A Microtonal Interview

Xenharmonic Wikispaces is having a discussion where microtonalists are invited to answer a series of questions. Here is my submission.

What was your path to discovering alternate tunings?

When I was about five years old, I would "play" on the family's piano and wonder who gave the piano tuner the right to decide which notes I could play. I wanted to know about the other notes that were between the keys. I tried playing adjacent notes at the same time, but decided that it didn't sound very good and wasn't really the same thing as playing the in between notes.

Years later I read about purely tuned intervals and how our modern tuning system deviates from these intervals and is actually based on the twelfth root of two, an irrational number!

This seemed scandalous to me. I felt like I discovered a great historical secret. I would tell others about this, but they never seemed to care that much. I felt that I needed to try out different tunings. I wanted to play with purely tuned intervals. I also wanted to try scales based on other irrational numbers and find out if this was a valid approach to making interesting music.

My first experiments involved acoustic instruments. I had a little harp that I would tune to just intonation. I experimented with using a slide on a guitar to play microtones. I even made a primitive clarinet like instrument that played septimal intervals like 7/6 and 7/4.

I eventually got an electronic keyboard that could be retuned. This is when my interest really took off.

What are your current/ past/ future particular interests?

I enjoy just intonation, but have decided that I prefer to focus on equal temperaments, especially ones that contain interesting dissonances. I am working on several projects in 26 tone equal temperament as well as some in 13, 19, 28 and 29 tone equal temperaments. I plan on also doing some experimenting in nonoctave tunings.

What instruments or means have you had/do you have now/do you want
for the making of microtonal music?

I frequently use a Triton Extreme keyboard. It has pretty decent microtuning abilities, but it has some limitations, especially for tunings that require a mapping of more than twelve keys to the octave. I also have a Yamaha TX81Z sound module and some older Emu sound modules that allow for microtunings. On my computer, I enjoy using a combination of Cubase SL3, Kontact 2, Scala and the Scala 2 Kontakt Microtuner. This gives me a lot of tuning flexibility.

I would also enjoy having some kind of microtonal guitar in the future.

Any good microtonal anecdotes?

I once played a little piece in thirteen tone equal temperament for a friend. A shocked expression came upon his face. He was deaf in one ear and could actually hear it pretty well in his deaf ear. We tried several songs and tunings, but it only worked for that particular piece and tuning.

If you would like to take part in this exchange of microtonal information or would like to read other answers to these questions, please see this page.

Two Gamelan Transcriptions for Piano

It can be pretty difficult, at times, to perform microtonal music on certain acoustic instruments. This video results from an ambitious yet rewarding process of retuning a piano to a gamelan scale. I love this pairing of tuning and timbre. It might not be authentic, but it sure is interesting.

Two Gamelan Transcriptions

See also Microtonal Music Videos


Microtonal Podcasts

There's a lot of microtonal music on the Internet. This doesn't mean that it's always easy to find or of consistently high quality. If only there was a place where you could go to get a good selection of microtonal music along with insightful commentary.

Well, there is such a place. It is called Podcast 1024's Podcast. This is a great place to get your feet wet with microtonal music. Each podcast contains music from a variety of composers and styles. Microtonal music is very diverse, so this gives you a chance to decide where you want to go for further exploration.

I especially enjoyed the Neo-Medieval podcast. It is fascinating to consider what early music might have been like if the history of tuning took a different path. This podcast gives you a chance to hear some of these possibilities.

Many of you may be new to microtonal music. I would love to hear your comments and thoughts about microtonal music.