Ou Lu Wang Ji
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23. No Ulterior Motives Regarding Seabirds 鷗鷺忘機 1
- (First yu then) gong mode (5 6 1 2 3 5 6)2 Oulu Wang Ji / Ou Lu Wang Ji  
  A seabird from the Book of Songs?3    
The theme of this melody, quite popular today, is the same as that of the musically unrelated earlier melody usually called simply Wang Ji (No Ulterior Motives). The earliest known version of this story was told in the Yellow Emperor chapter of the Han dynasty book of Liezi.4 There it says:

There was a man living by the sea-shore who loved seabirds. Every morning he went down to the sea to roam with the seabirds, and more birds came to him than you could count in hundreds.

His father said to him: 'I hear the seabirds all come roaming with you. Bring me some to play with.'

Next day, when he went down to the sea, the seabirds danced above him and would not come down.

Therefore it is said: 'The utmost in speech is to be rid of speech, the utmost doing is Doing Nothing.' What common knowledge knows is shallow.

Sources for this story along with other references are given under 1425 as well as below.

The earlier melody survives in seven handbooks between 1425 and 1585. It then seems to disappear, to be replaced by the modern melody that tells the same story. This has apparently caused some confusion, as modern accounts sometimes say its melody dates from 1425; this confusion is perhaps exacerbated by the various names both melodies have used (see this tracing chart, based largely on the Zha Guide listing [4/42/64]).5

The version played here is the third melody in Sizhaitang Qinpu (1620). It is, as mentioned, the earliest known version of the Oulu Wang Ji played today. As with the earlier version (described separately) it also uses standard tuning, but it is otherwise musically unrelated to the earlier one. As can be seen from the related chart, versions of this latter melody survive in over 40 handbooks from 1620 to 1961 (though some of the later melodies listed in the Guide also seem unrelated, such as the one in Youshengshe Qinpu).

The handbook in which the present melody first appeared, the Sizhaitang Qinpu, was compiled by the wife of a late Ming dynasty prince. The prince was apparently a cousin of Zhu Changfang, who compiled Guyin Zhengzong (1634). Whereas the 1620 version has three sections, that of 1634 has four. Nevertheless, the 1620 and 1634 versions are very similar to each other. Also quite closely related is the third version, in the late Ming handbook Taoshi Qinpu, though it also adds lyrics. These three, though otherwise related to the modern version, are all missing the opening harmonic section, which is first introduced in the fourth handbook, Huiyan Mizhi (1647). After this the overall melody gradually became more elaborate, particularly in the latter part. There has also been considerable variation within the tablatures, right up to the present. 6

None of the original four handbooks with this newer version has any attributions or indeed any commentary on the melody. In fact, the only attributions in later handbooks connect this new melody to the well-known Song dynasty qin player Liu Zhifang (as well as to the same story from Liezi related with some of the six versions of the Shen Qi Mi Pu melody that survive through 1585). This suggests that the later commentors either did not know or didn't care about the actual source. As a result we have no real information on the source of the latter melody.

This new version of Ou Lu Wang Ji seems immediately to have caught on and to have remained popular up to the present: since 1620 over 40 handbooks have included tablature and today many recordings have been made (for example, this compilation of old recordings includes 14 of Ou Lu Wang Ji.

Then one particularly interesting recording from the 1950s is a duet for guqin and erhu fiddle.7 It seems to use as its basis the version from Ziyuantang Qinpu (1802; see in chart: this seems to be the most common version played today as a solo).

The version of Oulu Wang Ji in Wuzhizhai Qinpu (1722; QQJC XIV/435) is also significant. It says its version is from the Jinling School. This version adds subtitles, as follows:

  1. 錦翼逶迤           Dappled wings roam;
  2. 嗚嚶相友之意   Significance of friendly birdcalls;
  3. 舒意忘機           Content without ulterior motives
Only one other handbook seems to do this: Zhang Jutian Qinpu (1844) repeats these three.

Xu Jian uses this 1722 version to discuss this later Oulu Wang Ji under Qing dynasty melodies (QSCB, Chapter 8). After summarizing the story from Liezi he mentions the Song dynasty melody Wang Ji Qu attributed to the aforementioned Song dynasty qin player Liu Zhifang, saying that the Qing dynasty version was both shorter (according to my analysis this statement is incorrect) and a completely new piece, different in both style and content. He continues,

The afterword to the version of this melody in Wuzhizhai Qinpu (1722; QQJC XIV/435) says that it puts emphasis on expressing circumstances in which,

海日朝暉,滄江夕照。 A day by the sea in morning sunlight; by a broad river the stars shine down.
群飛眾和,翱翔自得。 A flock flies, gathered as a group; soaring at will.

It shakes off the traditional style of 沖淡虛無 diluting nothingness (making few demands on life), instead,

When going into the melody it uses jinfu (slide up then back), tuifu (slide down then back) again seeing diechu (repeat out, causing people who) listen to these sounds to have their hearts happily go pit-a-pat. (As for the circumstance that) this sort of finger techniques are nowadays rather esteemed, (Daoist scholars very much disapproved, to the extent that they attacked it as) exceeding even that which goes beyond (the improper music of) Zheng and Wei. (From the Afterword in Qinpu Xiesheng [1820]; the Zha Guide indexes this handbook so I do not know why the quotes here are not in the Guide/43ff).

