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Microtones (a poll)


Dunael
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Do you use microtons or alternative temperaments in your music ?  

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  1. 1. Do you use microtons or alternative temperaments in your music ?

    • I do use a structural microtonality in my music.
      2
    • I do use microtonal 'colors' or microtonal inflexions in my music.
      6
    • I use other temperaments or tuning systems than egal tempered when I compose.
      2
    • I wish I knew how to write microtonal music !
      15
    • I never use anything else than egal temperament (the twelve tones of the piano for exemple).
      9
    • I think microtones is a pure waste of time.
      6
    • I don't know what are microtones or temperaments (get some informations here then!).
      5


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You're missing an important option, which I believe is the most common mindset among composers who play non-keyboard instruments.

I nominally write only with the twelve tones, but musicians who play instruments other than the piano can be expected to introduce microtonal inflections on their own, without need for directions. Thus, the microtonal colors are not written by me, but I expect players to use them as appropriate. One cannot say I write by equal temperament, but at the same time I don't write microtones either, or specify any kind of temperament; likewise I am aware of microtonal inflections, and expect them to be played but don't feel the need to specify them as they have always been an integral part of musicianship.

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Yes Mark. That is intervals smaller than the semi-tone. But it is also more complexe than that !... There is plenty of ways to write with microtones. As CaltechViolist said (although I hope he doesn't had quartertones when not ask to do so !ahaha) it is normal to any players without fixed tuning on their instruments to play all kinds of intervals.

Usually these can be defined as 'pure intervals' by some theorists. The egal temperament of the piano you play on or the midi files your computer plays has a long story... the egal temperament is not just but was sought to enable composer to be able to transpose in any tonalities without passing from very just tonalities to very discordant tonalities. But naturally, instrumentalists 'never' play perfectly tempered as a piano.

Is that giving you a little background on egal temparement... so that you can know how the different types of microtonalities differ from or are similar to our most common temperament ?

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Quater-tones are just a part of the microtones.

You can have lots of possibilities... here are some of the principal categories:

Just intonation - working on rational intervals (such as the ratios 3:2 for the pure fifth and the ratio 5:4 for the pure major third). The more high these numbers gets the more complexe usually is the interval. It bears a close relationship with the harmonic series.

Subdivisions of the egal temperament - here lies what is commonly called the quarter-tones, sixth-tones, eighth-tones, sixteenth-tones... etc... These are frequently sought to approximate just intonation intervals that are lets say... for the least complexe to notate.

temperaments, micro-temperaments and microtonal modes - here we have vast sum of stuff also. Temperaments where created to allow composer to modulate in relative tonalities when this problem began to arise at the beginning of the baroque period... and even before to be true. Microtonal modes (which are simply called microtonal for occidentals actually) can be the modes composed of 'just' quarter-tones in the Arab music or the refined intervals named Shruti in the indian music.

Hmmm... that's about it... anyone wish to complete !?

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can you talk more about that 'timbral' quality in which your tonal harmony is slipping ?

I just mean my writing is getting less and less about the ensemble playing the notes, than creating sounds and textures. Check out this post for a detailed look into my concept. I want the players to look beyond the printed page, and extract sounds/timbres/colours/whatever...

As a jazz writer, improvisation has always played a major role, but instead of a single soloist with an ensemble, the ensemble is the soloist. Getting into graphic scores, collective improvisation, sound-painting....whatever.

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You're missing an important option, which I believe is the most common mindset among composers who play non-keyboard instruments.

I nominally write only with the twelve tones, but musicians who play instruments other than the piano can be expected to introduce microtonal inflections on their own, without need for directions. Thus, the microtonal colors are not written by me, but I expect players to use them as appropriate. One cannot say I write by equal temperament, but at the same time I don't write microtones either, or specify any kind of temperament; likewise I am aware of microtonal inflections, and expect them to be played but don't feel the need to specify them as they have always been an integral part of musicianship.

What he said.

I've never specified microtonality in any of my work, nor have I dictated or stated a preference for any system of temperament; but I expect musicians to make use of microtonality to the extent they reasonably see fit in context of their interpretation of my music, and/or to the extent their instrument permits.

As a string player and singer, I make use of microtonality constantly - and I don't need to be performing specifically microtonal music to do it.

Microtonality is interesting, but at extremes (like 21-tone scales, etc) it's not very practical.

