La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela at the Dream House

26. Ragas Using Upper Primes?

FRANK J. OTERI: That sounds like a great place to end this discussion and we might want to make this our ending and throw in a question before it, just because I have one other question that I want to ask, but…

LA MONTE YOUNG: Sure.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, I was at the concert on Saturday and I thought, knowing the work that you’ve done with these upper primes and I thought, what would happen if some of the ragas were sung with some of these other intervals? If some of these upper intervals became melodic content for scales, where would that go?

LA MONTE YOUNG: Interestingly, also, in relation to the raga I sang, you saw how much I loved it and how much I was deep into it. It’s all based on 5s.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yes I know that! [laughs] I was thinking that too.

LA MONTE YOUNG: It’s really something that I could give myself up to that raga in such a way, but I became crazy in love with the raga and for me this is what music is about. When I perform a piece, I really go deep into it.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: But you really focused and brought out the tonality of it…

LA MONTE YOUNG: The 7th degree of the scale.

MARIAN ZAZEELA: The 7th degree.

LA MONTE YOUNG: Yeah, because it’s a polytonal area: the major third and the 7th degree. That’s true, but the tonic drone is still there and…

MARIAN ZAZEELA: …major thirds.

LA MONTE YOUNG: …the drone is really there…

MARIAN ZAZEELA: Yes, it is.

LA MONTE YOUNG: …and in relation to it. And interestingly enough, in Raga Yaman Kalyan, the sharp 4th degree, remember the sharp 4th degree?

FRANK J. OTERI: Mmhmm.

LA MONTE YOUNG: This pitch is not a perfect 5th above the 7th, the 7th is a natural 7th degree, it’s 15, ok? In other words it’s 5 x 3, it’s 5 times the dominant, it’s the major 3rd of the dominant, so it’s 15. And the major 3rd of the raga is 5, O.K.?

FRANK J. OTERI: Right.

LA MONTE YOUNG: So the 7th is a perfect 5th above it. But the 4th degree, it’s not…the 4th degree is 7:5 which is also a major 3rd below the 7th harmonic, which is not even in the raga.

FRANK J. OTERI: Right.

LA MONTE YOUNG: So to sing the sharp 4th of Yaman, I have to listen to the 7th harmonic—and then there’s an ornament that goes back and forth between this sharp 4th degree, which is not a perfect 5th above the 7th, and some note slightly above it which might just be the perfect 5th above the 7th. And it’s a very tiny little difference there going between 7:5 and 45:32. In fact, if the higher pitch is 45:32 then the difference between 7:5 and 45:32 is 225:224, very tiny indeed. 45:32 is a perfect 5th above 15, right?

FRANK J. OTERI: Which is the tritone in just intonation…

LA MONTE YOUNG: 3 times 15 is 45. So, to some degree the raga offers this possibility with the microtones, and of course, as a composer, I’m free. I can compose anything I want and I can perform it. I can tune anything I want. But as a disciple of raga, I have a responsibility to the tradition to try to carry on what has actually already been there so that it won’t be lost. And when I first began to study raga I made it very clear to everyone that I was never going to do fusion. I was not interested in it. I was interested in being totally creative in my own work, but totally faithful to the tradition of raga and devoted to it, to really learn what it is. But once you really learn what it is—and I hope I’m humble enough to admit that I never have and never could—but once you really learn what it is, then you have the freedom to go on to the next step or to other steps and to other levels and with The Well-Tuned Piano—I was describing this before—one of the most important things about The Well-Tuned Piano is that it exists on so many levels, but at the very beginning levels, it offers this key, as I mentioned, a key that unlocks a door that leads to another level, that leads to another door, that leads to another level, so that theoretically, people from all levels of development and evolution could find their way into The Well-Tuned Piano and eventually work their way up to the most evolved, complex level.

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