Although this was termed a "small recreational piece", it has an artistic result that is rather significant. The rapid harmonic gunfu (glissandos that open the melody) draw people into the beautiful seaside scenery, then sonorous smoothly played stopped sounds express an environment of carefree seabirds soaring aloft. This tries to use the opening phrase as an example. (A staff notation example consisting of the first eight bars of section 2 is here omitted; I am not sure what it is intended to "try" to show.)

This version from 1722 was recorded in the 1950s by Guan Pinghu (listen). It is not clear whether this was the version Guan would have originally learned, or whether he had specifically learned this version for another reason. A transcription of his performance was included in Guqin Quji (GQQJ I/253-5), though it was there mislabeled as being from Ziyuantang Qinpu (1802). More about this below.

As for the modern solo versions, as suggested above the ones most commonly played today seem generally to follow either one or the other of the two available transcriptions in Guqin Quji (GQQJ, I/250-2 and I/253-5),8 but there seems to be much some confusion about this. These two transcriptions are as follows:

  1. The first transcription in GQQJ is from Ziyuantang Qinpu (1802). It is said to follow the interpretation of Zha Fuxi and the recording generally seems to do so (listen; the duet with erhu seems also to use this version).
  2. The second transcription is also said to be from 1802 but to follow the aforementioned interpretation of Guan Pinghu. However, Guan's performance is clearly different, seeming more to resemble the tablature in Wuzhizhai Qinpu (1722; listen).

Looking at other recordings, there is one by Xu Yuanbai said to follow 1722 but in fact it follows quite well the 1802 tablature (listen), while the one by Pu Xuezhai is said to follow 1802, and in many ways does so, but it has many differences.

This issue is rather outside my area (the Ming dynasty), and as yet I have not seen comments on this problem. In fact most recordings seem to make the same attribution errors. In addition, the GQQJ transcription starting on p.253 does not indicate the 3 sections: in fact, section 2 should begin with p. 254 line 4; section 3 with m.2 of p.255 line 6); in addition, at 4.39 of the recording (total length 5.14 instead of 7' given in GQQJ, though until the end the notes are basically the same) Guan completely changes the ending (1722 ends with the nine notes written here in harmonics, as with almost all other versions the last note being harmonics in the 7th position of the 1st and 3rd strings [sol and do]; in the recording Guan adds several phrases leading up to a last note that is harmonics in the 7th position of the 2nd and 7th strings [both la]).

With regard to Guan Pinghu changing the last note from do over sol to la over la, this reflects a certain ambivalence within the melody about the most important tonal center. As stated here), in the 1620 version, though stated as gong (do, 1) mode, the first two sections clearly have yu (la, 6) as their tonal center, though section 2 suddenly ends on a strong do cadence. The melody then resumes with la as the tonal center until the last few phrases, which again have do as the tonal center. Some later versions also seem to follow this structure. In 1620 instead of writing out the closing harmonics there are simply the instructions to play the harmonics of the gong modal prelude, which ends on do over sol. With the closing harmonics beginning on la, its final note could also have easily been on la, as in the Guan Pinghu modern version.

A careful study shows that both the 1722 and 1802 versions are clearly related to the earliest version (1620): comparing tablatures one can see connections throughout (e.g., the beginning of 1620 sections 2 and 3 are echoed in the same in 1722, as indicated above; for 1802 this is at GQQJ p.251 line 3 and measure 3 of p.251 line 8). However, the differences are such that it is unlikely that someone simply listening to an accurate reconstruction of the 1620 version would easily hear its connection to the modern version. Most noteworthy, in addition to missing the opening glissandos, the 1620 version seems noticeably more condensed. According to my own understanding of the 1620 version, the increased elaboration of the later versions changed the rhythms quite a lot.

In addition, as can clearly be heard in this recording from 1620, during the first two sections (after the opening harmonics) the music alternates from phrases played in the upper register to responding (or perhaps corresponding) phrases in a lower register. Also, in the opening harmonics from 1647 and at the beginning of the third section (1647 Section 4) the phrases constantly rise and fall between the upper and lower registers. It is tempting to see this as a conscious contrasting of birds in the sky and humans on earth. As the melody later became elaborated this aspect of the melody seems to have become lost, or at least hidden.

Preface to the 1620 Oulu Wang Ji (see tracing chart)

Music of the 1620 Oulu Wang Ji 9 (see transcription; timings follow my recording 聽錄音; also see video)
Musically unrelated to the 1425 Wang Ji. Although the 1647 version divides Oulu Wang Ji into more sections, other than the addition of the opening harmonics section it is not much longer than the 1620 version.

