ISSN 2158-5296
AAWM JOURNAL VOL. 4 NO. 1 (2015)
Impossible Melodies:
Octave Cycles and Illusory Pitch Shifts in a North Chinese Wind Repertoire

Beth Szczepanski

Buddhist monks at Wutaishan in Shanxi Province, China perform melodies on shengguan wind instruments that seem to move to lower and lower pitches while actually remaining in the same narrow range. Pitch paradoxes such as octave cycling have been documented in music of Africa and Europe, but this is the first such example from East Asia to receive scholarly attention. This article examines how the pitch and timbre of the flute, double reed pipe, and mouth organ work together to create the auditory illusions in shengguanyue. It also argues that the discovery of pitch paradoxes in this repertoire should inspire scholars to undertake more rigorous analysis and more detailed transcription in order to discover the complexities that might be hidden inside what seem to be simple Chinese traditional tunes.

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Contributor Information:
Beth Szczepanski is Visiting Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Lewis and Clark College.

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