Author Topic: What's viable or appropriate for microtonal writing these days?  (Read 363 times)

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Offline pourVivier

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Hi all,

I just posted an intro post, perhaps you could go check that if it's been mod-approved, but anyways,

I'm wondering what the "state of the art" is for microtonal notation and what to expect from performers now of days who specialize in contemporary music. I have in mind to be writing in 6th-tones (so 36-tone equal temperament or 36-EDO) because of a couple reasons. Notably there's a special interval where the ratio between the pitches is the golden mean (1.618) which measures to 833 cents, or 1/6 tone sharper than a minor sixth.

I've been looking around and reading a few scores, the "xenharmonic" stuff seems neat but I'm less interested in scale-building and more in spectral harmonies and using subsets of the overtone series. I also figure 1/6 tones are good because the existing set of 12 chromatic notes would each have one added above and one below, so a performer could begin by practicing in 12-TET and then add the microtones.

I'm super nervous about working with musicians but I've never found a computer sound I like enough to make my art out of it, so I'm kinda stuck.

Obviously some instruments are easier to play microtonally than others, but I've heard that even on strings it makes a sort of "straight-jacket" effect because the players are more concerned with pitch than with expressive playing. I'm wondering if someone can show me a way forward or point to some resources or something.

Offline Cato

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Re: What's viable or appropriate for microtonal writing these days?
« Reply #1 on: March 21, 2017, 04:05:42 AM »
As a former composer who worked in a quarter-tone system, I can tell you that it will be difficult to impossible to convince conventional musicians to retune their ears down to a sixth of a tone.  While sixth-tone music may seem to satisfy a mathematical aesthetic, I can guarantee that practicalities and the attitudes of listeners will hinder it.

If you are interested in microtonal music, then you must know of the work done by Easley Blackwood, Julian Carrillo, Alois Haba, Ben Johnston, Harry Partch, and Ivan Wyschnegradsky: a (very small) renaissance for the last two composers has been happening in the last few years.   If you do not know of their work, then I suggest becoming acquainted with it.

Partch - because of his own aesthetic theories based upon Helmholtz - created a 43-tone scale.  And if you think you have a good ear that can distinguish 36-tones per octave, try this exercise in distinguishing Harry Partch's 43-tone scale!

http://www.chord-book.com/ear_training/harry_partch/harry_partch_ear_trainer.php

My advice is: build your own instruments, like Partch and several other composers have done, or use some of the microtonal synthesizers available out there for your creations.  Multi-tracking will allow you to create more than one line.

Best Wishes on your journey!
"Now who taught ye t' be playin' patty fingers in the holy water?"

- Barry Fitzgerald to John Wayne in  The Quiet Man.

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: What's viable or appropriate for microtonal writing these days?
« Reply #2 on: March 21, 2017, 04:16:49 AM »
My advice is: build your own instruments, like Partch and several other composers have done, or use some of the microtonal synthesizers available out there for your creations.

Possibly the most practical solution.

Best Wishes on your journey!

Indeed.  And welcome!
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston MA
http://www.karlhenning.com/
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Offline Cato

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Re: What's viable or appropriate for microtonal writing these days?
« Reply #3 on: March 21, 2017, 04:47:30 AM »
Here is a synthesizer capable of over 100 divisions per octave!

http://www.synthtopia.com/content/2015/11/01/modern-microtonal-electronic-instruments/
"Now who taught ye t' be playin' patty fingers in the holy water?"

- Barry Fitzgerald to John Wayne in  The Quiet Man.

Offline pourVivier

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Re: What's viable or appropriate for microtonal writing these days?
« Reply #4 on: March 21, 2017, 10:27:51 AM »
If you are interested in microtonal music, then you must know of the work done by Easley Blackwood, Julian Carrillo, Alois Haba, Ben Johnston, Harry Partch, and Ivan Wyschnegradsky: a (very small) renaissance for the last two composers has been happening in the last few years.   If you do not know of their work, then I suggest becoming acquainted with it.

Best Wishes on your journey!

Hi! Thanks for the leads! I'm familiar with some but not all of those composers. Am listening! My interest is more in the spectral music direction, after Claude Vivier's microtonal innovations in pieces like Lonely Child and Trois Airs Pour un Opera Imaginaire. I was wondering specifically about the existing acoustic instruments - obviously the strings are fretless, trombones can do their slide thing, but woodwinds will be more finnicky. (I'm a flutist, there are things that can be done, especially in the third octave.) I'm just not satisfied with the sounds of synthesizers, unless they're for specific applications like some video game music.

