The Renaissance practice of ‘intabulations’ was the arrangement of consort music – instrumental or vocal – for keyboard. An intabulation was the making of the impossible possible: a single person could now render a performance only possible by a consort. Late last year I began work on a series of new intabulations in just intonation. Created using notation software and with sampled sounds of classic electric pianos, they are in a some respect the impossible made possible. I recently published the first three of what will be a larger and longer set of works.
Recently someone made an interesting observation about paying money to have art made:
Sadly, commissining and promoting new music is an act of faith & idealism on behalf of an art that has almost no market value.— Richard Bratby (@RichardBratby) August 5, 2017
Yeah—lots of “art” doesn’t make sense from the standpoint of return on investment. But then again, we have this:
And I’m reminded of the claims that we need gatekeepers (i.e., contemporary patronage) to ensure the quality of art doesn’t degrade away.
My march of “madrigals” in just intonation continues into June. This time, the material is loosely organized into three “studies.” And this time however, the pitch material is fixed—e.g., a particular A flat will always vibrate at the same frequency—and the pitch material is in non-repeating octaves—e.g., the different octaves of A flat do not line up as perfect octaves. Some of this material will be developed into a series of short works for re-tuned fender rhodes electric piano.
First things first, I missed April’s madrigal—so I’m sorry that I failed to achieve my goal of a madrigal in just intonation every month this year. That being said, may is based upon material I originally composed for a piece called Fox – Wolf – Hound for harpsichord in 1/4-comma meantone; may is a reimagining of that material in just intonation. Unlike the previous “madrigals” this one is in a faster tempo.
The third of my 12 “madrigals” in just intonation, march, is based upon tones rows that are derived from the partials of the overtone series. The explanation of the tone rows, and how they relate to the kind of just intonation I’m using, is pretty esoteric; so I’ll save that for after the preview text.
Portions of a secular cantata I’m working on were recently performed at The National Opera Center as part of a concert produced by Composers Collective (a group of composers that self-produce concerts, of which I’m a member). The cantata, The Red Blaze, is a selection of Emily Dickinson poems loosely connected by references to times of day and night. The selection below, “I had no time to hate,” is an exception — it’s not about the daytime or nighttime — instead Dickinson speaks to the limits that life places upon our ability to love and hate one another, and the choice of love over hate.
The second of my “madrigals” for 2017, february, is similar to last month’s; it explores different chords and sounds based upon the harmonic series. (Of course, all of these works have many different “harmonic series” occurring throughout each piece. In one moment, a chord might be based upon a series derived from a particular E-flat. In another, it could be based upon A.) All my works utilize the G = 1/1 system that Harry Partch used, but I go far beyond 42 notes — which is the great value of computer music. I look forward to composing more of these “madrigals.”
A resolution of mine for 2017 is to compose a set of “madrigals” — 12 short works in just intonation, each one dedicated to a different month of the year. Part of the resolution is to create visualizations for each of the madrigals. The first of these, january, is in the style of past videos such as a mind of winter… and Brooklyn Blues. To some extent, I hope these recall the bizarre mannerists of late Renaissance such as Wilbye, but mostly I hope they present an interesting process (much like my 31 Days from 2014).
The weather here in New York City has been turning for over a month now. For the last few years, the days around Christmas and the end of the year haven’t been terribly cold. I fondly recall walking through Prospect Park on Christmas Day 2014; the afternoon was warm and everyone was out in the park. We all knew that this would be one of the last few days that would be this pleasant. This year has been much cooler, and today winter has officially begun. This “madrigal,” a mind of winter… is based upon another piece I’m currently working on: a choral setting of Wallace Stevens’ 1921 poem, “The Snow Man.” I’ve adapted some of the open material from that work for a small excursion in just intonation. Sounds were rendered using Sibelius 7.5 software, and the animations were done in After Effects.
This post might seem shameless, but the recent death of Gene Wilder got me thinking about how actors, artists, celebrities, or anyone else contributing to the cultural dialog affects others in ways that are unexpected.