The Null Device

Archaeology of the Oriental Riff

Did you ever wonder where that musical riff used in popular songs to signify the Far East (typically China or sometimes Japan; think Kung Fu Fighting/Hong Kong Phooey/International Karate) came from? this guy did, and did a fair amount of research:

The little ditty above is what I call "the musical cliché figure signifying the Far East."

I would venture that a majority of music-culturally aware people would agree that there is such thing as "the stereotypical Chinese (or more generally Asian) riff." Most of them would also agree that the "canonical" form of it is the one notated above, typically instrumented with some kind of squeaky wind instruments playing in a pitch at least higher than middle C, and with some ticking-sounding rhythm instrument underlining the rhythm.

Anyway, the author of the site, Martin Nilsson, has compiled evidence of the Oriental Riff and its earlier predecessors going as far back as 1847.

There are 2 comments on "Archaeology of the Oriental Riff":

Posted by: ctime Mon Jun 8 18:38:10 2009

young folks by peter bjorn and john uses this riff.. this is one of my favorite songs. I never would have known the connection, amazing.

Posted by: Greg Mon Jun 8 22:16:04 2009

I wonder if the riff in "Hong Kong Garden" by Siouxsie and the Banshees is an example? I'm not enough of a musicologist to tell. The melody seems simple but they do something weird with harmonies. Video at

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