An advantage of 36-TET is that each chromatic note has an inflection above and below, it's natural, up-natural, down-sharp, sharp, up-sharp, down-natural, natural to step through a whole tone (or the opposite direction with flats). That would let the player practice in regular tuning by ignoring the ups and downs and then add the inflections afterwards, my sense is that giving instructions closer to a tablature than to actual frequency information might make the task easier - and if it's just not working they could play the passage in 12-TET without doing too much damage to the music.

I guess I'm also just asking where the conversation is at these days, my school and my teacher were horrible for anyone who wanted to challenge things, so now I'm a bit of a musical orphan. I'm cluing in that composer podcasts are an important medium these days, but surely there's somewhere else online for a person looking for other innovators.

And also, hello Karl!

Offline puzzlevortex

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Re: What's viable or appropriate for microtonal writing these days?
« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2017, 02:55:31 PM »
If you are interested in microtonal music, then you must know of the work done by Easley Blackwood, Julian Carrillo, Alois Haba, Ben Johnston, Harry Partch, and Ivan Wyschnegradsky: a (very small) renaissance for the last two composers has been happening in the last few years.   If you do not know of their work, then I suggest becoming acquainted with it.


I make electronic music and lately have been using midi with virtual instruments to create my music. I love it because i can create really complex harmonies and melodies which i could never play on piano.
DO you have any recommendations of composers that use non-tranditional tonal systems?
I want to find new types of music to draw from when i make my melodies and harmonies
thanks

Offline Cato

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Re: What's viable or appropriate for microtonal writing these days?
« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2017, 09:58:40 AM »

I make electronic music and lately have been using midi with virtual instruments to create my music. I love it because i can create really complex harmonies and melodies which i could never play on piano.
DO you have any recommendations of composers that use non-traditional tonal systems?
I want to find new types of music to draw from when i make my melodies and harmonies
thanks

The ones already mentioned are a good start: this website offers an essay by Easley Blackwood on assorted microtonal scales:

https://www.dramonline.org/albums/blackwood-microtonal-compositions/notes

Ivor Darreg - truly an American eccentric - is credited with coining the term xenharmonic.  Check out his comments here:

http://www.furious.com/perfect/xenharmonics.html

See also:

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/DvHvza1vtfo" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/DvHvza1vtfo</a>

For one interpretation of 31-tones, see Henk Badings:

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/23ImVLezV4c" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/23ImVLezV4c</a>

Personally, a non-equal scale of 19-tones (12 usual tones + 7 quarter-tones) always seemed full of possibilities!  All kinds of new scales can be created, depending on where one places the 7 quarter-tones...or 7 third-tones: I met a microtonal composer named George Secor* who thought third-tones was the way to go.  That was c. 45 years ago!  8)

A 24-tone scale of quarter-tones with 7 added third-tones might offer interesting sounds as well: follow your ear, and listen to as many of these composers as possible, so that you do not reinvent the wheel!


Happy Listening!

* Secor made it plain to me in a letter that he was uninterested in anyone's compositions except for his own: he had somehow been involved in talking Motorola Corporation into adapting a microtonal synthesizer (costing nearly $10,000 in  1970's dollars!!!) using a special keyboard of his design (but which paralleled an earlier Bosanquet keyboard: see the article). He then went around promoting the synthesizer with his own compositions (and, according to the article, those of Ben Johnston and Harry Partch, who were already somewhat famous for their experiments).  The project was a failure, but did not prevent Secor from naming a microtonal interval after himself.  ;)  A modest touch of ego.

http://120years.net/the-motorola-scalatron-herman-pedtke-george-secor-usa-1974/




« Last Edit: April 19, 2017, 01:44:26 PM by Cato »
"Now who taught ye t' be playin' patty fingers in the holy water?"

- Barry Fitzgerald to John Wayne in  The Quiet Man.

Offline bwv 1080

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Re: What's viable or appropriate for microtonal writing these days?
« Reply #7 on: April 19, 2017, 01:38:22 PM »
Brian Ferneyhough is perhaps the most 'mainstream' composer using quarter-tones these days

for example, this piece is for two guitars tuned a quarter-tone apart
<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/EitDG_Ae4EE" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/EitDG_Ae4EE</a>
Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum

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