My name is Erik Sampson.
I am a
self taught Bamboo flutemaker, for about 30 years. I was browsing an article
of yours and I thought I'd mention the New York Times article on The Jiahu
Crane Flute. It stated that the playable one was almost 9 inches long,
so I blew up the pix of the 6 flutes to that proportion and reproduced
3 in bamboo. The 2nd from the top with 5 holes sounded pretty out of tune
and I had to do a lot of tweaking to make any sense.
Then I accidentally
the end blown notched mouthpiece (Andean Quena style) on the other side
and it was a lovely pentatonic scale. I was so delighted!
I have been working with
Shquhachi flute which I was told was from the 7th century. Here was a Chinese
pentatonic flute supossesedly 90 centuries old.
On a personal note. I made
100 of these and in 3 weeks sold $1500.00 to go towards the Jiahu Crane
Flute CD. You can see my work and story on my web site:
Have a great day,
Date: Sat, 16 Oct 1999
From: Su Zheng:
Subject: Re: 9,000-yr
where [have] the subalterns' voices have gone?
These are some of the
and main contents one read in recent reports by Euro-American mainstream
news on Jiahu flutes from China (some of these reports were posted on
By JOSEPH B. VERRENGIA AP
When scientists from the United
and China blew gently through the mottled brown instrument's mouthpiece
and fingered its holes, they produced tones unheard for millennia, yet
familiar to the modern ear.
"It's a reedy, pleasant sound, a
thin, like a recorder," said Garman Harbottle, a nuclear scientist
who specializes in radiocarbon dating at Brookhaven National Laboratory
on New York's Long Island.
Fox News by Amanda
The guy [not a woman?--BF] had
spent a lot of time on it," said Garman Harbottle, a chemist at the
>Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island who wrote about the ancient
flute in this week's journal, Nature.
Most significantly, Garman Harbottle
the seven notes on the instrument comprise a nearly accurate
FURTHER COMMENTS ON THE
ANCIENT CHINESE FLUTE SOUNDS
By Bob Fink, author of
Flute Musicological Analysis"
New York Times, September 28,
"After 9,000 Years, Oldest
Flute Is Heard Again"
What concerns me is that
reports, no names of Chinese scholars were mentioned (the article on Nature
was in fact co-authored by Garman Harbottle and three Chinese scientists),
and no earlier scholarly publications by Chinese scholars were cited. The
general impression one gets from these reports is that this was a recent
discovery and analysis, and the American scientist Garman Harbottle had
an important role in it.
Well, here is some
that I would like to share with my SEM colleagues:
In the 1990 book -- The
of Music - A History (UMH) -- China Supplementary Volume I: Instruments
-- (A UNESCO / IMC Project), chief editor Zhao Feng wrote in his article
"An Outline of the History of Chinese Music from the Chinese Musical
Instruments Found in Archaeology Sites":
4-6) is a better instrument than the Hemudu bone whistles. There are seven
holes and a mouth hole on the Jiahu bone flute.
lines to mark the opening locations of the holes. This may indicate that
calculation had been made in making the
"There is a
beside the seventh hole. The small hole was probably put there to adjust
the pitch of the seventh hole. The Jiahu bone flute was a sacrificial object.
There are two flutes in one grave. The grave is a relic of the early Jiahu
Culture (7737 +- 123 years before present by radio carbon date).
of the bone
flute is 22.2 cm. The tube pitch is rested as #F5 + 44, the seventh hole
A5 +8, the sixth hole B5 -25, the fifth hole C6 +24, the fourth hole D6
+16, the third hole E6 +16, the second hole G6 -40, and the first hole
#A6 -42. Therefore the bone flute plays both the five or seven-notes scale
of Xia Zhi and six-notes scale of Qing Shang of the ancient Chinese musical
system. In the same grave wherethe bone flute was found, sacrificial tortoise
shells were unearthed. There are characters carved on the tortoise shells.
