Tokenism in Music

The idea of microtonal music is not necessarily to add some special frill with which to differentiate it with other music.  The heart of it is to open musical tuning from having one standard system to having an infinite amount of possibilities and musical systems.

To use an oud, for example, in a group with standard guitar and/or piano often will call for the oud to adapt to the tradition of the guitar or piano and thus lose the dynamic of the expansive range of scales and intonational dialogue that has developed over centuries of use of the instrument.  This is an example of what I feel to be tokenism in music, the use of a foreign instrument in music to add a foreign flavour too it, where as this method forced conformity rather than synergy.

This is or course partially related to the challenge of fixed-pitch instruments in performance.  A piano can not realistically be tuned in between performances, nor can a guitar change its fretting.  This is of course within current technical specifications.  Guitars with interchangeable fretboards already exist (see: Ron Sword’s Metatonal music http://metatonalmusic.com/, or the guitar work of Fernando Perez http://www.fernandoperezguitar.com/ ).  It is also plausible to consider a piano with an auto-tuning mechanism, and of course synthesizers can easily be developed to be retunable.  Harps and zithers, whether modern or traditional, are fixed-pitch instruments which have been developed to easily change tunings between or within performances.

Jazz is an interesting example of a synergy in which a set of instruments were adapted to play a new style of music in which they were not used for previously.  The same could be said for string quartets playing rock music, or guitar adaptations of foreign or folk melodies.

It is not my objective to state that some type of musical tokenism is inherently wrong.  But more so to show that to reopen the dialogue of musical tuning can open many intercultural musical synergies which can create a greater amount of interplay and musical possibilities, both of the preservation of past traditions and of the creation of new musical styles.

Music often has very strong cultural connections and significances.  As the world becomes more globalized, it is important to consider certain effects of globalization and of multiculturalism.  Can a truly multicultural society still have a dominant culture, or a cultural hierarchy, or must deeper levels of integration be considered?

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