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April 14, 2016 6:53 PM   Subscribe

Sean Archibald makes electronic music using microtonal scales, rather than the typical 12-tone temperament, as both Sevish and himself . Droplet is a neat starting point. If you're a sucker for strange harmonics, also check out his blog, in which he gets geeky about xenharmonic music and his favorite microtonal bands. Happy listening.
posted by rorgy (31 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
Listening to Droplet right now and it is exactly my cup of tea.

posted by Dr. Twist at 7:08 PM on April 14, 2016

I posted this before delving deep into it, but now I've found Split-Notes, a label of entirely-free entirely-danceable microtonal albums, and now this single from this album has gotten itself deeply lodged in my head.
posted by rorgy at 7:13 PM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh this is good stuff. Thank you!
posted by treepour at 7:16 PM on April 14, 2016

Following various youtube recommendations from the link in rorgy's comment link, I'm coming across stuff I had NO IDEA about. Like this 22 tone acoustic guitar! There's a whole world of microtonal goodness out there!
posted by treepour at 7:24 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is extremely my thing, cheers!
posted by mikelynch at 7:28 PM on April 14, 2016

This is marvelous. Thanks for posting.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:35 PM on April 14, 2016

Ooh, more neat stuff! A woman named Dolores Catherino has quite a few videos made on some really far out synthesizer keyboards. Here's one where she explains a bit about them.
posted by treepour at 7:37 PM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Dolores Catherino is how I found Sevish in the first place! Toward the Continuum is a 40-second sounds-like-Fez overture that then, delightfully, blooms into something that sounds even more like Fez. I like Fez.
posted by rorgy at 7:39 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Forgive the musical barbarian who doesn't really get music theory at all: Is it possible to use these kinds of scales on non-electronic instruments? Does anyone do that?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:42 PM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yeah, more backgrounders on microtonality beyond Wikipedia would be appreciated. I'm sitting here hungering for something which will explain to me why the music feels this way, some article which probably cannot be written in human language....
posted by gusandrews at 7:47 PM on April 14, 2016

if only I had a penguin, I linked to a microtonal acoustic guitar up above.

gusandrews, according to explanatory video (also linked above) from Dolores Catherino, the way microtonality is being explored right now is kind of a new thing that music theory hasn't really caught up with yet. She talks about it as hearing colors, which I think is a really interesting analogy. I'd only heard of it as a purely academic avant-garde thing -- I had no idea people were actively making non-academic music with it until this post.
posted by treepour at 7:56 PM on April 14, 2016

Yes, from the blog: 22-note scale on a guitar (electric, but not electronic).
posted by mubba at 7:57 PM on April 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't say music theory "hasn't caught up to it yet." There are lots and lots of theoretical descriptions and procedures for microtonal music; it isn't taught as part of a regular undergraduate-level theory sequence, though, because it's a big sprawling field with a lot of complexity and it's difficult to understand and/or appreciate. There is a lot of overlap with the study of just intonation (generation of pitches through ratios between low whole numbers).

Here's a link to a microtonal guitar piece by a friend of mine, it's pretty awesome.
posted by daisystomper at 8:20 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

What the heck did you people do to my clavier?? I had it tempered perfectly
posted by theodolite at 8:59 PM on April 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

I seem to've lost your clavier. Will a well-tuned piano suffice?
posted by rorgy at 9:23 PM on April 14, 2016

Great stuff. Droplet sounds like the soundtrack to a near-future science fiction movie that just hasn't been filmed yet.
posted by twsf at 9:27 PM on April 14, 2016

I’m not sure how microtonal music can in any way be considered new.
posted by bongo_x at 10:19 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Meh. Moogs have been microtonal since Bob Moog first put soldering iron to transistor. Whether you wanted them to be or not.

And you should have heard my grandmother's old upright piano. Ay-ay-ay.

More seriously, microtonal music has always been with us: there are no stops or frets on your voice. (There are modes...) There's always been a group of people actively playing around with what happens between the notes, too, and this has advanced in step with more mainstream music technology. There's a reason that 'out of tune' exists as a concept, and it's connected to a lot of factors including the physiology and psychology of sound, cultural expectations and so on.