Some of the recognizable characters are similar to those of the Yin Dynasty
(Picture 4). The Jiahu bone flute indicates that musical culture of China
began to develop in the late Neolithic
(P. 6, original English text
In the Chinese text on page
the book, it states that the Jiahu flutes were unearthed in 1979 at the
Wuyang County, Henan Province.
On pages 14 and 15, there
photos related to Jiahu flutes:
photo no. 4, a carved
shell uncovered with the Jiahu flutes;
photo no. 5, Wu Yang
flute. (showing one flute only, the one still playable)
photo no. 6, a design
where the flutes were put in the grave (both next to the left shoulder
of the dead body)
A final note: although this
book reported the research on Jiahu flutes, in another book called "A
Pictorial Guide to the History of Chinese Music" published in China
in 1988, the Jiahu flutes were not mentioned. One could probably say that
this 1990 study was one of the earliest by Chinese music
Thank you for reporting
about the Chinese scholars behind the 9,ooo year-old flutes
In addition, I read or was
that the discovery of the flutes had been made some years ago, and that
westerners only recently prevailed upon the Chinese to release the information
to the west.
I also had occasion to
the matter of the media's quotes in private posts to a member of the list
regarding the news reports. Part of what I wrote in those e-mails is as
to let the instrument tell me what it will:
at the Brookhaven Labs did!! As a result, he "heard" the "do
re mi" scale -- probably because, as a musically-biased westerner,
his mind [may have overly] "adjusted" the sounds toward that
have skills with lip/fingerings to alter tones, the [little added hole]
correction by this ancient flutemaker (whom researcher Harbottle carelessly
refers to as a "guy" [which I noted in brackets when I sent the
reports of the flutes to the list]) shows a desire to rely on the holes
themselves to determine the pitch...." etc.
I am sorry that the media
to minimize the role of the Chinese -- interviewing mostly Harbottle. Apparently
like most of us in the west, the media as well as Harbottle too often forget
westerners aren't the only people in the world.
At link (
) I made a pictorial description of the notes played on the playable flute
based on the Nature article. The list you quoted from Zhao Feng's writings
differs slightly from this as follows:
The Nature article
is listed then the info you cite listed just below it:
A5 B5 C6 D6 E6 F#6 A6
A5 B5 C6 D6 E6 G6 A#6
I assume the discrepancy is
to the large number of pitch cents below both the G6 and the A#6 which
allow a possible labeling for these notes as F#6 and A6?
Thank you very much for
me further information on the Jiahu flute.
And your comparison
two descriptions is interesting. About your question on the discrepancies
between Nature's infor and Zhao's report, since I am not an expert on this
matter, I could only speculate. I think you were probably right that the
discrepancies might have much to do with the fact that both pitches are
much lower than G6 and #A6, allowing an interpretation of #F6 and A6.
I believe, what pitches one should hear of these two holes, and the tube
pitch (#F5 + 44), would depend on how scholars want to think about the
scale(s). Zhao in his article casually made a connection between the Jiahu
flute and some of the later Chinese scales, I am not sure there is convincing
evidence. But, again, I'm not an expert on this subject, I might be wrong.
Thanks again for your
and your message.
All the best,
APPRECIATION OF SMALL
From my letter to
If you ask me, I would define "roughly in
[as an adjective meaning an interval is "in-tune" with acoustic
intervals]...as being within the standard average for what's called the
"just noticeable increment" that physiologists
use in hearing examinations (and other sciences use that measurement of
threshold increment as well).
In my recollection, this amounts to about a Pythagorean
comma. Naturally, individuals vary, but a scientific average has already
been struck, and a normal curve exists or can be drawn that would indicate
what percentage of a population of people with human ears can distinguish
less: Say, half a comma; and what (an even smaller, minute) percentage
could be predicted by the statistical normal [bell] curve to distinguish
a quarter-comma, and so on. This is standard statistical math, long established
("proven"?) to be an effective measurement of human biological
I don't have hearing-test literature still here (I never
thought I'd have to defend such established matters), but there is no need
for ethnomusicologists to re-invent the wheel on this. It has already been
done. Cultural tests have also been done (harder to do, as instructions
for testing can be harder to convey), and the differences in hearing ability
(averaged, averaged, averaged), in comparing peoples, has never, so far,
been considered statistically significant.
