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 Forum index » How-tos » Micro Tuning
the music of harry partch
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seraph
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 26, 2008 2:01 pm    Post subject: the music of harry partch Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread



Wendy Carlos wrote:
Partch's Folly
...It's both tragic and touching to think that Harry Partch, who almost single-handedly kept alive the spark of Just Intonation for half a century, happened to choose to build instruments most of which had rapid decays and/or non-harmonic partials. As we've been finding out, these are about the worst choices that can be made to best show off the wonders of just tuning. Bach demonstrated, and Benade alludes to it in the quote earlier on, when you must use slightly defective tunings, like 12tET, it will sound a lot less rough if you keep everything in motion: don't linger on the imperfections… Tempo is very much tied up with tuning. Both evolve together and given a better tuning than 12tET, we might expect slower or at least more sustained tempi to evolve than we now use. But Partch tended to compose music which generally moved right along, as we must do in much equally tempered music--which only further "hid" the beauty of his commendable 43 note-per-octave scale. Life plays tricks on us all.


from Tuning: At The Crossroads

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xjscott



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PostPosted: Sat Nov 29, 2008 3:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I don't share that perspective myself. In particular I don't think it was "folly", "tragic", the "worst choice" or a "trick" played on him by life.

Partch was perfectly aware that many of his instruments had inharmonic spectra and short decays. He wrote for those qualities. To suggest that he was unaware of the basics of sound is incorrect and a cursory glance at the bibliography in Genesis of a Music should dispel such a notion.

The Harmonium he used as the master tuning reference was certainly very harmonic, and intentionally so - he needed to tune it by ear to his scale.

Just Intonation + perfectly harmonic timbres often sounds pretty lousy and is not personally recommended.
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seraph
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 29, 2008 4:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

xjscott wrote:

Just Intonation + perfectly harmonic timbres often sounds pretty lousy and is not personally recommended.


that's really a matter of taste.
I remember talking to 2 people about it:
one was an old piano tuner/technician used to 12 tET, he described the sound of just intervals as 'dead'.
The other one was a music historian and organ player, he described the sound of just intervals as 'straight as a laser beam'.

Wink

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PostPosted: Sat Nov 29, 2008 5:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Yes, they are both correct.

Lest I be misunderstood as dissing JI, I should emphasize that my statement Just Intonation + perfectly harmonic timbres often sounds pretty lousy is about the mixture of the two, with the focus on the perfectly harmonic timbres. By this I mean digital wavesample oscillators, which are the only perfectly harmonic sound you can get. Acoustic instruments always have slight inharmonicities in their overtones because there is no such thing as a ideal string or windpipe in physical reality. Perfect waveguides creating perfectly harmonic sounds is a theoretical Platonic ideal that can be approximated, but does not exist in nature in a pure form. Therefore, if you were able to play an acoustic instrument in perfect JI, minute phase differences would still create motion in the sound. And if you created an ensemble to play together, the sound could become richer and more beautiful because of these minute differences. But those differences don't exist on digital wavesamples, so you end up with your chords with every note phase locked and beat-free, producing the same sound that you would get by playing one note on a Hammond organ and adjusting the drawbars - you turn harmony into monophony. This might not be too bad as an exploration in minimalism (and has been done on acoustic instruments to good effect) except that you have a dull static timbre with digital. So, that's why I say that Just Intonation + perfectly harmonic timbres often sounds pretty lousy.

Another related factor to all this is that it's impossible to play in perfect JI in the physical world playing physical instruments, since even the best tuners usually tune several cents off from theoretical ideals when tuning acoustic instruments. But this is not a bad thing and there is a quite a bit of intentionality to it. We know that pianos have stretched tunings for example and are really tuned closer to the 7th root of 3/2 rather than 12th root of 2, but even that is wrong, the actual tuning curve of a very well tuned piano is a terribly unobvious thing, which adds to its beauty. Likewise, those classic Hammond organs I mentioned are not tuned to 12tET, but are tuned to a bizarre Rational tuning due to the need to drive tuning from internal gear ratios. This unusual tuning has contributed to the fame and desirability of the instrument since it truly has a unique sound.
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cforster



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PostPosted: Tue Aug 31, 2010 9:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Everywhere in the universe, one witnesses evidence of the existence of polar opposites. The I Ching gives symbolic expression to these polarized states of existence through a set of 64 hexagrams.