It;s fun and it's thought provoking and it can be beautiful and exciting to play with, but I don't think it'll ever be anything other than liminial. I like liminal...
posted by Devonian at 3:46 AM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure what newness has to do with my post. It's music, guys. Stick it in or don't.
posted by rorgy at 3:49 AM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I’d not seen the term xenharmonic before: which strikes me as a useful coinage. And I enjoyed Droplet & will check out some of his other stuff - thanks, rorgy.
posted by misteraitch at 4:18 AM on April 15, 2016

Hi, Sevish!
posted by rorgy at 4:41 AM on April 15, 2016

Droplet is great—and it's fascinating to watch my brain as it grapples with the unfamiliar scale. It's very keen to fit the notes into a twelve-tone scale—that's just what it does with incoming tonal stimuli—and at moments, it more-or-less succeeds in doing so. But quick on the heels of that, another note comes along, which knocks over my mental "here is how this works as a twelve-tone thing" model, and makes everything sound sickly and off-kilter again. Until my brain finds another way to sort-of shoehorn the notes into a twelve-tone framework...only to have that theory dashed almost immediately. Ad infinitum. It's slippery in a very weird way. And yet I can almost glimpse the true shape of the thing.

Given that this guy spends hours working in these scales, I imagine his brain has largely adapted, and he can hear their internal logic on its own terms. He's learned to speak the language.

Fascinating stuff, especially since I'm teaching myself some music theory right now. Thanks!
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:58 AM on April 15, 2016

a goldmine, thanks!
posted by greenish at 7:04 AM on April 15, 2016

OK, this is interesting. Thanks!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:14 AM on April 15, 2016

I can add an interesting piece based on long ago conversations and jam sessions with Paul Erlich, a 22-tone guitarist (and friend I haven't been in contact with in many, many years. Hi, Paul, if you see this!) Paul started experimenting with making microtonal music using keyboard controllers in 31-, 22-, and other tunings, and a self-built 22-tone guitar, while an undergrad.

The theory behind that choice of 22-tone microtuning — if you're going to pick a not-too-fine-grained-to-be-playable equal tempered tuning — was that it has a tritone that is quite consonant, (It's close to a low integer ratio harmonic, like 3rds and 5ths are in the 12-tone scale) and therefore the tritone doesn't need to resolve. I.e., the dominant becomes a place of resolution!

Some writings

A video

Another link
posted by spbmp at 9:53 AM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure what newness has to do with my post.

according to explanatory video (also linked above) from Dolores Catherino, the way microtonality is being explored right now is kind of a new thing

We’re just talking, not passing judgement on your post.
posted by bongo_x at 11:20 AM on April 15, 2016

i think it can be called "new" in the sense that it really hasn't been explored all that much, even though some have done so in the last 100 years, in western music

i know my yamaha tx81z is capable of mictrotonality and i think my dx7 is too

i've actually fooled around with it - "armor" is something i did in 19-tet a few years ago

i keep telling myself i need to do more, but singing to it would be hard, and unless i get really good at slide and fretless bass, i'm confined to synths

here's 4 freeware synths designed with xenharmonics in mind

also, scala is a program that will make any tuning you want - and there are hundreds and hundreds already made in scala file format
posted by pyramid termite at 6:31 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Heyyy, Harry Partch, are you reading this? Good stuff!
posted by bricoleur at 8:38 PM on April 15, 2016

The sad thing about the rise of boutique modular and the new generation of "artisanal" small-build synths?

Very little of what's out there offers native tuning tables or programmable tuning quantization that's any more advanced than just stretched equal temperament scales. It's frustrating, because there's so much timbre-shaping tech in play, but everyone seems to have shrugged off the basic programmable tuning that was on its way to getting pretty mainstream twenty-five years ago.

Fortunately, a used Kurzweil K2000 is about $200 these days, so you can always go back to the roots.
posted by sonascope at 4:43 PM on April 16, 2016

I'm pleased, though, that using "microtonal" to promote self-indulgent squawking badness-as-avant-garde didn't-want-to-learn-the-saxophone saxophone outings has largely faded from the lexicon in favor of the more authentic usage, because genuine alternative scales and tuning systems are luscious, prickly, spicy, and wonderful things.
posted by sonascope at 4:50 PM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

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