LOCATING EAST ASIA IN WESTERN ART MUSIC, edited by Yayoi Uno Everett and Frederick Lau, foreword by Bonnie Wade. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2004, 388 pp., with musical examples, $27.95 (paper).

This somewhat misleadingly titled collection is an assemblage of papers given at the 1998 Third International Asian Music Conference in Seoul. As the foreword more accurately states, the subject is the “interface” of East Asian, European and American music, how one influences the other — what the editors call “transculturation.”

One plain example of this transculturation follows the adventures in the West of the shakuhachi, the bamboo flute. The instrument has proven so popular that one of the masters at the 1997 World Shakuhachi Festival, noticing the local lack of practitioners in Japan, predicted that “the tradition will migrate to America.” In addition, its sound can be “translated” into the musical dialect of the West. The composer Toru Takemitsu transferred “the timbre and articulations of the shakuhachi onto the Western flute.”

This cross-culturalization works for non-Japanese composers as well. Henry Cowell uses vocal styles (“sliding tones”) from the Chinese opera in many compositions. John Cage uses not only Asian sound sources, but also Asian justifications — the “I Ching” (“Book of Changes”) system — for compositional choice. And the reverse tide, the influence of Western music on Eastern is of tsunami-like proportions.

The simple symmetry of this interpretation of interface is not, however, sufficient for the complicated needs of contemporary scholarship, which must not only reflect the prevailing justifications (in this case, poststructuralist), but must also genuflect to current ethical notions.

A paper on Toshiro Maiyuzumi sets out to demonstrate the “politics” of the late composer through a single work, the 1963 “Essay for String Orchestra.” The piece is rigorously analyzed, with many music examples, and interesting parallels with noh are noted. This simple correspondence, however, is not thought out enough and, since the essay is titled “Music from the Right,” the use of noh is seen as evidence of rightist political tendencies. Noh is described as having a long historical association with military rulers; this is made to suggest that a similar rightwinger like Maiyuzumi would naturally choose noh as the compositional source for techniques designed to deliberately “Japanese” his work in rightwing terms.

But in that case, what of the same composer’s ” ‘Nirvana’ Symphony”? Based upon Buddhist chant, its message of renunciation and acceptance could never be considered rightwing, or any wing at all. And what about Takemitsu’s use of noh? For here was a composer anything but a rightwinger.

Another current notion here exercised is the mandate against appearing orientalist — which, in a book on influences of “oriental” music, is difficult to avoid. Though the late Edward Said is constantly evoked (it was he who defined “orientalism” as a monolithic, imperialistic term), this does not simplify the problem. Being politically correct can only limit research.

For example, it can lead to double standards. Earlier European composers who were influenced by Asia — Debussy, Ravel, Roussel among many — are dismissed as orientalist. Even the work that first used the more structural methods (which several of these authors recommend), the 1913 “Three Japanese Lyrics” of Igor Stravinsky, is ignored.

On the other hand the works of American saxophonist, John Zorn, are awarded an entire chapter. Among these are “Osaka Bondage,” “Saigon Pickup,” and “Leng Tsch’e, the Chinese ‘Death of a Thousand Cuts.’ ” If this is not orientalism, what is it? Yet, it is not defined as such. Perhaps this is because Zorn is contemporary and “orientalism” is always defined as a thing of the past.

Certainly, early influences of Asian music on the West (and there has been a lot) are ignored. Such successful hybrids as Albert Roussel’s 1911 “Evocations,” based on Indian ragas, is unmentioned. Instead, we have a long examination of Tan Dun, decorative composer of the score for the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

The collection also contains three essays not given at the conference. These are the best in the book because they are by composers. The eminent Chou Wen Ching in a 1999 address given in Hong Kong speaks of his efforts to merge ancient China with the modern West.

Takemitsu in 1975 wrote an illuminating essay on the problems that Japanese music presents for Western music. And Cage after his 1963 stay in Japan gave an impromptu talk in Hawaii about what he had learned.

All three papers are here being published for the first time and they well illuminate the problems and possibilities of a mutual influence between Asia and the West.

The foreword to this volume states that “our purpose is not necessarily to undermine or dismantle this dualism of East and West but rather to investigate how the notion of East and West are constructed, circulated, and utilized.” In these three essays this aim is best realized and they are a reason for acquiring the book.

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