VDARE.com Editor Peter Brimelow has asked me to give an account of this phenomenon. So, on the presumed authority of three degrees in music, together with two in religion and literature respectively—and as an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation and therefore an impartial observer!—I offer the following basic narrative.
Human culture is traditionally divided geographically—as “eastern” and “western.” This cultural divide is apparent in music, perhaps more than any other human endeavor.
We address here cultural, traditional music—not the popular music of the electronic, recording age since the 1950’s. “Popular” music is wholly Western, with primitive rhythm obviously maintained even when performed by Chinese pop stars—in Chinese.
Black Africa is not a factor, having no influence in the historical development of either Eastern or Western culture. But African music does reflect basic values found in all primitive instincts, and African rhythm, through mass media, has had fundamental effects on “pop” music globally.
Music is a manifestation of consciousness itself and reflects tangible, tactile, even visceral values of being. Eastern music and Western music exemplify the most significant differentiation in human consciousness: the horizontal and the vertical, or the dimensional (space), and the chronological (time). The East limited itself to the horizontal, while the West included also the vertical.
There are two basic elements in all music: pitch, and pulse. A sustained recognizable pitch, essentially unnatural, is the preeminent signal that distinguishes music from noise. Rhythm, in and of itself, is not musical, but when coordinated with changing pitches, we have something generally called music.
The differentiation between traditional Western and Eastern music rather is generally made on pragmatic levels, not only in the abstract, though the abstract concepts are what is immediately manifested in the pragmatic elements of music.
Eastern music is characterized by unison. That is to say, the main event involving defined pitch is a melody, and any and all participation of other voices or instruments simply doubles the melody. Traditionally, (and anciently), the linear, melodic element allows, or requires, the rhythmic element to become critical. Besides the melody, there is nothing but the rhythm. There is no harmony with the melody. The melody, anciently, was merely an extension of speech, and the function of melody was to present poetry, and history, in a communicative, teachable, memorable manner.
Western music diverged from this ancient, universal norm when the phenomenon of musical notation evolved. In the music of the Roman Catholic Church, the rise and fall of melodic line was indicated by certain marks indicated above the actual text (words) written out. By the 11th century AD, Gallic chant text was well coded with rise and fall of pitch indications. By the 12th century, the horizontal line was drawn separately from the textual writing. (Guido of Arezzo had established a four-line staff even by the 11th century.)
Meanwhile the French created a system of rhythmic notation in Paris. Leonin and Perotin thus added the needed rhythmical coding. By the Medieval period, Western music was fully graphic. Indeed, it became iconographic, or representative of word meaning. Music was illustrative, in the most basic sense.
With notation, polyphony evolved. Two, three, even four voices, each singing different notes, simultaneously, became the norm.
Harmony was the matter of managing multiple voices performing different melodies at the same time. Harmony was about what sounds, sounded together, sounded good—to the ear. Chords, then, and not just single-line melody, became the craze of Europe.
This element of harmony never developed in Eastern music. Eastern music was never notated.
Therefore it is rightly said that Western notation allowed the harmonic, vertical, structural quality of Western music. However socially important music was in the East, it lacked the development achieved through the abstract symbolism of musical notation. However advanced the East in verbal writing, its systematic graphic depiction of language did not suggest to the Oriental mind the same depiction for musical sounds.
Emotional expression in music was stunted in concept. It was also inhibited by social circumstances. During the oppressive Mongolian rule over China, for instance, the arts went “underground.” Intense emotions of romance, drama, and even sublimated political intrigue, were expressed not in literary works, but in musical works.
During the Yuan Dynasty (12th Century) something rightly called opera developed—yet without harmony. Even with such dire need to express human passions, heroic and otherwise, the eternal Eastern norms of music yet contained the soul in unchanging forms of simplicity, limited range, and conventional expression. Murder was in the same key as a mother’s love. The same melodic formula served all.
Such a coded unanimity, or the capacity to entertain it, may lie at the foundation of the communistic group-think so ubiquitous in the Orient. It is no wonder that Communism was so well-suited there.
(Curiously, in the heart of the North American continent, American Indian music resembles the Oriental, in that it occurs without harmony. All the singing is in unison, on one melody. There are, however, unique elements in American Indian music which are related to how the melody transpires in direct relation to the pulse, or the beat. For example, the change of pitch in the melody never occurs on the beat, but immediately after. It is as though the beat is sacred, not to be touched. All evolves around the beat. The singers, and even the dancers, bounce around the drum beat, riding upon it, but never creating it.)
The Western mind is three dimensional, whereas the Oriental mind tends to be only two. (We might say the West is Trinitarian, as it were.)
Western music reflects the same Western mind that created the multi-dimensional architecture of the great cities—now imitated by all countries in the world.
In the Chinese language there is no actual word for democracy or even government. A leader, an emperor (Shang Ti, or T’ien Shen) is the sum of social existence.
Simplicity of this depth belies an idolatrous regard for tradition, and an evident, visceral fear of change and development.
Thus, only now, as the East has inevitably coincided with the West, the East has begun to show at least material development. The East should be forever grateful for the dedication of white Christian missionaries!
Dr. David A. Yeagley [email him] is an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation (Lawton, Oklahoma).Click here to donate to The Bad Eagle Legal Defense Fund, in support of Dr. Yeagley's lawsuit against the parties who shut down the American Renaissance Conference. His articles have appeared in TheAmericanEnterprise.com, FrontPageMagazine.com, VDARE.com, and on his own web site, BadEagle.com. He is a speaker for the Young America’s Foundation, and for the John Birch Society. David Yeagley’s columns for VDARE.COM include An American Indian View of Immigration, and To Deport or not to Deport. David Yeagley is the author of Bad Eagle: The Rantings of a Conservative Comanche and Altered States: The State of the Dead and the State of the Holy. Dr. Yeagley has contributed to Persian Heritage Magazine and served its editorial board since 1998.