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.
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.
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.”
Two years ago I completed my 31 Days project: 31 new pieces in just intonation in 31 days; one piece everyday from July 11–August 10, 2014. The process involved experimenting in different styles and exploring a new plethora of sounds. During the process of composing a piece every day, I found my perceptions of sound had changed and my experience of how I perceive and understand pitch had been fundamentally altered. Now, two years later I’ve had the opportunity to listen to many of the pieces again, and to reflect upon that process. As an homage to that month, I composed a new piece that is very much a product of the challenge I took on in 2014. Cold Air is a 31-limit piece for oboe with clarinet quartet (two clarinets and 2 bass bass clarinets). The audio is rendered using samples from NotePerformer and the Sibelius pitch bend function. Like many of my works for just intonation, the piece explores combinations of tones found in the harmonic series. (I recommend viewing either in full screen, or on YouTube.)
A few articles back, I gave a brief narrative on how the circumstances of my life that led me to decide to create 31 new works in just intonation over 31 days. Once I decided to take on such a project I had to go about actually composing the works—which dominated my life over the next month. All works in the 31 Days cycle were composed using a G = 1/1 system, in which G (or 1/1) is vibrating at about 392 Hz (or powers thereof).