Works for Me

The venerable (by new-music standards) American Festival of Microtonal Music is this week and next, three concerts at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City. The concerts are Sunday, April 29; Wednesday, May 2; and the following Tuesday, May 8, all at (the-ungodly-hour-for-those-of-us-coming-in-from-out-of-town) 10 PM. I’m performing May 2. We’ll be playing my quintet The Day Revisited, for flute, clarinet, two keyboard samplers, and fretless bass, all in a 29-pitch unequal scale. Pieces by Elodie Lauten, Joseph Perhson, and Johnny Reinhard are on the program as well. The Bowery Poetry Club is at 308 Bowery at Bleecker St. Read more about it all here.

Of course, this means I drive down to NYC with a car full of equipment – two MIDI keyboards, three amps, two keyboard stands, three music stands, a fretless bass, my computer, and all associated cables and sheet music which I hope I can remember – for rehearsals and performance, and since it’s New York I can’t park outside the rehearsal space but have to go down the street and park in a garage and carry everything all at once up several flights of stairs and then carry it all back down again once rehearsal’s over. Many, many of you know what I’m talking about. I’m getting too old to make music this way. I went to study with Ben Johnston in 1983 saying, “I love his music, but I’m not getting into this microtonality stuff, because it’s too much work for nothing!” And I was half right: it’s too much work. (Frank Oteri has an article over at New Music Box called “Complaining Doesn’t Work,” and I wanted to test out his intriguing theory. I dunno if he’s right, though, I already feel better.)


  1. says

    It can certainly be a major pain in the rear.
    Even under ideal circumstances, having the freedom to work with any pitch one desires adds a considerable level of complexity to the compositional task, and to that of the performers. Will all the extra work and frustration matter or even be noticed by the audience? Probably not as much as other elements of the composer and performers’ talents. So we have to ask at some point is it really worth all the trouble? Sometimes it can be.
    There’s no doubt that 12 near equal steps (whether meantone, well or equally tempered) is a useful paradigm that greatly reduces the complexity composers, performers, and instrument builders have to deal with. This system was a big factor in freeing up creative and mental energy to create the masterpieces of the common practice era.
    Some participants in the tuning world pile up complexity on top of what is already intrinsically there with impenetrable terminology, undemonstrated pie in the sky theories, and other things that aren’t music. Much of what is in the realm of precompositional activities is probably counterproductive compared to diving in, getting dirty, and working with what is possible.
    KG replies: At the risk of sounding like a commercial, let me note that the writer is the creator of Li’l Miss’ Scale Oven software, which has saved me more hours of tedious work than anything else in my life as a microtonalist. With it I’ve generated and worked with six different full-keyboard scales this week; before it, I would have been lucky to turn out two or three. And I no longer have to spend hours of calculation to get a scale exactly right the first time, because now it’s so easy to alter a scale and try again, just a matter of seconds as opposed to an hour or so. Doesn’t help with those four flights of stairs I had to carry all that equipment up yesterday – but it gives me more time to sit around and fume about it.

  2. says

    Hey Kyle,
    I’m excited to hear The Day Revisted live. I’ve listened to that recording dozens of times. Such a cool feel to the piece.

  3. says

    This last week I had three people ask me if I still wrote microtonal music. One was Ellen Fullman, whose music is just by its nature, as we are attending a seminar series together in the “business of art.” Not sure how treating your losing-money-hand-over-fist-music-life is supposed to do better by being friends with your banker and making sure your balance sheet balances but whatever. As it turns out I haven’t written microtonal music for a long time for the reason that I just got too old to be a trailblazer and I really wanted to work with lots of regular old musicians and it was too hard carrying around synthesizers and amps and trying to wheedle more rehearsals and the blank stares of the players and the sound system and technical problems and in the end one tended to not get the goshdarned music just played well, so it would come across as some ghettoized punky kind of thing. Yes, someone with more time on their hands could get this all to work, but I’ve always had to steal ten minutes from here and there to compose and that’s just the way my life is.
    But I wish I were there to attend the festival and hear your piece. I went to one back in the late 80s and it’s still a memory dear to my heart.