Another thing I’ve been up to lately is playing a few shows around town. I pulled off my best set at the Funhouse, where I did a techno-oriented set with my g2 keyboard and effects. It’s funny to be playing a live set with my main instrument as a keyboard, and not even knowing how to play the keys! Despite that,I think it worked out great. The g2 is the best live performance tool I’ve ever used, except for a computer, and a whole lot more reliable. It takes a lot of patching work to get it there, though–out of the box it is more of a normal synthesizer. But with the g2′s sequencer modules, you can sequence and perform your entire set with nothing but the keyboard–but I think effects help.
Setup for my Funhouse liveset
I didn’t record the show, but it sounded a lot like what I had recorded for my rehearsal sessions. I recorded this track using what you see up there, all played in realtime. All the main melodies are done with one of my just intonation patches.
I’ve been up to a lot in the past six months, and even some electronic music stuff. And I have been hoarding all my goodies and not posting about them. So here’s me trying to catch up with all you fine folks who check out my blog.
I’ve been interested an working with overtone scales lately. What I call “overtone scales” is a subset of Just intonation where the only notes used in the scale are harmonics directly taken from the overtone series, and only allowed to be transposed by octaves, to preserve their pitch identity. Normally, just intonation creates frequency ratios by using any integer value for the numerator and denominator of a fraction. When the denominator of the fractions in your scale are all powers of two (i.e, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc), then you are simply using octave transpositions of the different partials in the overtone series. In this way, you are composing directly with the overtone series. This is something that Sethares describes in his “tuning, timbre, spectrum, scale” book that I reviewed earlier on this blog.
To illustrate: the different partials in the overtone series are described by this series of ratios:
Making direct octave transpositions of some of these overtones gives us many of the most basic notes used in western music: the 5th partial of the overtone series, 5/1, when transposed down two octaves to 5/4, becomes the major third. 9/1, the 9th partial, transposed down 3 octaves, to 9/8, gives a major second. In fact, the partials 4/1, 5/1, 6/1, 7/1 in the overtone series create a dominant seventh chord. So when I heard a story about Pierre Boulez and his lackeys walking out of concerts as soon as they heard a major chord, it made me think–they should have walked out of any concert as soon as the first note was played. Because there is a major chord contained in the overtones of almost any note on any instrument.
I’m getting off track here. A good example of an overtone scale put to good use is this Etude by Ben Johnston.
This is the scale used in the piece. You can see that in this tuning, Johnston followed my description of an overtone scale, exactly. All the denominators are powers of two.
You can see that he is using some interesting materials: in addition to more “normal” notes (like the 9/8 major second, 3/2 perfect fifth, 15/8 major seventh, and 5/4 major third, and the 27/16 pythagorean major sixth), he also includes a lot of intervals that are more unique because they originate further up in the overtone series: 17/16, 19/16, 11/8, 13/8. In any case, Johnston uses this scale to great effect in the etude.
In my earlier post, “goodbye, studio” I posted a track where I was using overtone scales. My method was different than Johnston’s–I didn’t use a set group of pitches like him. Instead, I made a system where I could play certain groups of overtones, and added variety to the music by transposing the fundamental from time to time.
If you look further up the overtone series, you can see perfectly usable, if somewhat unusual scales right there.
For instance, starting with the “root” of your scale as 8/1 you get:
9/1: major second
10/1: major third
11/1: quartertone sharp fourth
12/1: perfect fifth
13/1: quartertone sharp minor sixth
14/1: harmonic minor seventh
15/1: major seventh
There you have it: an 8 note scale where the largest step is a whole tone! Right in the overtone series. This octave, and the areas above it and below it, are where I find the most melodically useful sequences. This is a strange sounding scale; the intervals get smaller as you proceed up the scale. This is is just the nature of the overtone series, and in that sense, it is more simple and natural than any other scales, which are usually derived from the overtone series in a much more complicated way.
Lately i’ve been practicing guitar like a madman, and also trying to get a guitar instruction and performance business going. I’ve made a new site where I’ll be blogging about all things classical guitar, and where you can find information if you’re interested in taking lessons or hiring me for a gig. Check it out!
Hooking up some pedals today, I noticed a nice sound coming from the processing of the line noise from the send bus on my mixer (or wherever it was coming from). I got lost in the sound for a while.
I <3 pedals
Something about the idea of making sounds by processing the latent electronic chaos present in the cables inspired me. I had the gain cranked on the distortion pedals to boost the noise. Then I thought.. what would happen if I put some actual sounds through these things now.