...There are always some one percent of people, or some
such tiny figure, who can do quarter-tone recognitions in any given population.
That, to the best of knowledge that I'm aware of, means also :
"in any given culture" as well as population. --Bob
(To KO) --VALID CITATIONS?
Sachs describes a phenomenon in which conflicting
(toward and away from equal divisions of the scale) may be combined.
do not pay much heed to this temperament." He adds one aria "in
almost Western intervals alternates with orchestral ritornelli in Siamese
tuning." That is, singers sang the unequal steps, but the instruments
were tuned to the tempered or equal steps. [The Rise of Music in
the Ancient World, East & West N.Y.: W. W. Norton & Co.,
1943, p. 133.]
...revisiting Sach's quote I see he did base his observation
on a measured recording of the Siamese ritornelli: "Decca 20127
B" -- wherever that is. Cents would be possible
to obtain, I presume.
..."Just some guy's opinion"
is actually (usually) a valid thing, not as perjoritive as you put it.
All scientific knowledge in some measure really ends up being some person's
opinion, or some person's interpretation of a measuring device, backed
up by another's revisiting the scene and giving a similar opinion, and
so on. When it's important enough, you repeat the experiment / observation
if possible, or, as I did, see if other independent observations
are parallel to it, relying then on the "quantity of the sample"
to offset error in any one citation.
[There is also] the testimony from thousands of better
singers [in the west, who sing near-perfect acoustic intervals] saying
they cannot stand tempered piano accompaniments. They say this because
they consider, as they often said (during my 60+ years of lifetime), "the
piano sounds 'out of tune,' even after the tuner tuned it!!" (Many
singers haven't a clue what temperament means, although they obviously
can hear it coming from a tuned piano, to their chagrin.)
You wrote: "...however, it doesn't explain why
the piano became perhaps the most popular instrument, after the voice,
in the 19th and early 20th century. And don't we love them
pianos in Western saloons in the movies."
That's simply because the average (average, average,
average -- I must stress) majority-member westerner cannot tell
it's tempered!! I can't either!!
Play a perfect fifth for me, or a tempered fifth, and
I think they sound identical -- my inner filia do not register
the difference -- probably for a similar reason that makes some people
short, others tall, still others colour-blind or partly so. (This matter
is not understood biologically as to why, but it is factual. Most can't
tell.) I love the piano and compose on it.
In this case, therefore, I'm saying that the average
person doesn't notice. BUT HERE'S THE POINT -- Trained,
experienced singers DO note it. They would be a minority
in western culture (under a bell curve) -- but a significant minority.
They would [consistently] sing their own idea of intervals,
not the tempered version on an instrument.
Such a group would also exist as a
significant group in other cultures, and I recognized that as similar in
the sources I ran across and
sent to the list. And whether in western or other cultures, it would mean
(to me anyway) a preference for acoustic-inspired intervals (i.e., subliminally
suggested from overtone structures).
1. Each of the cultural (including western) populations
apparently has a majority of people who biologically cannot distinguish
anything much finer than a Pythagorean comma (or something close to that).
(I am one of these people). Therefore, if they sing intervals
that differ from the naturally occurring intervals provided to us by overtone
structures, it means virtually nothing -- not in western nor in non-western
cultures. And not being different...humans, likely most will sing non-acoustic
intervals -- in Ghana or in New Jersey.
2. However, if you claim it does mean something -- that
it reflects on the sources I used in some way, or that in Ghana no
preference for acoustic intervals is shown, then you must also
claim (to be consistent) that likewise it reflects against the
commonly agreed view that "the west's music IS based on a
for acoustic diatonic intervals" ..... After all, how can such
a conclusion be sustained if we westerners mostly sing non-acoustic
(And most of us do.) --Bob
MUCH PRESENT, NOT
There are many disadvantages in trying to generalize
a development using only a 20th century study of various present-day cultures.
