Lousy With Microtones

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I came late to amplified music. As a kid, I spent a statistically improbable amount of time in chamber music halls and orchestra halls listening to all manner of acoustic phenomena, from the near silence of a solo clarinet pianissimo to the earth-shaking presence of a 32-foot organ pipe in a cathedral. In school, I spent hours and hours sorting through the concept of sending sound through space, equating subtle changes in bow angle with their consequences fifty to one hundred feet away from my head. Much to my surprise, my adult life has seen as much action in amplified music as acoustic. I used to be completely hopeless in a soundcheck.

The classical music concept of a dress rehearsal and the pop concept of a soundcheck were actually too close to be parsed correctly: the one is a final rehearsal of all of the pieces on the program, while the other is a mostly technical exercise, wherein the folks behind the soundboard make sure every instrument is in perfect balance with everything else. I like soundchecks now! They are an opportunity to sort out super left brain concepts while the right brain can take a kind of giddy vacay.

Okay, but I bring all this up to kind of address this crazy concept of random frequencies that physical spaces favor. So basically, any given space will want to resonate sympathetically with a specific note or set of notes. When you are amplifying that note, things can get out-of-hand and feedback can result. It’s actually kind of crazy. What’s even weirder is that sometimes that note isn’t even really in tune with the instruments on stage, it’s some manner of perfect, harmonic series-tuned thing which just sort of pops into the hall and adds a kind of alien flair to what may have been pretty conservative harmony.

After hearing a bunch of crazy soundcheck sonorities, I find myself STARVED for a big heap of microtones. Yep, it’s that time again! Time to explore the placed between notes, the tunings that have existed on earth before we even existed, the non-Western-oriented, and the just plain weird. This week, my show will be lousy with microtones!