Fishing Boats at Sunset – first encounter with Chinese music

The French musician Jean-Michel Jarre performed a series of five concerts in tour in China in 1981 in Beijing and Shanghai.

Jarre is known for his electronic music creations including Oxygene and Equinoxe which I have written about in an earlier article about my interest in Electronic Music.

What made these concerts exciting for me was his collaboration with Chinese orchestras and the use of traditional Chinese instruments.

An album was released (and later released on CD) of the concerts and is one of my favourite albums of electronic music. This article explores the traditional Chinese tune “Fishing Junks at Sunset” which combines live music, studio recordings and ambient sound recordings.  It was this work that introduced me to the exotic and unusual sounds of traditional Chinese instruments, especially the erhu.

Here is a film of Fishing Junks at Sunset with some notes about the instruments you can see in the film.

The song opens with string synthesised sounds played by Jarre.

1:33 The music is now dominated by the orchestra and the plucked sounds of the zither and the pipa (a type of lute).

2:50  The Suona (唢呐) an oboe-like instrument with a distinctly high pitched sound.

2:59 The erhu (二胡) a two-stringed bowed instrument with a small resonating body with a snakeskin. The sound of the erhu is very sorrowful, haunting and beautiful and frequently used in soundtracks of Chinese films.

3:12  The Guzheng (古箏) is  a plucked zither with about 20 strings and movable bridges to adjust the tuning.

3:19 The Guan (管) is a a double reed bamboo instrument sounding like a clarinet.

3:45 The Main Theme of the song returns. Do you  notice the tune is a pentatonic scale? If that term is unfamiliar, try playing the black notes only on the piano. This sound is very characteristic of Chinese music.

I would like to close this article with a YouTube film of the Erhu being played by Yang Xue.

Read more about Chinese traditional instruments on this  Wikipedia entry.


Author: charuzu

I live in Sydney and interests include music, piano playing, technology, cooking, English language, public speaking, Toastmasters, Asian culture (especially Japan and Korea), cinema, personal development, productivity and making friends with people from around the world.

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