Discover the world in music… Part III, East Asia

Music, like proverbs, is the mirror of a culture. The aim of this series if to take you around the world in music, to help you discover authentic melodies, foreign cultures and ultimately, to let you in my musical world. 


East Asia has been calling me for years. I have not yet had the chance to fly over and immerse myself in rural China or Mongolia but as luck would have it, much like writing, music takes you places you can’t visit just yet.

So today, I’m travelling along with you, to faraway East Asia. My choice of countries includes Japan, China and Mongolia.

What to expect? Contemplative and melodic music, an array of fascinating musical instruments and always, a story being told in music.

I’m opening today’s post with Kitaro, a Japanese composer known for his soundtrack for Japanese documentary Silk Road but also his love for the synthesizer, an instrument prone to experiments with countless unusual sounds. Here’s an interesting glimpse of his compositions.

For a Chinese taste, I have chosen Tan Dun, a Chinese contemporary classical composer. You will have heard his music if you’ve watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. His choice of instruments is original: he uses instruments made of organic materials such as paper, water and stone (imagine making music with glass bowls of water, rice paper drums or pitched flowerpots as he did in his fourth opera Tea: A Mirror of Soul!)

I have chosen an extract of the movie soundtrack but you can listen to most of his work on Deezer.

Let’s move on to Mongolia, a beautiful country which has music on a pedestal. Mongolia is known for its so-called long songs, a genre in which every syllable is extended for a long duration. What you may be more familiar with is throat singing, an impressive technique which requires the singer to, and I’m quoting Wikipedia, “manipulate the resonances created as air travels from the lungs, past the vocal folds, and out of the lips to produce a melody.”


Sambuugiin Pürevjav of Altai Khairkhan (an overtone singing ensemble from Mongolia) playing a morin khuur near Centre Georges Pompidou in 2005. Photo by Eric Pouhier. (CC BY-SA 2.5)

The most famous Mongolian instrument is the Morin khuur, otherwise known as the horsehead fiddle and it is considered a symbol of the Mongolian nation.

Enjoy the following melody which I find absolutely haunting. You can catch a glimpse of the morin khuur at the beginning too.

Before I go, I simply can’t ignore the soundtrack to Memoirs of a Geisha, perhaps my first ever glimpse of authentic, contemplative Asian music. Thank you, John Williams.

What are you thoughts on this round? Any favourites? Have you visited the Middle East yet? Or perhaps you feel like discovering Bulgarian music? Take your pick and as always, let me know which culture you’d like to “hear” next.


Thanks for reading.
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2 responses to “Discover the world in music… Part III, East Asia

  1. Why is noone else listening? Please don’t stop this series! It took me a long while to get round to listening because I wanted a slab of time and such things have been a bit hard to come by.

    I’m not very music literate so my judgement could well be weird or wrong. My absolute favourite was the Mongolian music, probably because of the beautiful images, but also because it was the strangest to my ear. I sniffed strong western influence in anything connected to a movie sound-track. However, I enjoyed all your selections on a lazy Sunday afternoon before a quick dip in the Pacific. Apologies for taking so long to get around to what I knew would be a pleasure.


    • Honestly, I don’t know either. Maybe I’m including too many song choices and nobody has time to listen to music. Eitherway, your comments are always heart-warming and I shall keep this series alive for at least a couple more countries I have in mind.
      It’s funny, my favourite was also the Mongolian. I think we’d get along on the music if we were to go on a road trip!!!


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