Ivor Darreg (1986)

In the century since 1886, there has been tremendous progress in every art EXCEPT music. Even popular music has largely lived off the classics, borrowing their harmonies and their standard instruments. The saxophone which was identified with jazz was originally made for French military bands.

In 1886, the piano had reached its zenith--no further improvements were it became a frozen rigid design that controlled the whole musical world so that everything else had to conform to its patterns. It became the idol of a cult.

Until very recently: electronics and computer technology have brought us the portable keyboard; freedom at last from the weight, size and cost of the piano. However, most of these keyboards are still haunted by the Piano's GHOST: its Image, its prestige; and for our present purpose here, the way it is tuned to the 12-tone equally-tempered scale.

Experiments with other systems of scales and tunings have been carried on for a long time, but have not been mechanically and commercially practical--the piano action being the main obstacle. A computer is not locked into 12-tone unless the programmer locks it in. A portable electronic keyboard would not require the drastic redesign to make it in another scale since some experimenters could build their own.

What we have done is to use computer calculations to determine the refretting of guitars to other scales and to play and compose music in those scales, finding out which ones show the most promise. Also, we have built instruments with wooden or metal bars and tubing, tuning them to many scales with the new electronic tuning-devices.

Now that such systems as 17, 19, 22, and 31 tones per octave have shown themselves capable of producing worthwhile music, and now that the untempered scale of just intonation is more practical to use than ever before in history, we know which scales to explore first and have made the way clear to trying many others besides.

The merits of new tunings have been debated for years, but always on silent paper--it cost too much to give them a fair HEARING! During the last two decades we have made a discovery that no silent ink-and-paper theorizing could ever reveal: the non-twelve-tone scales have NEW MOODS. This was DISCOVERED, not PREDICTED; there is no mathematical formula that revealed it in advance, therefore nobody investigated it. All the arguments for trying non-12 were theoretical. The quartertone experiments of the 1920s produced interesting melodies but did not escape 12-tone harmony since 2 x 12 = 24.

Pitch-bending now available on stock synthesizers doesn't stay bent but springs right back to the 12-tone standard pitches when you let go of the lever. However, pitch-bending shows the subconscious need for something different.

12-tone's own mood is restlessness; but you don't really know that ttll you hear other moodse "The fish is not aware of the water." 12-tone has zonk and impact; just intonation is solid and steady; 31-tone is calm and serene and soothing; 17- tone is hard-edged and brilliant; 13 and 16-tone are very weird. You can't be expected to believe the foregoing until you hear the systems in question; but thanks to tapes and cassettes it becomes possible for composers and performers to reach the listener without having to fight the Concert-Hall Establishment. The hi-fi in your living room doesn't care what tuning-system the music played through it happens to be in!

The composer's emotional vocabulary is at least quadrupled. Most existing music can be played in other scales, revealing new facets of its character.

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