Friday, April 07, 2006

Make Microtonal Music Day 2006 Part 1

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In today's podcast, we're going to hear from 10 microtonal composers, in a feast of microtonality. This podcast is a result of the efforts of dozens of composers and musicians who feel that microtonal music deserves wider recognition. The idea was hatched on the Making Microtonal Music Yahoo Groups mailing list, initially by Jacob Barton and others. On March 16, Jacob wrote:
Hullabaloo. I'm talking about making some sort of hullabaloo, yes. An international occurrance. Everybody drop what they're doing. Well, if you were holding a fourteen-tone crummhorn then you can keep holding it.

And just for a second. Just a second. Make some music or...something. That happens to be microtonal. In any way possible. In the best possible sense. In any way that you know how and can. And an outreach aspect to it, too.

Get a friend to listen. Get his or her hands wet in sticky tuning goo, for a moment. Fool a stalwart 12tet-thumper into hearing an alternative.

This being some kind of decentralized rhizome-type internet community, there's no need for physical exact temporal simultaneity. We would need to have some sort of shared experience, say, by many folks far and near uploading sound files (maybe so they can be streamed for dialuppers), perhaps burn some CDs and send them to people without warning. Yes, this is product over process, and quantity and spectacle over quality or experience. But hey, give it a shot.
Well, that sounds like a fine idea to me, Jacob. My contribution is to assemble this podcast of recent pieces and a few classic gems that people have either sent me, or otherwise found themselves to my hard drive through podcasts, blogs, mailing lists, or random events.

And now, on with the show. The first track is a reading by Harry Partch, from Genesis of a Music, on composing and composers. Take it away, Harry:

Play clip.

Thank you Mr. Partch. Our first piece of music is by Bill Sethares. He writes:

I have been using Kontakt and LMSO for a while now, and have found the combination to be flexible and to sound very good.

For example, the piece MysteryX was sequenced using a drum controller or percussion (the Roland handsonic) and a wind controller for everything else (Yamaha WX). The piece is here:

All the sounds are from the "VSL Kontakt Orchestra" though with the timbres mapped to match the tuning, which was done by LMSO (the "X" stands for 10-tet).
Play clip.

I like to think of that piece as a nice cross between "The Thin Man" and "The English Horn Patient". Anyway, our next piece is by Margo Schulter. She describes it in a post to MMM on Yahoo Groups.

Subject: Two fauxbourdon pieces (mp3 links)

Hello, everyone, and it's a pleasure to post a couple of pieces in a style called fauxbourdon, very popular in Western Europe around the early 15th century, and used as a textural resource in certain passages by various 16th-century composers also.

Typically, there are three voices, with the upper parts moving mostly in parallel fourths, and forming chains of thirds and sixths with the lowest voice within phrases, cadencing to stable sonorities with fifths and octaves (and upper fourths).

_In Hora Observationis_ has a style with some moderate melodic and contrapuntal decoration: the mode is the medieval/Renaissance European Phrygian, with a descending semitone leading to the final or note of repose.
Play clip.

Margo's grasp of medieval musical theory is legendary. She often posts to Making Microtonal Music, and has always very supportive of the less theoretical, and more intuitive composers on the list.

Next up is a piece by Graham Breed. He was concerned about being able to participate in the podcast at such short notice, but was able to throw this together to add to the mix. He wrote:

My thought was to record any old rubbish on the day, just to be part of a community making music. Now the talk's about aiming for quality, and making it a serious compilation.

Here you go then:

I used Csound in the end, with existing instruments, so not that bad. I overran the 7th local time, but only for the post-processing. I think the music-making date was the 7th. It uses an ssssL pentatonic scale with different tunings.
Play clip.

The oldest contribution to the podcast today is from Joe Monzo, whose Theme from "Invisible Haircut" dates from 1990. He describes the piece:

It is adapted and expanded for use as incidental music for the play Invisible Haircut, written, produced, and directed by Jeff Morris. Performed off-off Broadway (New York) December, 1993.

I wrote it originally in 12-Eq, then figured out common-tones on paper, which is how I got those strange F and Bb chords in measure 4. I've tried this kind of thing for other people's (older) music and it didn't work, because the high-prime common-tones throw the chord-roots off into an odd-sounding high-prime key, but surprisingly here, it sounds great!

