"All of Chinese music relates to the unchanging Primal Vibration (which is represented dronally as the fundamental tone of the harmonic series). This Primal Note changed through the centuries, so while one could compose Chinese-style music grounded in F (as it was for many centuries), other kingdoms re-measured their world and re-pitched their instruments to G or other notes (thus, the Primal Note changes depending on who is in power!!). The huang chung foundation tone was created by a pipe generating that perfect “yellow tone.” The pipe’s length became the standard unit of Chinese measurement. The Chinese unit of volume was determined by the amount of rice it could contain. The weight of all that rice in the pipe became the standard unit of weight. The volume of the sounding of the pipe’s pitch became the unit of volume. Thus did music become the Holy Grail of Chinese civilization." (Reference of the flutes pictured here can be found at this website.)
All cultures may pride themselves that their music is "universal." Plato and Confucius and a hundred other philosophers have argued about the TRUTH in their music. I tend to shy away from find a "truth." But I find inspiration inside different cultures' music theories; it excites my imagination. It is in the collision of theories (between cultures' conceptions of music) that new ideas spark.
My next post will be about how I prepare ideas to communicate my intentions to performers...and why, whatever I do, performers interpret what they want to see and understand what they want to do, no matter my intentions. That to be a composer in the early 21st Century USA, you must cheerfully give yourself over to the mis-interpretation of your music...and why that is a good thing.