I took a break from guitar practicing for a little while, and had fun just messing around with the studio for a week or two. Anyway, I’m going to get back to practicing again. So I thought i’d write one more track before I got back to business.
More microtonal music made with my harmonic ratio arpeggiator.
I’m playing an upcoming show (the next noise rodeo) where I’ll be using my Nord G2 keyboard, so I was going over some of my old patches, finding the best ones to use. I found a patch called “partials pad” that creates a drone note and cycles through different overtones over the drone to create a sort of harmonic shimmer. I was inspired by the sound, and realized I could use the very same patch to sequence rhythmic Just Intonation sequences. The result was this track.
the g2 editor
An interesting technical note about the G2 modular–the oscillators can be tuned by different methods: frequency, note name, or harmonic partial. I don’t know why I didn’t notice this before, but the partials can also be tuned to the “under” partials, which are referred to by some as the undertone series. The undertone series is essentially an inversion of the overtone series, and a source of many harmonies not present in the partials of the overtone series, like a perfect fourth, or many “minor” notes. Strangely enough, the undertone series is an acoustical fact, and you can actually detect undertone frequencies–frequencies *under* the fundamental– in many musical tones when you analyze them. Anyhow, by retuning the oscillators to these undertone frequencies, the partials above them assumed a much more interesting harmonic relationship to the new fundamental tone. And that is how I got the melodies in this track .
I’ve been reading the book, Harmonic Experience by W.A. Mathieu. He starts the book by explaining how to build the notes in a musical scale by deriving them from the overtone series. The difference between Mathieu’s writing, and what I have read in other books about the topic, is that he encourages the reader to learn musical relationships by singing over a drone, and directly listening to and singing along with the partials in the overtone series.
I developed a Reaktor patch to help with ear training with the overtone series. Mathieu suggests using a guitar, plucking harmonics from the strings, and retuning the strings to different notes. But not everyone has a guitar and knows how to get those harmonics. Also the sound of a guitar decays quite fast, and isn’t very loud, which makes it hard to feel the resonance of the harmonies. Another problem is that retuning the strings leads to pitch instability. Using this Reaktor patch makes it easy.
Here’s quick tutorial on how to use this patch. First, it helps to be familiar with the harmonic series. The wikipedia article is a great resource, particularly this illustration. Choose the overtone you want to hear, and play it along with a drone. I suggest a very low tone as the drone note, because the most musically useful partials are mostly between 2 and 3 octaves above the fundamental note.
To ear train on a major third, for instance, as shown in the above image, choose the fifth partial. First, play it loudly, and sing along to get a feeling for the pitch. Then lower the volume of the partial until it almost fuses with the fundamental tone, and sing along. Eventually, you can turn it off altogether. If you listen closely, you should be able to hear that exact same partial already contained in the original note.
I’ve included some snapshots in the ensemble of other important intervals, like a minor seventh, major seventh, perfect fifth, and some others. To hear how these notes would sound lower, in the same octave, or even lower, you can transpose the partials with the transposition setting. I suggest using them in the ROOT setting first, to feel the resonance with the overtone series.
To louden the partial that you are listening to in the drone sound, change the filter frequency the same frequency as displayed for the partial you have selected on the right. This way you can emphasize the frequency band with the same partial from the overtones of the sawtooth oscillator that is used for the drone.
One of the most wonderful things about music is the fact that ALL of music, all the materials, can be found in a single note played by a single instrument. And if you learn to hear these sounds inside the note, a whole new world of beauty and amazing interrelationships emerge.
Just a post with some fun images. I’m going to work on some electronics (more on this later), so I got out the scope that my friend Ryan generously gave to me. Ran the modular through it. How could something NOT sound awesome with waveforms like that. Looks like a shark’s face about to rip your head off.
I figured out how to sync the new modular to my midi studio. It has a clock input–so I just send a tempo-synced trigger to the modular from my g2. The line level signal isn’t hot enough, so I boosted it with a simple radioshack amplifier. Since I can move the modular through it’s sequence step by step, I get some nice polyrhtyhmic grooves going.
A while ago, I wrote about a Harmonic Ratio Arpeggiator system that I had implemented in the G2 Modular and Reaktor. I messed around with Numerology sequencing this arpeggiator to get some interesting textures and harmonies.
In this track I mostly just worked directly with the overtone series as suggested in the Tuning, Timbre, Spectrum, Scale book by Sethares I just reviewed. In the upper reaches of the overtone series there are quite a few melodic sounding intervals, even if they sound a little strange.