Microtonal music may refer to all music which contains intervals smaller than the conventional contemporary Western semitone. The term implies music containing very small intervals but can include any tuning that differs from the western 12 tone equal temperament. By this definition, the following systems are microtonal: a diatonic scale in any meantone tuning; the traditional Carnatic system of 22 sruti; much Indonesian gamelan music; and Thai, Burmese, and African music which use 7 tones in each (approximate) octave. Hence, the term "microtonal" is used to describe music using intervals not found in 12-tone equal temperament, so these musics, as well as musics using just intonation, meantone temperament, or other alternative tunings may be considered microtonal.
Other terminology has been used (and is still used today) by theorists and composers. Micro-intervals is commonly used to speak about intervals smaller than the semitone, and sometimes macro-intervals for non-multiples of the semitone greater than it. Ivan Wyschnegradsky (and many of those inspired by him) used the term ultra-chromatic for micro-intervals and infra-chromatic for macro-intervals (Wyschnegradsky 1972, 84-87). Ivor Darreg proposed the term xenharmonic (from the Greek, foreign, and Greek , hospitable) for any scale other than 12-tone equal tempered scale. (See xenharmonic music).

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
Compilation American Festival of Microtonal Music 3.50 stars CD

Joshua Pierce, piano and prepared piano

Alan Hovhaness: O Lord, Bless Thy Mountains Op 276 (3 movements) (with Dorothy Jonas, piano);

Robert Bonotto: Sibelius and the Cuckoo of Jarvenpaa (with David Gold, viola; Dave Eggar, cello; Tom Goldstein, bells);

Ivan Wyschnegradsky: Meditation sur deux themes (with Johnny Reinhard, bassoon);

Roland Moser: Kabinett mit Vierteltoenen (Zwitterten; Melodia per una voce sola; Schnell (after a perpetual motion) (with Dorothy Jonas, piano);

John Cage: Daughters of the Lonesome Isle for prepared piano;

Stepan Konicek: Praeludium, Blues und Toccata (Praeludium; Blues; Toccata) (with Dorothy Jonas, piano);

Maurice Ohana: Syrtes (with Jodi Beder, cello);

Charles Ives: Three Quarter-tone Pieces (Largo, very slowly; Allegro; Chorale) (with Dorothy Jonas, piano)

1999-2003 Lost Signals and Drifting satellites 4.00 stars CD

I incorporated quarter tones, slow glissandi and shifting sul ponticello harmonics to create Lightheaded and Heavyhearted, which shifts in and out of tune, and combines scratchy aggression with sweet melancholy. Originally composed for the Miami String Quartet during a time that I was suffering from vertigo (and often lightheaded, as indicated in the title) the work was conceived to be at once tranquil and raucous, still and rhythmic, dark and humorous. I adapted the piece for Flux, who melded these characteristics with their own aggressive and energetic approach.

Lost Signals and Drifting Satellites was developed with George Kentros, a violinist in Stockholm who commissioned me to write a piece for "violin and something". The composition is scored for violin, accompanied by recordings of satellites, shortwaves and radio transmissions. The static, sputter and concealed melodies of these transmissions are echoed by the violin, which drifts between extended techniques and traditional writing for the instrument. Like a radio that is gradually losing and gaining reception, the music shifts between these two worlds, hovering between notes and noise, and ultimately drifts into faraway static.

Lost Signals and Drifting Satellites and The Harmony of the Body-Machine are from a set of solo compositions that were developed in close collaboration with individual performers. These pieces emphasize techniques developed by the musicians for whom the pieces were written, and incorporate non-traditional sounds and recording techniques.

Mentryville is the name of a ghost town just outside of Valencia, California, where I was living when I wrote this piece during a composerÕs residency at the California Institute of the Arts. The surrounding suburban sprawl had an impact on my work: I spent hours haunting the enormous local hardware stores, picking through a huge variety of metal, wood and rubber construction materials that I purchased to use inside the piano. Sounds are produced by striking bolts placed between the strings of the piano with a rubber mallet, as well as by striking the keys in the traditional manner. Sometimes these two methods are used simultaneously, along with other prepared piano techniques that require coaxing a toolbox full of screws, washers, hooks and rubber insulation between individual piano strings.

Joan Jeanrenaud and I met frequently for over a year to develop this piece for cello and electronics, first at the Djerassi Foundation, then at Mills College where I held the Darius Milhaud Chair in Composition. I recorded and catalogued many of the extended techniques that she has mastered: her unique control of stratospheric harmonics, almost-unisons and finely tuned noise. JoanÕs performance is accompanied by the altered recordings of her cello, along with the sounds of sweeping bandsaws, crashing metal presses, percussive pile drivers and other creaking, ticking and scraping machines. The piece was inspired in part by my 1999 Siemens residency in the factories of Nuremberg, Germany, where I recorded, observed and researched industrial sound. The title, The Harmony of the Body-Machine comes from a chapter in a 1929 science textbook by H.G. Wells. This piece is dedicated to Joan and is very much inspired by her wealth of knowledge, experience and longtime dedication to new music and new techniques.

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