This of course assumes we are just answering the question: "How
and why do scales develop and evolve?" That cannot be answered
from over-study of the present and over-ignoring the past. Looking for
how scales develop & change is hard when many of cultures exhibit very
slow change; and it's unreliable to project the present as being representative
of the distant past.
On the other hand, again, in looking for any scale's
developmental motion, the advantages of dealing with the
past (through archaeology, instruments/relics and comparing cultures to
each other) is that we get many (not just current-day) "still-frames,"
so that they can "play back" as if a movie (flickering and haltingly,
to be sure, due to sparse numbers of frames offered to us by sparse evidence).
This engenders many debatable interpretations as well. This is also the
fate of general evolution studies of biological life-forms: Too much present,
not enough past. -- Bob
To SAS music list:
Ethnomusicologists have touted field work as the source
of many of their conclusions about early or ancient music. I think that
today, where there is no place left untouched by Western cultures or other
neighboring cultures, the claim of people in some of these cultures that
their arts haven't changed for hundreds of years is, on one hand probably
true -- especially if what they refer to is some religious or ritual-connected
music or art or symbolism. These "tend" to remain true to tradition
[and change slowly].
But, on the other hand, you can't be sure their claim
is right, and so where do you stand with this type of field work
except for it being anecdotal? However, it is still evidence to be sure,
but I'd rather replace it whenever possible with any fossil or relic, or
even careful deduction/induction from clues or from relevant parallel sciences
(acoustics /history /archeology /paleontology /anthrop /physiology /statistical-odds/
Let me relate a story to illustrate this point:
I went to an annual "folkfest" type gathering
here, and found one pavilion had a food-booth serving Phillippine food.
I bought a "souvlaki or kebab" type of item -- meat and stuff
on a stick, found it unique and delicious. It was also familiar, as I had
tasted that unique flavour or spices and meat many years before. This had
to be a true, authentic recipe of long-standing tradition! But I hadn't
a clue how the unique taste was achieved. And to wait for this flavour
to come back only once a year was too infrequent. I had to know how to
make that taste at will!!
I offered money to the cook to tell me the recipe --
"leave out nothing, name all spices, cooking times, etc," I said.
She was happy to tell me for free.
"First," she said, "marinate the meat
cubes overnight in about a half-cup of 7-up...."
See my point? (By the way, the "secret"
ingredient, I think, was cinnamon mixed into the 7-up.) Clearly, the 7-up
was an easier substitute for earlier, more traditional ingredients, acceptable
to her and perhaps to her sense of tradition or authenticity, but no longer
exactly the same as scores of years ago.... --Bob
From my letter to
As to my own position, ... I am by philosophical or
bent a relativist -- believing that most things for humans are conditioned,
with society & experience writing human behavior on the essentially
"blank" human chalkboard.
However, that chalkboard of ours isn't totally blank.
We are born with built-in responses to pain, pleasure, sour, sweet, pungent,
bright, drab, rough, smooth, etc.. all of which are universal (albeit capable
of being altered by further conditioning, such as "acquired tastes"
in, for example, food). There are such brain "wirings" for the
sense of touch, smell, taste and even sight (optical illusions among others).
So why not for the sense of hearing? E.g.,
noisy and "musical"?
However relativist I am, I believe that music is
subject in its evolution to certain natural legacies...I took [archaeological
finds] as verification evidence for the views that I wrote (in my Origin
of Music writings) all before the finds .
The factual matters regarding cultural uses (or
for non-acoustic scale pitches is certainly a matter to be
addressed, and I will try to address them....
As an analogy, Copernicus' view that the planets
the sun certainly is oversimplified when more accurate
and facts come to light that indicate the orbits are elliptical, wobbly,
and very complex -- and not "in tune" with a perfect
The issue is whether the natural "push" is
toward circular (overall, or "on average")? ...
Or whether there is NO PUSH AT ALL toward circular orbits or
That is, is Copernicus right (despite the
corrupted non-circular orbits that are not [perfectly] "centered"
on the Sun) -- Or was Ptolemy right, who admitted to no orbits whatsoever?
