11/01/2006

Is Equal Temperament a Danger to World Culture?


I have previously discussed some of the reasons why twelve tone equal temperament has become so common. See Equal Temperament.

Equal temperament has become so popular that, in many parts of the world, it is displacing other musical traditions and tunings. Some of these traditions are very ancient and offer an important link to the past.

I think equal temperament is a very useful tuning with obvious advantages in instrument building and as a standard for multiple instrumentalists to play together. I am glad that so many people have the option of using equal temperament. On the other hand, it's sad to see the decline of so many other rich musical traditions.

There's much more involved than the potential loss of beautiful and exotic music. Even if a musical tradition was recorded and documented for posterity, it would still be a great loss if it ceased to be practiced by living people.

Music is not static. Its depends on a complex interaction between multiple cultural, acoustic, and physiological factors that we, at present, don't properly understand. We can record the music, but a knowledge of the factors that lead to the music can easily be lost forever, along with an understanding of how this music was interpreted by the listener.

Different musical traditions are like different languages. Many languages are also being lost at an alarming rate. With the death of a language comes the loss of an irretrievable supply of information about the people who spoke it. In my opinion, a musical tradition is just as important as language in defining a culture.

What do you think? Is the loss of ancient musical traditions simply the price of progress? Or should more be done to preserve these traditions?

1 comment:

simon said...

I gather that you're into Harry Partch? A lot of your ideology seems inspired by him. Great blogs man.