You’re not hearing from me because I bought Logic, and I’m playing with my new toy. You can imagine what it’s like for someone who has spent 32 years writing pieces based on repeating loops going out of phase with each other to start working with a software partly based on exactly that paradigm. It took me about two minutes to generate a typical-sounding Kyle Gann piece. I added some string chords, and it started sounding like John Luther Adams’s Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing. I added a percussion track and it started to sound like an Ives orchestral adagio. At that point I had to stop and give my aesthetic some serious philosophical thought.
One point of interest is the tuning capability, which is limited to a 12-pitch scale, repeating in every octave. The menu of tunings (File > Song Settings > Tuning) offers dozens of historically defined meantones and well temperaments replicated beyond any Baroque expert ability to distinguish them all by ear. Yet there is no harmonic series tuning, no tunings based on Ben Johnston’s piano music, nothing inspired by Harry Partch – although there is, somehow, the tuning of La Monte Young’s Well-Tuned Piano (here called Well-Tempered Piano). You have to wonder what it is about people who design software and synths that they are savvy enough to realize that different tunings would be nice, yet naive enough to think that people making electronic music would want to work in meantone, let alone forty different meantones that differ only by a few cents here and there. It’s the strangest combination of sophistication and ignorance.
The program seems to only allow one 12-pitch tuning at a time; I could get 36 pitches to the octave by having three identical instruments with different user tunings, though there is no way to save user tunings, and I guess I’d have to record them as separate audio files. But I’ll be using sounds and scales from Kontakt anyway, and I’m having a blast with Logic’s glib usability.
On another rather technical microtonal note, L’il Miss’ Scale Oven software has brought about a revolution in the way I write microtonal keyboard music. When I write for live performance, every key I play is assigned to a certain pitch, and in the past I’ve generally had to keep the pitches in scalar order, running low to high. The reason is that most keyboard-based synths have built-in filtering systems so that if you tune a key more than a few half-steps from its intended pitch, the sound becomes extremely tinny in the lower register and very dull in the higher register. But L’il Miss’ Scale Oven reassigns to each key the sample whose pitch is closest to it, so that no such distortion occurs. So now, high pitches can be assigned to low notes on the keyboard and vice versa, and a lot of microtonal pitch configurations that were formerly unplayable become easy. For instance, in my piece The Day Revisited, I got to renotate the passage notated as follows:
Tremendously easier to play, and both of them produce the pitches given here:
where E in the first measure is actually 8/7 above D (231 cents), G# is 10/7 (617 cents), B is 12/7 (933 cents), E in the second measure is 9/8 (204 cents), A is 3/2 (702 cents), C quarter-tone sharp is 20/11 (1035 cents), E quarter-tone flat is 12/11 (165 cents), A quarter-tone flat is 16/11 (649 cents), C is 7/4 (969 cents), and so on. What I can do now is assign any pitch to any key on the keybord, and thus assign different harmonic areas to different registers, with concern only for maximum playability, and without concern for actual highness or lowness. My first piece to take full advantage of that was Fugitive Objects, the microtonal keyboard piece I wrote at the Atlantic Center, in which different musical objects were assigned to each octave for optimum playability. In general, the right hand plays the mid-register melody while the left hand plays both bass notes and high treble notes, which are all assigned within the same octave. I’ll put the mp3 up once I’ve finished revising it. Neither hand moves far from its original position, though the pitches are all over the place.
Perhaps this is an arcane matter, of interest to only a few people on the planet, but where better to put arcane information than on the internet, where the words “microtonal keyboard mapping” may well bring in the four or five people engrossed in exactly that subject?