Each track and corresponding page on this website is based on imaginary facets or locations of Micropangaea, a fictional continent that will form on earth in the distant future. Every piece was composed in its own unique microtonal (or xenharmonic) scale, so the text provides some tuning information as well as a few thoughts I had while grappling with the newness of these often exotic harmonic spaces. The analysis provided is not intended to be complete nor academically rigorous; I provide it as a form of "liner notes" for anyone curious. I assume a basic familiarity with Just Intonation in some of the tuning discussion, but I aim not to alienate those not yet familiar with microtonality and xenharmony.
Different tunings allow access to new harmonic and melodic colors that are not available in the standard western 12-note system and create new aesthetic and musical possibilities. Some of this territory is relatively new and is currently being explored by a growing number of composers and theorists. This album makes use of Just Intonation scales, various equal divisions of the octave (EDO's), and Non-Octave scales. I am only beginning to understand some of the complex underpinnings of this approach to music, so my process thus far has been both intellectual and intuitional. There are many great resources on these subjects available, and I encourage anyone interested to explore for themselves.
Tuning: 1:1, 9:8, 6:5, 9:7, 10:7, 3:2, 11:7, 12:7, 9:5, 13:7
This piece uses an 10-note Just Intonation scale. The impetus for the design of the tuning was to experiment with the super-major third (9:7), supermajor 6th (12:7), and superaugmented fourth (10:7). I also wanted to avoid the classic JI intervals like 5:4, 7:4, 11:8, etc. These "super" intervals were somewhat unfamiliar to me, but I was intrigued by their brightness and strange consonance. The supermajor third and supermajor 6th are both more than 30 cents sharper than the major thirds and sixths found in 12 tone-equal temperament, but still seem to function as the same interval (or interval category).
The aforementioned super-augmented fourth is the inversion of a septimal tritone, which is 582.5 cents. The tritone is usually heard as an extreme dissonance in Western music, but the just/septimal tritone is actually quite consonant.
A few of the other intervals were also lesser known to me and I used them because they fit with the septimal flavor of the scale, namely 11:7 and 13:7.
Tuning: 1:1, 16:15, 9:8, 7:6, 5:4, 4:3, 11:8, 3:2, 8:5, 13:8, 7:4, 15:8
This tuning is the first Just Intonation scale that I experimented with. It uses somewhat standard JI intervals combined with a few higher limit overtone notes (7th, 11th, 13th partials). JI scales tend to perform their most obvious function when the composition sticks closely to the fundamental pitch that it is based on. This is the case for most of the piece but I did experiment with some harmonic motion in some sections. This track is probably the most harmonically tame on the album, but the 11:8 and 13:8 were used extensively in a lot of the melodic themes and accentuates the xenharmonic qualities of the scale.
Tuning: 14 EDO and 15 EDO
14 EDO is the dominant scale used in this piece, dividing the octave into 14 equal parts. This scale has 3 different kinds of thirds as opposed to the two available in the standard 12 EDO: a subminor-third, a neutral third, and a super-major 3rd. The fifth is over 15 cents flat from a perfect 3:2, but is still recognizable and has a certain mood that I really like. I struggled to get harmonic progressions that worked in this scale, but once I did I found the melodic possibilities to be vast. It's worth noting that 14 EDO contains two interlocking 7 EDO scales, a macrotonal scale that has a very unique and recognizable sonic footprint that sounds kind of otherworldly to me. The heptatonic/7 EDO system is also purported to be found as a basis for some Thai and African music. Almost everything that I've heard in 14 EDO makes me see red and orange-ish colors and this piece is no exception. By contrast, 15 EDO has a much brighter and more familiar sound to me. It shares the same major third and sixth as 12 EDO and has some good approximations of 7 and 11-limit intervals. I tried to use this actual temperament shift to give the sensation of a color shift within the piece, rather than just a tonal or harmonic shift within the same scale. 15 EDO in this context sounded very blue and green to me, so these sections are made to represent an oasis within the fluorescent desert.
Tuning: 1:1, 33:32, 9:8, 7:6, 5:4, 21:16, 11:8, 3:2, 8:5, 13:8, 7:4, 15:8
The scale was made to compliment a guitar tuning I had been using on the Freenote 12-tone Ultra Plus guitar. This guitar, designed by Jon Catler, has extra microtonal frets in addition to the standard frets of a guitar, providing access to all sorts of beautiful JI intervals. I wanted to see how much harmonic movement I could get with a limited collection of JI intervals in this track and I was able to find enough useable chords to get the sense of an extended chord progression. Even though most of the harmonic content is microtonal, the vocals were sung intuitively and do not use quarter-tones melodically (it stays in the 5-limit). Since the chord progressions shift in an unequal fashion relative to each other, I had to adjust my singing intonation accordingly with each new chord. This is not difficult, choirs do it all the time, but with the higher limit intervals contained in the scale these shifts are more noticeable.
