The standard "Asian Tune"

So, there’s this little nine-note tune that seems to universally say “Asia” in much the same way that, perhaps, a few bars of Rule, Britannia! indicates an English setting or flavor. Here is a variation of the ditty I’m talking about:

What can you all tell me about it? Does it have a name? Is it part of a larger work?

When you, and the guy in that clip, say “Asia” you really mean “China”. Asia extends all the way from Japan to Turkey.

Here’s a previous thread on the topic.

Actually, let me save you some time since the discussion process in that thread was fairly painful and only moderately productive… a poster named Mani did an amazing treatment of the subject, digesting that thread and adding some research of his own.

Also, it started with “Kung Fu Fighting” in 1974. :wink:

No, I meant “Asia” because, correct or not, the tune in question is applied equally to Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc…

Brilliant–thank you! I was about half-way through that thread when I got your reply–perfect timing, as I was just about to give up:rolleyes:

However, he did find an earlier version of that from an obscure cartoon (possibly Ub Iwerks).

Also, here’s an earlier appearance in an old “beach party” movie.

But I still agree that “Kung Fu Fighting” was probably the defining moment of the riff.

I can tell you that the opening section of Turning Japanese by The Vapors features the generic “Asian” theme.

I can also tell you that Peter Bjorn and John seem to have appropriated the melody for the whistling segment of their hit Young Folks.

Where the tune originated, I can’t say.

But does it apply to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran? (Cannot open YouTube easily.) Asia is too broad a term. A lot that applies specifically to even nearby neighbors like Cambodia and Burma would be taken as an insult by Thais if applied to them.

Interestingly enough, this riff is used by Nagatanien, a Japanese food company, in some of their commercials. It’s meant to be sound Chinese.

Here’s an example.

It’s not quite the same riff, but it follows the rhythmic pattern: YMO’s Firecracker is another example of pseudo-East Asian music from East Asia. Here, it’s completely tongue-in-cheek as YMO were going an Asian Exotica vibe.

Japan to Israel, you mean. Turkey is considered part of Europe.

I was always taught half of Turkey is in Asia so “from Japan to Turkey” would be correct.

In any case, I believe the nitpicking is unnecessary. Even if it does not apply to all of Asia it is still “Asian”.

Back in the less culturally aware past we had a word to describe that part of the world. We called it the Orient.

Wait, don’t give up on the :rolleyes: yet. … what you say it’s wrong. Music in those different cultures are world apart for many reasons. The tune in question is more of Chinese/Japanese and you won’t find that in Turkey.

Nope, it’s not whether the world ‘Asian’ can be applied across to many cultures; it’s about your assertion on the piece of music.

(size mine)
So are you saying that it is not sometimes applied in order to make a reference within Western culture to a generic Oriental country?

English is not my native language, so I may have read it wrongly. The “Applied equally” here throws me off.

Here are 2 interpretations I can see:

  1. “I am calling it Asian because the music is distinctively Asian but I have no idea where it is from”

  2. “All Asian culture shares this tune (applied equally) hence I am just going to use the word Asian”

I chose #2 because he says the music applies to those countries: Korea, Japan, Vietnam etc, He’s like saying, “All those Asian nations have this tune, which justifies me using the word Asian here”, which I believe, as a person who has listened to traditional Chinese, Japanese or Korean music, is wrong.

I hope the OP will correct me if my reading comprehension is wrong.

On the origins of the lick itself (meaning: including the proto-licks mentioned)

One thing I found, and I’m possibly reading too much into things here, is that the set of intervals Falls in a major Pentatonic (3, 4, and 5). For some reason, it especially stands out if you put it in it’s second mode, which ends up giving you a Japanese Yo scale (can be seen on wikipedia here). Given that Far Eastern music (particularly China, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia) particularly LIKES Pentatonic scales, it’s not a stretch to say it possibly came from their fixation on them.

Now the Japanese scale I mentioned where it stands out, why that and not China, after all, that’s what it’s used most for? Well, I’ve definitely heard songs from other Far Eastern countries where it occurs, I played Variation on a Korean Folksong, it was DEFINITELY based around an ascending/descending F Yo Scale (went up and down 3 times, flipped between 1 and 2 and settled on 3). Of course, it’s entirely possible, even likely (as the Chinese use the major scale more), that it just came from the Major Pentatonic as well, I just wanted to point out it’s particularly noticeable in the yo scale.

My guess is someone heard one of the scales, or maybe even a song, and simply thought those intervals were a good way to go. You not only have a song slowing in rhythm, but you also revolve around the one spot in the scale with an abnormal tone change (Whole + Half step instead of just a Whole step), so it starts, goes onto what will be our final note slowing down to emphasize it along the way, seemingly “jumps” down, and then uses that little bit of tension to reverse itself, it sounds like a great musical idea. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that set of intervals hadn’t been emphasized in traditional music before for that reason. As for the harmony, It seems to be the easiest way to harmonize that particular scale, those are the notes that fit into the pentatonic most easily.

So in short: Because the intervals jump out so much, just due to their difference from the rest of the scale, and given that Pentatonic scales are rampant in that area, the riff itself is a really logical musical lick if you’re trying to represent something from that area. It has just the right bit of tension and resolution for musical purposes, and it emphasizes a scale widely used over there.

Or I’m stating the obvious/reading too much into it.

Isn’t the western part of Turkey considered part of Europe and known as “Thrace”, with the eastern part of Turkey considered part of Asia and known as “Anatolia”? The Bosporus forms the dividing line, I believe.

Isn’t … what? barely 10% of Turkey in Europe proper? I’ve always been taught it’s an Asian country for all intents and purposes. I’m not sure I’ve actually met anyone who considered it a European country; I mean really European, not trying to fudge it for EU purposes and such.

Nonetheless, it still straddles two continents geographically, and perhaps culturally as well.

“Straddles” is a bit much, considering the teeny bit that’s on the European side. Forgive me if I continue to count it as an Asian country.

That would make it East Asia then. Asia is simply wrong, even in the context of the OP question.