Guqin, Confucius' favorite musical instrument
February 10, 2008 8:14 PM   Subscribe

One of the songs on the Golden Record included on the two Voyager spacecraft was Flowing Water performed by Guan Pinghu on the guqin. The guqin, Confucius' favorite instrument, has been played in China for at least 3000 years. There's a lot of guqin videos out there but the two players I listen to the most are jts1702a and Charlie Huang (who is the main contributer to Wikipedia's excellent guqin article).
posted by Kattullus (16 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Semi-related, but there's a couple of excellent radio programs from WNYC's Radio Lab about the making of the Golden Record... Space Capsules and Space.
posted by Dave Faris at 8:25 PM on February 10, 2008

Bah, beat me to it. That Radio Lab show is amazing. Carl Sagan's widow's story was very moving. If you don't click any of the other links in this thread, click Dave's "Space" link.
posted by empath at 8:36 PM on February 10, 2008

I am personally conflicted about the recordings YouTubed here and about Chinese and Japanese music in general. The disciplined, nuanced, beautiful sounds of the qin (and some other instruments in these traditions) are undeniably beautiful, but to these Western ears, the complexity of, say, Balinese, Indian or Mongolian scales...and rhythms...and sound much more compelling than the usually pentatonic (5-note) nature of this kind of music. I feel like an ethnomusicologist racist...but there it is.
posted by kozad at 8:37 PM on February 10, 2008

Another great Radiolab show that's relevant is this one on musical language. Apparently, people who speak tone languages like Chinese tend to have perfect pitch.
posted by empath at 8:41 PM on February 10, 2008

Yet another superb post Kattullus. Loved all your links, plucked, nyuck nyuck, this one out of that big page of Charlie Huang choices. Guqin - Pingsha Luoyan [Geese Descending on the Beach]. What poetic names for songs.

The sound reminds me a bit of the Veena. Intense, deep harmonics.

On a lighter note, I love the gu zheng, here in Kung Fu Hustle. Classic. Or softer version. The Chinese pipa too. It's the music cherry blossoms fall to. Ting Ting's cute pipa playing.

Good music for sweet dreams.
posted by nickyskye at 9:22 PM on February 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

They shoulda rickrolled the aliens.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:46 PM on February 10, 2008

Another vote for that radiolab show. It was the first thing I thought of when I saw this thread. That's a really beautiful piece.

empath, the musical language show is fascinating too. Sometimes behave so strangely.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 9:52 PM on February 10, 2008

What makes the musical language show so great is that it's not simple science reporting along the lines of 'a new study by such and such has found such and such a result', but you get to know the researcher and the path that an insight has to travel before it becomes a scientific discovery. It's also impeccably produced, technically. I'm a huge fan of Radiolab.
posted by empath at 10:52 PM on February 10, 2008

but to these Western ears, the complexity of, say, Balinese, Indian or Mongolian scales...and rhythms...and sound much more compelling...

What matters is what the ears (or whatever they have) of the beings of the planet oiuzksdnfase in Galazy NGC1300 think of these sounds.
posted by QuietDesperation at 11:07 PM on February 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh no! It's oiuzksdnfesse, QuietDesperation, you just told the beings that you'd grope them in their orbmotherpants. You have doomed us all!
posted by Kattullus at 11:14 PM on February 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

One of my favourite classical Chinese stories is from the Liezi concerning the qin player Boya and the nature of friendship; I believe the "Flowing Water" (流水) tune was inspired by that story too, which Baidu seems to confirm (in Chinese).
posted by Abiezer at 12:17 AM on February 11, 2008

I see Bo Ya gets a mention in the Wikipedia article Katullus linked to in the FPP. I am Captain redundant comment!
posted by Abiezer at 12:29 AM on February 11, 2008

High over wild seas
surrounding Sado Island:
the river of heaven

Summer grasses:
all that remain of great soldiers’
imperial dreams

Ungraciously, under
a great soldier’s empty helmet,
a cricket sings

Lonely silence
a single cicada’s cry
sinking into stone

Woke up thinking about your post and Basho's Back Roads To Far Towns. Something zen about the ginqu, even if that's two countries and millenia apart, which makes it good for contemplation.

Your post prompted me to look up Confucius, who I knew nothing about. Thank you.
posted by nickyskye at 4:32 AM on February 11, 2008

Here is the rest of The Golden Record for those interested.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:28 AM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I greatly enjoyed these videos. Makes me want to get my own Confucian scholar suit and play guqin all day!
posted by pravit at 9:40 AM on February 11, 2008

Personally, for whatever reason I love the shamisen. I'm just a westerner, but it has a very pleasing sound. Reminds me a bit of a banjo without the annoying twang.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:21 PM on February 11, 2008

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