Polar opposites are so inextricably linked to life and, therefore, to music that it is impossible to imagine these states of existence without them. For example, it is the stretching and compressing of bar elements in a bar which make vibrations possible. The same holds true for the stretching and compressing of string elements in a vibrating string.

All builders of musical instruments share one goal: the experience of resonance. One creates resonance when two vibrating systems -- by means of a mechanical and acoustical coupling -- achieve a level of amplitude and ring-time that neither can produce alone. For example, only when a tuned vibrating bar is coupled through the air with a tuned vibrating column of air (that has the same frequency as the bar), will a strong and long-lasting sound be heard. Also, at the location of bridges, it is the mechanical coupling of strings to soundboards that produces resonance and, therefore, a musical tone, or a strong and long-lasting sound.

Most tuned keyboard percussion instruments in the world consist of two essential elements: bars and resonators, or vibrating bars coupled to either vibrating columns of air, or to vibrating cavities of air. In my opinion, to comprehend such a coupling between bar and resonator requires a three-dimensional experience. While microphones and loudspeakers make it possible to appreciate the musical sounds of keyboard percussion instruments from recordings, they do no and cannot give builders and musicians of acoustic instruments an experience that demonstrates the quality of resonance of a coupled vibrating system.

In all vibrating systems, the coupling between systems is mainly focused on a single frequency. Although a single bar or string produces many modes of vibration, or many mode frequencies, musical resonance primarily consists of producing a strong and long-lasting fundamental mode of vibration. This is especially true of percussion instruments. In stringed instruments, the resonant quality of the higher modes of vibration, or of the entire acoustic spectrum, is extremely important.

Consequently, in the world of percussion instruments and percussionists, the question exists, “Does this tuned keyboard percussion instrument resonate, or do the fundamental frequencies of the bars produce a strong and long-lasting sound?”

Music is a fine art because it requires all aspects of being human to make and appreciate music. The first time I played in an ensemble of keyboard percussion instruments tuned in just intonation, the resonance in the room -- achieved through the coupling of many bars to many resonators -- was not only unmistakable, but unforgettable. Having played in many orchestras and various ensembles throughout my life, I was not ready for this experience. It was a three-dimensional experience. No amount of record and CD listening can ever “reproduce” or make “virtual” such a sonorous environment. The strong and fused sound of large and small bars and resonators all tuned to just intoned frequencies brings about a experience that I -- as practitioner of music as a fine art -- will always consider my life’s blood.

Quite frankly, what this experience has to do with the higher inharmonic mode frequencies of bars, I do not understand. In my newly published book Musical Mathematics: On the Art and Science of Acoustic Instruments, Chapter 6, I discuss the tuning of the irrational frequencies of the higher modes of vibrating bars in full and complete detail. The irrational higher mode frequencies and the rational fundamental frequencies constitute polar opposites; the same holds true for the stiff strings of pianos (see Chapters 4 and 5). If a person can only appreciate and comprehend resonance when it is so drawn out that it requires a damper pedal, is such a person the practitioner of a fine art?
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 31, 2010 10:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Thanks Cris for your reply!

btw those interested can find "Musical Mathematics: On the Art and Science of Acoustic Instruments" here and read some reviews here

It's a must have Very Happy

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Winstontaneous



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PostPosted: Wed Sep 01, 2010 4:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I'm guessing Partch designed & built his instruments the way he did for a reason--they sound fantastic!

Cforster--I live in Berkeley and am looking to connect with people in the area who know about tuning & practical acoustics. I've slowly been working through Mathieu's "Harmonic Experience" and the Helmholtz & Benade classics. Your book looks intriguing and I like your cosmic perspective. May I contact you via PM?
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PostPosted: Fri Sep 03, 2010 6:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Winstontaneous--Yes, of course.
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 15, 2010 6:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

seraph wrote:
xjscott wrote:

Just Intonation + perfectly harmonic timbres often sounds pretty lousy and is not personally recommended.


that's really a matter of taste.
I remember talking to 2 people about it:
one was an old piano tuner/technician used to 12 tET, he described the sound of just intervals as 'dead'.
The other one was a music historian and organ player, he described the sound of just intervals as 'straight as a laser beam'.

Wink

First thought before reading Seraph's response: A matter of taste!

