Transformation of Brass Resonators: Programming Sonic Modulation of Trombone Through Khong Wong Yai’s Tuning System

Paper Presentation
28 August 2020
14:00 - 15:00 hrs (GMT+7)

Siravith Kongbandalsuk, Speaker


Phra Chen Duriyanga, a prominent Thai-German musician once argued that “under no circumstances can Western instruments be mixed up with the Siamese, since the scale-steps of the two systems of music are different.” (Garzoli, 2015). The majority of the Thai traditional modes consist of seven notes within one octave whereas most Western modal systems consist of 12 notes within one octave. Many music scholars have tried to re-adjust the intonation of each of the Thai modal pitches to match the Western systems (equal temperament). However, due to the differences in instrument structure it is often not possible to align both the intonation and tuning systems.

What if, however, Western instruments were adapted to suit the Thai tonal system? This paper explores new possibilities in trombone performance regarding intonation, tuning system and timbre through the study of the Thai bronze percussion ‘Khong Wong Yai’ and its modal system, and the application of its sound and pitches to the trombone. The trombone has more flexibility regarding pitch adjustment compared to other brass instruments. Thus, the trombone is able to tune and harmonize with ‘Khong Wong Yai’. Moreover, modulating between the two instruments can create new sonorities, sonic behaviours, and tuning systems.

For this study, the spectroid program (sound analyzing) was used to extract specific frequencies from the Thai seven modal pitches found in Khong Wong Yai. Then, these frequencies were compared to the standard Western tuning frequencies based on A=440. Following this, two notes of Khong Wong Yai were paired within one octave range. For example note of 1st gong with 2nd gong and note of 1st gong with 3rd gong etc. The distances between pitches were defined and compared to intervals in the Western modal system (equal temperament & just intonation). Distances were also calculated in both cents and ratios. Subsequently, the researcher played and recorded Khong Wong Yai’s extracted frequencies on the trombone and compared the recorded frequencies with those produced on a tone generator in order to re-create as nearly as possible, the frequencies and intonations of the original Thai seven modal pitches.

Results demonstrate the feasibility of playing the music of Thai fixed instruments, such as Khong Wong Yai, on the trombone and demonstrate that these two instruments can be tuned to the same or very similar frequencies. The manner of playing and hearing these pitches on the trombone is completely different from trombone playing within a Western framework.

Crossing boundaries between the Thai and Western tuning systems is creatively advantageous because it creates new sensations for heares and players as well and thus opens us up to new possibilities. This research also demonstrates how we can enhance/re-formalize Thai tuning/modal systems through the use of technologies and Western instruments.