That is how I view cultural vagaries in pitch -- as true
valuable facts, but smaller factors that do not disprove the essential
"push" that the world of mathematics, physics (acoustics)
and physiology dictate as being essentially responsible for the evolution
of certain musical scale tones "overall" or on "average."
That is why I asked you about the methodology -- was
it quantified? Namely, how many octaves ARE in tune, and what percent
are found "off" [acoustically] in any cultural measurement? It's
important to know what is "overall" or "average".)
Do only instruments serve as the source for pitch-data, or do singers serve
as the source (who notoriously tend toward perfect intervals? See
note 5 in my essay.
[Acoustically] off-tune instruments may have many
Attempts at temperament?; Due to ease of fingering (despite that
kind of hole-spacing causing non-acoustic tuning)?; Miscalculation of the
effects on pitch-holes from the non-cylindrical bores of bone or bamboo
and other natural materials used for instrument-making?; Or instruments
being blindly copied by others when producing new, additional instruments?
All these possibilities throw the meaning of vagaries
of pitch-tastes often into inconclusive turmoil, in my view. I admit, the
trouble with relying on singers to gauge cultural preferences or pitch-tastes
rather than relying on artifacts, is that ancient singers are dead and
we are stuck with the tiny "sample" of the present, which may
be overly influenced by other cultural contacts -- not as pristine a source
as ancient singers would be. -- Bob
From my letter to
The narrower "evolution of scales and how
and why they spread" is the limit of my subject. There might
be a judgement about "better" [or "good"] here -- but
only in this sense: Acoustic-backed tonal material has a "better"
chance to spread over time outside of, or beyond, cultural contexts. But
I believe "good music" is always determined within the
If I thought only acoustic stuff meant "good,"
then who could be "better" than Lawrence Welk? Uh one, uh two,
...[Try to] separate what can be explained by science;
and what can be explained by social conditioning. For example:
Singing non-acoustic tones can be explained by the power
of cultural conditioning, without claiming that intervals
are [arbitrarily] all equally "consonant" or "dissonant"
as conditioning dictates.
Singing and playing acoustic tones
especially when the same intervals occur in independent cultures with similar
5-7 note scales, can be explained as the result of acoustic
pressures without resorting to cultural explanations. --Bob
TENDENCIES TO PREFERENCES
From KO to
"All that I see from listening ...is that humans
often seem to use a basic collection of between perhaps 5 and 10 notes,
including octave relationships, but not including slides, glisses, or other
types of "microtonal" additions; and that the smallest unit between
the principal notes, apart from the case of glisses, is around 100 cents;
other intervals appear to be variable, although certainly, something close
to what we call the "major 2nd", the "minor 3rd", the
"4th" and the "5th", do appear to be preferred in our
Bell curve model.
"I agree with you if what you are trying to suggest
is this: that over time, more people over a broader geographic and cultural
range will "buy" and like more music based on diatonic-based
idioms with "just"-type intervals, than other harmonic-types.
That these scale-types appear to be dominant in: 1) the West; 2) South
Asia; 3) East Asia; and have important presence in 4) SE Asia; 5) Oceania;
6) the Middle East (despite competing "microtonal" and
systems used in art music); and 7) Africa (among a number of competing
styles), make this likely."
MY ACOUSTIC PARALLELS
It's really simpler to develop a concept
of scale evolution once you leave musicology/ethnomusicology
and look into acoustics. (I think my view always has been
simple save for the "reading-between-lines" recoil by some writers.)
I developed this little chart/diagram [below] in my
ending in writing my book on the origin of music years ago, because I wanted
to replace the earlier erroneous concept that scales were evolved from,
or justified by, the "cycle of 5ths" [or the
& down" cycle of 5ths] -- which failed to
explain the minor scale, and also was simply not believable as a realistic
or actual tuning method for earlier peoples. And finally, as Sachs points
out, it cannot even accurately reproduce the acoustic octave, the most
basic interval in music.
However, taken as a "trio" of
then the average overtones of [all three] -- a note, its fifth and fourth
-- are all produced in the very practice of music virtually all the
time, subliminally heard [and capable of being an on-going influence] --
unlike the results of a cycle of fifths, which does not
happen at all in the day-to-day practice of music.