There are some pretty "far out" chord changes in there, and with the employment of the 5-limit xenharmonic bridges ("unison vectors" as Fokker called them) they could be well represented in a simple 5-limit tuning!

Whether in 19- or in 5-limit, it sounds MUCH better in JI than in 12-Eq. The JI versions have a richness that is entirely lacking in the 12-Eq version. When you hear the JI first, the 12-Eq simply falls flat, so to speak.
Play clip.

I played that one by Joe, because the next piece reminded me of it when I first heard it earlier in the year. I'm referring to Chuckk Hubbard's piece Big Giant Worms. He says:

This is called 'Big Giant Worms.' I composed it with a program I made using Pure Data. There is no scale, it's unrestricted just intonation.

Play clip.

Jon Lyle Smith is a relatively new participant in the MMM group, but he has already linked to a half dozen wonderful microtonal pieces. Here is one I thought was well worth playing on the podcast:

Piano And Trio In D#:

Piano with violin, viola and 'cello. Uses a justly intoned, 5-limit diatonic scale, in D# minor.

For this light chamber music, I wanted a soft and harmonious tuning that used small-number just intervals. Scored for piano, violin, viola and 'cello (soundfonts).
Play clip.

I also read and contribute to the Csound list on yahoo groups, which is a server for people who write music using the program Csound. There, I was alerted to the work of Dave Seidel, whose pieces I've played in podcasts last year. He wrote:

I was inspired by a pair of Csound instruments designed by Anthony Kozar as seen in a recent post of his, where the output of several oscillators is accumulated and used to frequency-modulate a carrier wave...

The end result, like the first Drift Dhikr, is a complex resonant drone that is simultaneously static and constantly changing. The timbre in this piece is more intense than in the earlier piece because of the use of FM synthesis, and I have made it a “hotter” mix as well. I’ve tried to approach the intensity of good old electric guitar feedback, though (alas) with fewer of the chaotic elements that occur when vibrating metal wires in a magnetic field are sympathetically excited by a bath of high volume sound waves from a Marshall amp turned up to 11.
Play clip.

The ending was a big abrupt in the version I was sent. I hope I didn't cut it off unintentionally. I had to fade out the last 2 seconds there to prevent a clip. Anyway, our next peice is by Anthony Kozar, who Dave Seidel referred to in the previous cut. Anthony also works in Csound. He describes the following piece as a work in progress:

I have a new ambient piece of music in progress right now that uses Csound. I am hoping to get some feedback from other computer musicians before I finish it. I am looking for constructive criticism on the effectiveness of the piece.

In particular, I am hoping that people might comment on the following questions that I have been asking myself:

1. Are the sounds too harsh to listen to for a long time? If so, how can they be made more pleasant (filtering?, chorusing?, etc.) ?

2. Are the sounds and the musical materials interesting enough for a piece that is almost 15 minutes long, or should it be shortened?

3. Do you think that it needs anything else?

The piece is called "FMscape no.1" and is entirely composed of sounds created by a complex frequency modulation instrument in Csound.
I'm going to play an excerpt from FMscape no. 1, by Anthony Kozar.

Play clip.

Now back to more microtonally focussed music. Carl Lumma is one of the champions of Make Microtonal Music Day 06, of which this podcast is but a small part. His contribution is a fragment called Eikosany, which he describes as "with a brief chord progression in the [1 3 5 7 9 11] eikosany. -Carl". It was originally placed on a web site to test the distribution of large files using a web service, that has since been abandoned. But the tuning is wonderful. Here it is. It's only 18 seconds long, so I'll play it twice.

Play clip.

Daniel Anthony Stearns is a microtonal guitarist and composer, who has a host of great work available on his web site. He recently reposted an older piece called Day Walks In. He wrote:
day walks in with head of flame
and a face grown centuries old.....

This is a piece I worked very hard on, for over a year actually. There's a ton going on in this piece, and sometimes you might need an x-ray ear to see through the thicket, but I like to challenge my ear's eye, and this piece certainly did that. For what it's worth, the end is a reworking of Shakespeare's Orpheus, and the whole was intended as a personal homage to nature, mysticism and Charles Ives, one of my personal heroes .

day walks in by Daniel Anthony Stearns
Play clip.

That's it for the first podcast of the MMM Day 06. I'm going to try to get the second half out tomorrow or the next day. If I left out your piece, please forgive me, and stay tuned to the podcast feed.

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