00.00 (Opening harmonics, from 1647)
00.35   Section 1 (q.v.)
01.20   Section 2
02.00   Section 3 (compare 1647 Section 4)
02.23   (compare 1647 Section 5)
02.37   (compare 1647 Section 6)
03.08   (could be another section)
03.37   "Play the gong modal prelude, then end"
04.00   (End)
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Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Oulu Wang Ji references (IX/31)
"Oulu" is often translated as "seagull"; the more general word "seabird" is used here for several reasons. (Similarly, one might argue that "海上 haishang" should here be translated as "waterside" rather than "seaside".) Thus, although with guqin melodies the story always concerns seabirds/seagulls, the various accounts/titles in Chinese sources use several different names for the bird in question. For example, ZWDCD has the following (none of the references has any images):

48240.41 鷗鷺忘機 Oulu Wang Ji says .41/1: "謂人無機心者,能便異類亦相與狎近也 this refers to people without ulterior motives being able to make things with which they are not related become familiar". It then cites three references: the Book of Liezi story, Li Shangyin and Chen Yuyi, as follows:

After this 48240.41/2 says "古琴曲名 old qin melody title".

    Wang Ji references (see also 1425 Wang Ji)
10543.54 忘機 Wang Ji says "心無紛競,淡焉漠焉,謂之忘機 being calm and detached is called wangji". There are two quotes, one from a poem by 儲光義 Chu Guangyi (should be 儲光羲 Chu Guangxi, fl. 846; ICTCL), the other a poem by Li Bai. No mention of qin.

2. First yu mode (羽調 yu diao) then gong mode (宮調 gong diao)
As further discussed below, based on standard tuning considered as 5 6 1 2 3 5 6, for most of the melody the main tonal center is the equivalent of the open second string (la), but then at the end of the piece the tonal center changes to the equivalent of the open third string (do); in both cases the secondary tonal center is mi. For further information on la and gong modes see Shenpin Gong Yi and Shenpin Yu Yi as well as Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Image: What kind of seabird? Section 1 of the 1620 music (enlarge)      
The story in Liezi is vague both about location ("海上 on the sea") and type of bird ("漚鳥 ouniao"), so perhaps instead of showing a bird it would have been just as good to include as an image the original tablature, as at right (note the missing opening harmonic section), as was done with the 1425 Wang Ji.

As for the bird above and its location, the image is an illustration from Maoshi Pinwu Tu Gai connected to the Shi Jing poem "鳧鷖 Fu Yi" (47624.54, 鳧鷖 references Shi Jing #248, Da Ya: "鳧鷖在涇 wild duck on the Jing river"). Some dictionaries translate "鷖 yi" as "seagull", but the 涇河 Jing River (Wiki) is a tributary of the 渭河 Wei River in Shaanxi province. If one can associate such a bird with such an inland place, perhaps Liezi's location was also originally envisioned as by a lake or a wide river rather than by the sea.

In general it might also be added here that in traditional Chinese art there are many images of lakes and streams but very few connected to the ocean. In addition, the tradition that says Liezi himself was from the kingdom of 鄭 Zheng, centered on the area around what is today 鄭州 Zhengzhou in landlocked Henan province, makes one wonder whether "海 hai" here referred actually to the ocean, whether it was to a large inland body of water, or whether that really matters.

4. Liezi 列子 (Wiki: book and person; CTP, 列子,黃帝 11)
Quoted from the translation by AC Graham, p. 45-6, but with his "seagulls" changed to "seabirds" in accordance with the image above, discussed here. The original text is as follows (note that the "seabirds" are called 漚鳥 ouniao),


Liezi is the name of a person (also known as 列禦寇 Lie Yukou) and of his book, also called The Book of Liezi.

5. Tracing the two melodies and their titles
For example, the earlier melody was sometimes also called Oulu Wang Ji (see in 1525).

6. Alternative interpretations
Note in particular the alternate first section beginning in 1677.

7. Version with guqin and erhu two-string fiddle (listen)
This 1962 recording, a copy of which is linked here, seems generally to follow the version from 1802. It features Zha Fuxi playing guqin and 將風之 Jiang Fengzhi (1908–86) playing erhu. There is also commentary about this melody on this page of the blog of Stephen Jones. Interestingly, after the opening the erhu plays the melody largely as written in the guqin tablature while the guqin plays only selected notes. The result is very evocative. (Note that guqin tablature only indicates what the guqin does; if another instrument plays along how it is done would be up to the performer.

With guqin duets, almost always nowadays the accompanying instrument simply follows what the guqin plays. An example of this can be heard in another recording of guqin and erhu, found here. In that version of the melody 思賢操 Si Xian Cao (from 1937, where it is commonly called 泣顏回 Qi Yan Hui), the guqin and erhu play largely in unison. The result is, to my taste, much less interesting than the real interplay - or dialogue - one can hear in the Ou Lu Wang Ji recording.

8. Two versions
The 1722 and 1802 versions both begin with glissandi in harmonics but some later versions do not. Some, such as 1670, seem simply to drop the opening harmonics; others, such as 1677, seem to have a rather different non-harmonic opening. This needs further study.

9. Music of Oulu Wang Ji
The recording was made on 5 October 2013 using a guqin newly made by Tong Kin-Woon and silk strings by Marusan Hashimoto, newly strung (24 September 2013). Open first string = B flat; this recording replaces the one of 27 September 2013, which had open first string = G#.

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