The chart is based on the three most universal intervals
of human music worldwide, past & present: The octave (or a
the 5th and the Fourth:
Note C = C, G, E, / Bb
Note G = G, D, B, / F
Note F = F, C, A, / Eb
is a list of the different overtones of C, by audibility.
is a list of the overtones of G, which is the 5th of C.
The third line
overtones of F, the 4th of C.
This chart, added up, will give us the major Diatonic;
And when accounting for avoidance of half-tones in a scale, gives us the
Pentatonic; And when I account for the audibly weak areas in the diatonic
scale -- the major 3rd and the major 7th -- by substituting the next weakest
overtones -- then that gives us the minor Eb for E, and the minor Bb for
B, etc., -- i.e., the minor scale.
These weakest areas ALSO delineate
usual place where blue or "neutral"
These now already immense "coincidence"
of music with acoustics can be described further -- until
you have to conclude it's NO coincidence, because all these
aspects of western music were developed by people without
of acoustics (other than subliminally hearing its effect on them).
Why wouldn't humans in ALL cultures be
subject -- over time -- to the same phenomena? Unless they aren't
Discovery and Research
Bone Flutes From Jiahu Site
At the Sept 20 meeting of
several Chinese scholars attended, and made some very interesting &
Juzhong Zhang pointed out
during the period from 1984 to 1987, he took charge of the excavation of
the Neolithic Jiahu site in Wuyan city, Henan province. There has been
wide attention and interest among academic circles brought to the bone
25 bone flutes were
in early May 1986. First found were two basically complete seven-hole bone
pipes beside the limb bone of the master in tomb M78.
The most complete bone
in August 1987 was examined by Xinghua Xiao. a researcher and Vice Professor
of the Musical School of Chinese Art Institute. The flute player, Baosheng
Ning, of the Central National Music Ensemble, first blew the
In November 1987,
invited musical historians Xiangpeng Huang and Zhongliang Tong to come
to Zhengzhou City, Henan Province to do sound-measurements.
It was unanimous: The
flutes were the earliest Chinese musical instruments, with the scale, and
it could play melodies. Part of the folk song named "Xiao Bai Chai"
was played by Yaoying Xu, who made the sound measurements. Mr. Huang
that the Jiahu bone flute [M282:20] had the complete 6-tone scale and incomplete
7-tone scale, which created a sensation in music historian
Xinghua Xiao pointed out
bone flutes from the early period (ca. 7000 BC) have a complete five-note
scale. This discovery shows that over 9000 years ago, Chinese in the area
of the Central Plains may have been the first to usher in a musical culture
stage of civilization.
Four aspects of the Xiao
1. The early period has five
six holes in bone flutes; There are seven holes on most flutes of the middle
period; and seven or eight holes in the last period.
2. Changes in the
scales indicates the makers already had developed temperament standards.
3. Regarding the
the accuracy of the tuning system of flute number 341:2: The hole-drilling
method and the arrangement of the five-tone scale shows at that time, the
practice of Chinese music had already entered a new realm.
4. Over a period of 1200
the music developed from a four-tone scale to a seven-tone scale
in successive changes, and went from being complex to having a high level
of simplicity. This progression is important in its significance
for modern musical composition.
XU Fei questioned if any
in a set of 12 pitch-pipes in some kind of temperament could be used as
an initial tone? This question was not solved until late 16th Century in
China (by Zhu Zaiyu, 1536-1611 ) and late 19th century (by Lord Rayleigh,
1842-1919) in Europe.
Intensive research and
of data from Zhu's original works [Zhu's invention of pitch-pipes of twelve-tones],
and using modern physics, it's possible to conclude any of Zhu's pitch-pipes
could be regarded as the initial tone in turn. In other words, the pitch-pipes
designed by Zhu correspond exactly with modern twelve-tone equal temperament.
This proved that Zhu's theory and pitch-pipes were the finest achievement
in acoustics not just in ancient China but also in the world at that
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