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What I use mostly ressemble to the second collum... I will be back on notation stuff (got to go to work...). They are not junk but exploration... you may never have tried to search for appropriate notation signs to call the other's works junk (even though I really now you tried graphic stuff if I remember well). It's hard to find a correct way to notate microtonality since it's so diverse. That explain the table you gave. Since this one hundred year of research in that field (well... not to talk about temperament of course), composer from different countries produced different signs as you show above.

By the way... my comment above might seem rude, but it's not... don't worry ! :happytears:

I use the IRCAM (research center in Paris) standard notation except for the 3/4tone that I replace with the inverted flat as show at G. So in order from the lowest to the higher alteration in 8th of tones I use in the reference chart above :

G C 'natural' D 2 9 or A 'sharp' B

-1/4 -1/8 0 +1/8 +1/4 +3/8 +1/2 +5/8

You see... in fact there is only two signs to learn for instrumentalists... the 1/4 above and under which are common in contemporary music now. The arrows indicates approximate steps of 1/8th of a tone for these are quiet more difficult to produce and to conceptualize for the musician.

When I had less experience, I use to utilize all these 48 intervals as you might use a 12 tones in dodecaphonic music. But with time, I came up with observation that less than 30 of these are used throughout the major cultures around the world (I name here musical cultures such as occident, asian (indian) and arab music)... I consider that these cultures are the most refined for intervallic organisation. I probably don't need to specify that other cultures got other qualities, of course (to be politically correct).

So now, I tend to use around 27 different intervals in which I found to be the most expressive. -- I'll come back with that later if you wish.

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It's hard to find a correct way to notate microtonality since it's so diverse. .. I tend to use around 27 different intervals in which I found to be the most expressive. .

The only problem I have with using such a structured and accurate notation is that I really doubt there's many musicians out there capable of accurately performing microtonally. Maybe I'm wrong, but I'd expect most to approach it as an out-of-tune 'normal' pitch, rather than a new pitch altogether.

If you see what I mean.

Perhaps musicians do/can accurately think microtonally, I dunno.

...

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Perhaps musicians do/can accurately think microtonally, I dunno.

...

Of course there is... but very few. I have a friend violonist specialized in Baroque music that can play in 1/5th of tone non-egal temperament. It is simply based (like was studied in the renaissance period) on a different valu for flats and sharps. String players are very sensible to this. If you follow Zarlino's theory you got sharps lower than flats by one comma (which is near 1/8th of tone). And if you do double-sharps then you get two commas lower which is not far from a quarter-tone... or more around 2/5th of a tone.

For those unfamiliar with all this theoric stuff... it because of these differences between some intervals that choirs frequently drift in pitch... not necessarily because they have a bad way to breath, etc. The minor 7th are even more bad... they unpitch choirs even more... and the worst is when the 7th is at the base of the chord. That doesn't mean that you must not write it... just for conductor to know the effect of such intervals on the pitch of their choirs and to correct it accordingly !

... Isn't this a very practical use of the knowledge of microtones !? ;)

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Maybe I'm wrong, but I'd expect most to approach it as an out-of-tune 'normal' pitch, rather than a new pitch altogether.QUOTE]

That of course true for occidental musicians that are trainned since childhood to produce these pitches - except maybe for a few just intonation oriented schools in the states I heard... anyone got informations about that ? - but for a number of cultures around the world our 'normal' pitches are completly out of tune... and they do sing very precise and 'normal' quarter tones or 'one or two comma(s) higer or lower' pitches perfectly accuratly ! So that's of course a question of culture... but culture can be molded slowly... and musicians are learning to find 'new just' pitches that they weren't knowing before.

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Guest JohnGalt

That of course true for occidental musicians that are trainned since childhood to produce these pitches - except maybe for a few just intonation oriented schools in the states I heard... anyone got informations about that ? - but for a number of cultures around the world our 'normal' pitches are completly out of tune... and they do sing very precise and 'normal' quarter tones or 'one or two comma(s) higer or lower' pitches perfectly accuratly ! So that's of course a question of culture... but culture can be molded slowly... and musicians are learning to find 'new just' pitches that they weren't knowing before.

It's like the old keyboard instruments that only had the white notes, or the diatonic notes in C major. Eventually, people added in the pitches in between the diatonic notes.

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  • 8 months later...

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