India and Musical Imperialism
The syllable OM, which is the imperishable Brahman, is the universe. Whatsoever has existed, whatsoever exists, whatsoever shall exist hereafter, is OM. And whatsoever transcends past, present and future, that also is OM. –Mandukya Upanishad from the Vedas
There is much more discussion about the Indian musical tradition in a later chapter, but in this chapter we talk about the fact that India has the richest heritage of tuning of any ancient culture in the world. The harmonic complexity of the pitches they derive from the “Om” or root note is unmatched anywhere. As just one example, here is a 22-note-to-the-octave unequal sruti, which is the basis of countless five, six, seven and nine-note scales. These 22 pitches, all of them based on the natural harmonics in relation to the home pitch, are the basis for all their ancient scales (or modes). The modes the musicians employ just use five or seven or nine notes from these 22 notes to create a scale.
The 22-unequal-note-to-the-octave srutis are incompatible with 12-eq tuning, so when the Brits colonized India, they also colonized their music, gave them 12-equal harmoniums, and almost destroyed the greatest harmonic system ever developed.
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