P-ART JOURNAL

27

 

MICROTONAL  TOOLS   TODAY

 

1

The standard tuning in the western world for over 150 years is called: twelve-tone equal temperament, and divides the octaves into twelve equal interval called semitones or half steps. Equal temperament is any tuning system that divides the octave into a number of equal intervals. Equal steps like the white and black keys in each octave of the tone range. (Look for the extended contribution about Temperament from D.Devie in: www.geocities.com/Vienna/1997/tempdef.htm)

All contemporary keyboard instruments are tuned to the 12 equal temperament scale.

Equal temperament is originally a compromise that sounds equally in tune in all keys: chords can be transposed to any key (Major/Mineur). However, except for octaves, no interval is perfectly in tune, but they are all acceptable in tune. In major-key melodies, the third and seventh degrees of the tone scale are shifted upward. The root, fourth and fifth degrees are points of melodic repose and should not be shifted.

In an orchestral setting, the strings take the most liberty with pitch. A string section can play wide variations in pitch and still sounds in tune. Orchestral woodwinds and brass play more equal-tempered pitches and keep the strings in check during full ensemble passages.

That there are twelve semitones in a tone scale is a human convention.

We all have learned music in the artificial equal temperament of a 12- tone chromatic scale and the diatonic keyboard (the white keys).

The scales of all cultures evolved from natural harmonics, but also reflects cultural tradition. The tempered chromatic scale of western music reflects the mechanical requierements of pianos although it has its foundation in pure harmonic intervals.

It is important to separate musical conventions from the natural qualities of sound. That a vibrating string has a fundamental tone (pitch) and a series of higher harmonics, of overtones, is a natural phenomenon.

It means: All tones sound differently in the different cultural scales. The minor mode in a blues or Arabic scale will sound quite distinct from the same minor mode in a classical harmonic or tempered scale.

" In a healthy culture differing musical philosophies would be coexistent, not mutually exclusiv." This words belong to Harry PARTCH in his ground breaking Genesis of Music (1947).

The music world is ready to be liberated from mechanical restrictions that imposed that compromise for more than150 years.

(Look at the original Dean DRUMMOND's reflection on Harry Partch, in the german article: C.Wagner, Der Klangtrinker.In: Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, 3, 1999, p. 16-19 )

 

2

If you will hear the difference between cis and des or between gis and as, you need for instance a 31-tone instrument. You get one whole tone in 5 steps:

In the 20th century Prof. FOKKER (NL) explored the tuning scales and experimented with tone scales. He is the author of a 31- tone organ.

His grandson Jeroen FOKKER (NL) released about 15 years ago the tremendous informative program ARCHIFOON, written in 1988 for the Atari ST computer: It is a basic computer program (still available as public domain PD) to explore the world of tuning scales and to use the computer keys for experiments with for example a 31- tone equal temperament.

 

 

 

 

3

The Roland GS and Yamaha XG synthesizers/keyboards have a 12 key tuning table, but it can only be edited using MIDI-sys-ex (via computer).

MUSIKLABOR (Berlin) has released the GS Scale Editor (for Atari ST) in 1994 to play alternate and ethnic scales on GS - instruments (Roland) connected to the computer. The complete guide was written by Prof. Wolfgang M. STROH (D).

The Pitch Palette from Justonic Tuning (www.justonic.com / fax at +1 604 669 3301) is an sound engineering software that allows musicians to selected and create harmonic scales using MIDI-instruments and computer. You can transpose and modulate your tunings with "The World Music Menu" software (for PC & Mac). With the touch of a button you can enter into the world of Indian raga, Japanese koto, Balinese gamelan scales and modern scales.  1/1 is the journal of the Just Intonation Network.
New, ethnic and historical scales are exploitable in some new digital keyboards and microtuneable synthesizers or samplers,  like E-Synth (Emu), EX5 (Yamaha), MR (Ensoniq), Kurzweil 2500, Wersi Pegasus 2, A-3000 (Akai) , Mirage / EPS samplers and MR  synth-serie  (Ensoniq). The synthesizer GMega (KAWAI) isn't brandnew, but this still interesting GM-soundmodule contains the feature of 55 preset tuning scales:  various Pure Temperament scales #32-55; Pythagorean (scales #2-7); Mersenne is scale #31. Scale #23 is Werckmeister III(1691). Some of this seems to be dissonant to our contemporary ears. With the new General Music EQUINOX workstation you can use various preset scales, for example for Arabic music and store a lot of personalized equal temperaments.
The EX series of Yamaha has 31 microtonal presets, but no user tuning, although the SY77 and SY99 (Yahama) still have 64 preset scales and 2 user scales. Some user tuning tables restrict each note to a range of a half-step up or down, and many allow you to tune only 12 keys, repeating the pitches in every octave.

In the EMU synthesizers (for instance the E-Synth), each key of the 128 -key tuning table is tunable across the full note-range of the instrument.

 

4

The Ensoniq MR-series and new version synthesizer ZR-76 include many preset tunings from around the world and some by modern experimentators which are not restricted to 12 octaves per octave. These MIDI-instruments also support the MIDI Tuning Dump Standard: this is  important for the future of the microtuning praxis.

When you look at the historical evolution of classic scales and experimental tunings, Gary MORRISON has released in 1989 his 99 Xenharmonic Scales Disk for the EPS- sampler (Ensoniq). In the musician's guide, Morrison explanes a graphical technique for finding different equally-tempered scales by their harmonic resources.

The first Volkswagen of the sampler-generation is called Mirage (Ensoniq): tuneable to scales other than twelve-tone equal temperament. Richard Lord (Upward Concepts) has created an alternate operating system for Mirage and released two disks for microtuning the Mirage.  Disk MT-1 contains 14 historical 12- tone temperaments. The µd-1 program includes the quarter tone scale, 21-tone equal temperament and scales of Wendy CARLOS. Wendy CARLOS experiments with scales like her ALPHA - tuning scale that uses equal steps of 78 cents. This tuning produces perfect fifths and fourths, major and minor thirds, and minor sevenths that are very close to pure in any key.

My microtonal experiences on Mirage, on my ESQ1 and on computer are my first explorative steps in the microtuning world and announced my deep affection for searching and experimenting in this world, especially with my digital wave synthesizer ESQ1 (Ensoniq).  Here I improve that the timbres allow the effective use of different scales. Look at Microtonal scales in P-ART Journal #26. Don't hesitate to enter the speciale SCULPTURING pages (ESQ1 patches) .



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