is unfortunately marred by doors opening and closing and the like, but this is a virtuoso performance by Stephen Walker, who has a quite interesting web site about the Guqin, including this quote which captures the contemplative nature, or goes past it:
I have said before that playing the qin for others to hear is hardly worth speaking about. Playing it at small gatherings of the like-minded only provides for discussion and conferral, and is likewise not worth speaking about. Playing while I alone listen is almost worth speaking about, but it is not equal to playing without listening. My hands and thoughts move effortlessly together; in purity I rely on the spontaneous, following the circling flows of the cosmic breath; I know not that I am so but am simply so—such is to reach the realm of transformation, and this alone can be called the qin. It can be spoken about only with those who truly understand.
- Zhang Ziqian 張子謙 (1899-1991)


agirlandhergun said...

Very interesting.

Very relaxing.

Sean D Sorrentino said...

I've always been partial to this scene

I think it would be a much more popular instrument if you really could use it this way.

BobG said...

I would think a drum would be the first musical instrument; there are a lot of hollow things that people can beat on that exist naturally and would lead to experimentation.