Musicology: origin of stereotyped "oriental" music
February 3, 2004 8:03 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone know the origins of the little melody used in movies, cartoons and old time radio to indicate all things oriental? (i.e. the beginning of "Turning Japanese")
posted by milovoo to Media & Arts (7 answers total)
someone here might know (I had always thought Flower Drum Song, but it's older than that)
posted by amberglow at 9:35 PM on February 3, 2004

It's apparently dates earlier than 1944--I have a collection of very politically incorrect Warner Brothers cartoons from the WWII days (yay, Kazaa), and I'm fairly sure it's used in "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips", among other cringe-inducing cartoons of the era.
posted by Asparagirl at 10:50 PM on February 3, 2004

It's a Chinese melody not a Japanese one if that helps any.
posted by dydecker at 12:28 AM on February 4, 2004

I'm going to take a stab at this and say that the tune exists because it's the closest the 12 notes scale used in the west comes to overlap or approximate the eastern scale.
posted by drezdn at 1:03 AM on February 4, 2004

I suspect the origin is Western clich├ęs about Oriental music, rather than a specific native Asian original. It isn't Gilbert and Sullivan, but it may well be some other pastiche from the world of operetta or Tin Pan Alley. Keep in mind that there were intermittent fads for Asian culture even in the 19th century -- however inaccurately transmitted.
posted by dhartung at 1:14 AM on February 4, 2004

Possibly, it self-assembled.

Much Chinese influenced muisic is pentatonic.

Imagine pentatonic scale e g a b d e. Now imagine the rather nice Em7+a you get when you whack those notes together, or the slightly less plangent Em7. Now play an Em7 with an e as a top voice, and descend, keeping to the scale described above. Voila.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:06 PM on February 4, 2004

While I didn't find that particular clip, the work of Raymond Scott might be a good place to start. He created many of what we consider to be "cartoon cliches".
posted by frykitty at 12:42 AM on February 7, 2004

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