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The traditional music of Cambodia
An Overview
written by INGO STOEVESANDT

4) Systemology
One of the most interesting topics of the traditional Khmer music is the isotonic scale, which divides the octave into seven equal steps of (nearly) 171,4 cent. Corresponding to isotonic systems in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, and also to the old ”Sruti” of India, it is still not clear where this system is originally coming from. Most of the scientists try to search for a common intonation of the Asian metallophones to explain this theory. Another possible explanation is the syncretism of the wide range of musical influencies from China over India to Indonesia in the conglomerate of the culture of the ancient city in Angkor Wat.

While most of the instruments are strictly bound to orchestral instrumentations and their function, the performed pieces always mix up actual folk songs, religious fragments and pieces of the ethnic minorities in Eastern Cambodia with traditional fragments of music. This makes it very hard two divide between ”modern”, ”ancient” and ”classic” music. Most of the pieces are played in a heterophone way, based on a rhythm that splits up into two times. Polyphone manners only develop, if different melodies of different origin are played in the same piece. It is also not rare that musical pieces of the shadow theatre are integrated in the dance music and vice versa.

For example, the ”Mohori” music is characterized by an anhemitonic pentatonic scale (see picture below) which was influenced by classic Chinese music. It often changes the modi and scales. On the other hand, ornamentations are used in different manners and split up the origin of the original scale. The ornamentations are very improtant for the music, as the right placing and execution of an ornament divides a good musicians with high skills from the mediocre one.


Example for an anhemitonic pentatonic scale based on C

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