17-Limit Just Intonation
This piece uses the Freenote 12-tone Ultra Plus guitar throughout, and much of it with an Ebow. I wanted to explore the intonational combinations available on the guitar by writing a piece that required recording one line at a time. This allowed me to take advantage of some of the more complex harmonies available on this guitar that aren't possible to get with one hand. I wanted to incorporate some 13- limit and neutral intervals, as well take advantage of the guitars harmonic series pitches (7th, 11th, and 13th) in a drone context. To have accurate 17-limit intervals, I used a few re-tuned synths and included the 15th and 17th harmonic as notes in the scale. These notes often function more as timbral elements as JI intervals sometimes do, blending in and perceived as actual overtones of the chords. These higher limit harmonies are mostly featured in the climax of the piece.
Tuning: Harmonic@Dentity-12 (designed by X.J. Scott)
The scale used in this piece is a "non-octave" scale in that it doesn't repeat at the octave and octave equivalency is not built into the scale. It also has inconsistent step sizes when treated chromatically. These characteristics created a fascinating array of colors that I haven't yet found in any strict JI scales, MOS scales, or EDOs. It is made up of a combination of just intervals (laid out on the white keys of a standard keyboard) and chromatic tempered tones in between them (on the black keys). The just intervals form a nine note pattern repeating at the 12:7 (the supermajor sixth), so when the added chromatic tones are mapped onto the regular 7 white/5 black keyboard, the scale ends up never repeating itself the same way. I was happy to approach the scale and the piece without any consideration of the scale's structure- I just used what sounded good to me. I was only aware of when I using just intervals and when I was using tempered intervals. There were surprisingly few moments where I was unable to move elements of the piece (melodies, progressions, etc.) in a way that I wanted, and the non-octave quality of the scale pushed me into unfamiliar and seemingly unpredictable territory that I really enjoyed.
Tuning: 16/21st root of 12/7 (designed by X.J. Scott)
This piece was written using a tuning also designed by X.J. Scott.
The generator, or interval stacked on top of itself to create the scale, is 16 steps of the 21st root of 12:7 (super-major sixth). It is almost an MOS scale in 27 EDO but falls short of qualifying because it has three step sizes instead of two. It's intonation is also very, very slightly different. The step sizes in the scale come out to 44.435, 133.3, and 177.74 cents. In comparison, 27 EDOs step sizes are 44.444 cents, so the notes in this scale are basically indistinguishable in intonation and sound. The scale pattern has a nice layout with 11 notes and is not octave repeating (it repeats at 12:7).
Tuning: 17 TET (~17EDO)
This piece was written for 6 standard fretted guitars tuned to notes of 17 EDO. Since perfect 4ths and 5ths are only a few cents off the ones found in 12 EDO, the guitars could be played on frets 5, 7,12, and 17 and always remain very close to the sound and tuning of 17EDO if not perfectly accurate. Most of the guitar parts are interlocking and hocketed melodies, with most of the harmonic accompaniment and bass handled by an electronic backing track. In order to minimize confusion while composing the piece, I put colored stickers representing each guitar pair (guitar parts were mostly doubled) on a keyboard to keep track of which notes were playable by which guitar. Writing for medium to large guitar based ensembles has always been enjoyable for me, and this piece was composed to start exploring the possibilities of using microtonal tuning systems with standard instruments. I plan on refining this approach and expanding the roles of the instruments, both standard and custom, in future pieces. The score and performance notes are available at brendanbyrnes.com
Performed, Produced, Engineered, and Mixed by Brendan Byrnes
Michael Day: Drums and/or Percussion on tracks 3,5,7,8 Co-Engineer on tracks 3 & 7
Brian Saia: Engineer on track 8 Co-Engineer on tracks 3 & 4
Max Kutner, Maxwell Gualtieri, Alex Wand, Steven Van Betten, Gregory Uhlmann : live guitars on Track 8
Mike Horick: Drums on track 4
Kerstin Hovland: Visuals
Tracks 4 & 5 feature Freenote 12-tone Ultra Plus electric guitar designed by Jon Catler Scales used on tracks 6 & 7 by X.J. Scott Mastered by Don Grossinger
Track 8 score, tuning, and performance notes available at brendanbyrnes.com
Thanks to Brian Saia, Michael Day, Wolfgang von Schweinitz, and Ulrich Krieger for their observant ears and valued feedback