It’s All Related, Somehow

Tomorrow night (October 18) at 8, pianist Lois Svard is playing my music in a program at Muskingum College in Concord, Ohio. She’ll play my recent work On Reading Emerson (which is coming out on a New Albion disc with Sarah Cahill any minute now), along with “The Alcotts” from the Concord Sonata, Bill Duckworth’s Imaginary Dances, and George Tsontakis’s Ghost Variations. Gann and His World, indeed.

Thursday, October 25 [note – I had originally listed the wrong date], I’m giving a concert of microtonal and Disklavier works at the Mendelssohnsaal of the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hamburg, Germany. My solo program will include Unquiet Night, Charing Cross, So Many Little Dyings, Bud Ran Back Out, and my own C#-minor Prelude Custer and Sitting Bull. (Anyone still get that joke?) Address in Hamburg: Havestehuder Weg 12, showtime 8 PM.

In other news, microtonal composer Jarod DCamp (a Henry Gwiazda student from the Fargo flatlands) has started a Live-365 internet radio station for microtonal music called 81/80 Microtonal Radio. Among people who never listen to it, microtonal music often has a reputation for dry convolutedness, a devotion more to theory than to sound. It is and isn’t true: the proportion of lousy music in microtonalia is about the same as in any other genre, but sometimes the inability of people’s ears to adjust to the intonation gets blamed for nonexistent sins. The initial strangeness is what turns me on, and Jarod’s station will prove that there are a million varied reasons to step outside the bland 12-pitch scale, since he’s showcasing all of them. I’m already astonished by all the bizarre new music I’ve heard by composers I didn’t know. Way to go, Jarod!

As for Postclassic Radio, it got an infusion of British music when I visited England and Wales, and as you’d expect it’s about to be flooded with Dutch music. Keep listening, dank u wel. And hey, all you foreign postclassical composers: You want your music played on Postclassic Radio, just invite me to your country and make a big deal out of me!


  1. says

    Speaking of microtonal music, about which I’m pretty woefully ignorant, it seems to me like there are probably roughly two broad categories of microtonal composers – the ones who want to use microtones to get even more dense and dissonant sounds than they can with the the standard 12 tone scale, and the ones who want to get more consonant (i.e. more closely related to the harmonic series) music than they can get with the standard scale. Is that characterization anywhere close to the truth, and if so do you have a sense of what the ratio is between people in one category and in the other?
    KG replies: Hi Galen. Very good question. To generalize is usually to open a can of worms – and when you’re dealing with microtonalists, they’re sure to have the numbers at their fingertips – but I certainly have always gotten the same impression. In general, it seems that the people who use microtones to make music ever more complex prefer expanded equal temperaments (31tet, 53tet, 72tet) and those who want it more intelligible use just intonation. I am certainly in the latter camp compositionally, though I am a big fan of just-intonation dissonance, and I love extended ET music too. On the tuning lists, the equal-temp people seem to me to outnumber the just-intonationists ten to one. Yet the best-known microtonalists – Partch, Johnston, Lou Harrison, Terry Riley – are mostly JI people, probably because composers who want to make music more complex do not get popular. A few years ago, Julia Werntz of Boston, a 72tet devotee, wrote a Perspectives article basically labeling all us JI-ists a bunch of wusses, and quite a fight ensued. It’s been a fragile coalition at times (even among the JI-ists I take shit for sticking with Ben Johnston’s notation), but some of us coexist happily, and so far we’re all too marginalized not to stick together.
    I will now be contradicted – or at least the issues will get clarified.

  2. says

    It could also be to get a different sense of what “dissonant” could be, as would seem to be the case in a lot of spectral music, which isn’t always thought of as microtonal per se but tends to use lots of quarterish tones.
    OTOH, 31-tet was championed in Holland in the 50s and 60s by prof. Fokker as a means of expanding the range of tonal music, which would provide for a way to avoid having to look towards serialism and all that ugly stuff as a Proper Modernist Way Forward. 31-tet provides more “consonant” approximations of the 5th, 7th and 11th partials, for example, while being a little less good for the 3rd. And it offers nice candidates for exotic things like blue notes to boot!
    In his polemics, Fokker actually made a faintly ridiculous distinction between “muziek” which is the Real Art of music and “soniek” which is the Possibly Interesting For Its Philosophy But Really My 3 Year Old Could Do That Art of beep snort. Although he did have the generosity to invite Pierre Boulez to take a look at his 31-tone organ – which the French Master of Très Interesting Music, of course, couldn’t find a permutation method for, so he declined the commission.
    KG replies: Very true, and well put. “Beep Snort,” this must be a Dutch term for what we Americans call “Squeakfart,” no? The most common ETs are chosen for their ability to provide approximations of JI intervals. However, one of the most common articles of faith among ET users is that everything, every single sonority, MUST BE INFINITELY TRANSPOSABLE – MUST BE INFINITELY TRANSPOSABLE OR WE WILL DIE – so that the result is a kind of conceptually atonal music in which anything can be moved to any pitch level. Us JI guys don’t give a damn whether you can transpose everything all over the place. Every time we move to a new tonic, we get a great new scale, which is a radical kind of tonality.
    It’s odd to get blog comments from someone you’re running into every other day.

  3. Samuel Vriezen says

    Like God, I exist on many levels!
    And indeed, Squeakfart was the term I was looking for. The official Dutch term is in fact “piep piep knor”, pronounced “peep peep k’nor” – don’t elide the n and roll (or gurgle) the r.
    KG replies: Oh no, when it comes to Dutch pronunciation, leave me out.

  4. Samuel Vriezen says

    (sorry to get back about pronunciation but I meant to write don’t elide the K!) (and come on, Kyle, you’ve got to admit that Dutch pronunciation is nowhere near as problematic as Danish – or, for that matter, English!)
    KG replies: Danish, true. We’ll talk sometime about dipthongs.

  5. says

    I’m almost as interested in linguistics as in music.
    A while ago I heard radio broadcasts in the
    weird but fascinating Circassian language.
    It has an unbelievable
    number of consonants,
    and is virtually devoid
    of vowels.The languages
    of the north Caucasus
    tend to be like this,
    and are unbelievably
    difficult to learn to
    pronounce.Might there
    be a similarity to the
    greeater variety of
    pitches in microtonal
    music to this?

  6. Joe says

    Robert Rich also uses JI on most of his solo stuff, but it sounds too harmonious to make some of the microtonal lists.