A piece of music doesn’t have to be 15 minutes long, or even three minutes, to make its point. I’m exploring some new techniques, so I figured I might as well start small, to get a feel for what’s possible. Here’s a one-minute piece, working title “Greasy Strut,” in 19-tone-per-octave equal temperament (19EDO for short).
This piece uses a blues scale, which maps onto 19 tones per octave in an interesting way. The groove is also bluesy. But other than that, it’s not quite what you may be expecting. My self-imposed rules for this week are: No repeating sections, and no drums.
All of the tracks are played by instances of u-he Zebra 2.5. Most of the presets were designed by Howard Scarr, but I may have edited a couple of them a bit. The piece was created in Image-Line FL Studio 10.
There’s not much in the way of harmony theory that would help anyone build chords in 19EDO. Some notes sound clearly right to me, others sound clearly wrong, but it’s largely a matter of intuition. The basic scale used in this piece breaks out in chromatic steps as 4-4-3-4-4. Since the perfect fifth in 19EDO is 11 chromatic steps wide, this is a pentatonic scale with a perfect fourth and fifth, a low minor 3rd, and a low 7th. Adding a passing tone between the fourth and fifth, we have 4-4-1-2-4-4 with three “blue” notes. There are a couple of other pitches, and a couple of brief modulations to related keys, but basically that’s the harmonic structure.
A bit like a cheery image of people socializing colored in nightmare and zombie, isn’t it?
It’s true that unusual tunings can sound alien and frightening, especially to those who aren’t used to listening to them. We compare the sounds (consciously or subconsciously) to what we’re used to, and differences are interpreted negatively. This was precisely the reaction Stravinsky encountered at the debut of “The Rite of Spring” in 1912. Yet today that piece seems — well, we can’t say “tame,” because it’s intense and dramatic, but it’s no longer intimidating. We are now able to hear what Stravinsky meant us to hear; we’re no longer blinded by an inability to enjoy the sonorities.
The same thing can happen with alternate tunings, once you’ve spent some time listening to them. Each scale has its own character, and composers who learn these resources may find one scale preferable to another when a given mood is called for. Yes, this short piece has some strong dissonances, but I maintain that there’s a difference between “dissonant” and “nightmarish.”
I like the discord as a compositional decision. The “saw-playing” thing is my favorite part of what you’re doing here, in fact.