The first time I listened to Terry Riley's Sri Camel I wasn't so sure about it. As I was getting my Just Intonation piece ready for NYE2010-2011 the other week, I kept thinking, where's that sound? Then, when I layed several voices across adjacent (Circle of Fourths) keys, I heard that sound. Of course, part of it depends on inharmonics in the timbres.

Second thought: When our piano tuner was here a few months ago, I wandered downstairs to ask her a couple of questions. I happen to mention Just Intonation, and set loose an avalanche of anti-equal-temperament that lasted about a half an hour. She told me the intonation she uses for tuning the piano, which I have written down somewhere, based on the Golden Triangle (I think). Always interesting to connect with someone's passion.

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2010 1:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Acoustic Interloper wrote:
She told me the intonation she uses for tuning the piano, which I have written down somewhere, based on the Golden Triangle (I think)


I would be curious to know what she meant Wink

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2010 2:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

gentlemen, thank you for this stimulating discussion.


best regards

eike
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2010 8:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

seraph wrote:
Acoustic Interloper wrote:
She told me the intonation she uses for tuning the piano, which I have written down somewhere, based on the Golden Triangle (I think)


I would be curious to know what she meant Wink

Maybe this, I don't know. The only reference I have is her business card with this link on the back. She gave a name for the temperament she uses, and played some demo harmonies that result in different keys, but I can't remember the temperament name.

Tuning aids consisted of one tuning fork and her ears.

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2010 1:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Acoustic Interloper wrote:

Tuning aids consisted of one tuning fork and her ears.

She must be good Exclamation Many tune pianos with electronic tuners Crying or Very sad

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2010 1:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

seraph wrote:
Acoustic Interloper wrote:

Tuning aids consisted of one tuning fork and her ears.

She must be good Exclamation Many tune pianos with electronic tuners Crying or Very sad

Indeed! This was my original reason for taking a break from working upstairs, to see what she was doing. Tuning fork, octaves, 5ths, etc., listened for beats. More to it than that, but that's my summary. At one point she said, "My mission in life is to abolish the equal temperament."

She was our daughter's piano teacher before university, 6+ years ago. She is very animated about tuning!

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2010 2:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I think Partch's intonations suit his music and philosophy, as does Terry Riley's in Shri Camel. When it comes to the arguments of western renaissance intonations, i tend to lose interest, because one's no better than the other, they're just different, and usually stem from differences in interpretation of pythagorean or religious mysticism rather than correctness..what's correct anyway?
In years of working with musical instruments, whether electronic or stringed, I noticed that on different compositions that some intervals sounded "wrong", and tuned them by ear rather than tuner. And when transposed, re-tuned them again by ear. I always felt that there was some mystery hidden in all this- until I started researching the subject.
I admire Carlos' experiments in just intonation, but these are tailored to her compositions ......talk about backhanded compliments!! (about HP).
Personally I'd rather listen to Harry Partch than Carlos anyway. Wink
(I really recommend Stuart Isaacof's "Temprament" as a fascinating insight into the history of western scales and tunings).
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2010 4:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

Acoustic Interloper wrote:
At one point she said, "My mission in life is to abolish the equal temperament."

beer

It's not a matter of abolish anything but to make people aware there are zillions of other available tuning systems, not just one Exclamation

I would suggest reading How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care) by Ross W. Duffin.
It's a pleasant introduction to the world of tuning systems.

Wendy Carlos' best works are not in Just Intonation. Her masterpiece remains Beauty In The Beast Exclamation

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 16, 2010 6:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

"Personally I'd rather listen to Harry Partch than Carlos anyway. "

W. Carlos is a good composer and I do enjoy her Beauty in the Beast. But her work never quite seems to reach the profound, while Partch is hardly ever anywhere else.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 20, 2010 12:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I am going to comment here for a few reasons, 1 to say thanks for this discussion very interesting and enjoyed the small video I have watched a longer documentary like this one some time, and 2&3... So I can stop back in on this discussion and also follow some of the links to books etc thanks
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 25, 2011 3:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote  Mark this post and the followings unread

I know hardly anything about tuning or tonality, but have heard of Partch for most of my life and listened to his music in only the past two years. No idea why I waited so long but I think I first heard him in some documentaries on the web, including the one shown above.

IMO Carlos is being just a bit disingenuous here. The guy invented his own kind of folk-gamelan music and instruments for his own expressive reasons - not to impress Carlos or anyone else.
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