Just Intoned Scales for guitar

Last summer I spent a bit of time reading up on Just Intonation and microtones after having  developed an interest  in the smaller fragments of tones via an accidental discovery of the work of Harry Partch and through our work in Kalbakken, were it became apparent when looking at old Norwegianfolk tunes and transcritptions that alot of the intervals in the scales involved 1/4 and 3/4 shifts between steps as opposed to the 1/2 and whole steps you’d normally see in a western 12 tone equally tempered scale.

Harry Partch

I started reading into it further looking at Partch’s excellet text ‘A Genesis of Music’ in which he outlines his own musical journeyand arrival at his system of splitting the octave into 43 intervals. While Partch’s book is great on context and he gives detailed explainations of his systems, instruments and tunings it didnt leave me too much clearer on how to actually apply any of the ideas in a concrete manner to my own instrument, the guitar.

Edgard Varese

At the same time I had been doing some reading and listening around Edgard Varese who I knew had a very wide open conception of tone and music and had influenced everyone from free jazz players to modernist composers. While his writings and ideas are pretty excitng, I read a great biography of him (cant recall who its by now, will update when i do) the recorded versions of his music I came across didnt really go where I expected them to…

Pauline Oliveros

Through reading Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening’ book I came to some concrete discussion and mention of ‘Just Intonation’ something I’d heard of  and explored a little around but fairly loosely. Just Intonation is a system of bulding relations between music intervals that was generally in use before the arrival of the 12 tone tempered scale. It is baseda round the exact divisions of the orginal frequency of a note; so for an A at 440 Hz exactly half 22o Hz is an octave exactly a forth is 110 Hz. This system produces as exact tones, where it comes a little unstuck and how tempered tuning came to prominence is that due to needing to divide frequencies down exactly to produce a scale on a keyboard or fretted instrument, the instrument would need to be completely retuned to play in different keys. The 12 tone tempered scale (what the piano is now tuned to and the frets of the guitar represent) equalled out all of the interval gaps so an instrument could be played in any scale without needing to be retuned; what it sacrificed was the quality of tone and pure relationship between frequencies. Basically creating a hegemonic paradigm shift in our perceptions of musical relationship and what sounds ‘in’ or ‘out’ of tune that continues to this day.

So I began exploring the ideas in this through the ‘Just Intonation Primer’ of David Doty and found that it opened up and made clearer a whole bunch of ideas Partch had outlined. From this I could start to explore relationships on guitar in relation to Just Intonation, mainly through using string bends around 3rds and 10/11 frets to produce frequencies that were more consonant.

Still I was scratching my head abit at how to come up with a system of how to really translate this workably onto the guitar as string bends werent really doing the trick. I recalled that Partch’s first instrument he worked with was guitar so went back to my original source to see what he used.

Harry Partch guitar

and of course he used a slide! A metal bar weighted with lead in fact. Slide being one of the absolute classic guitar techniques, it was almost too obvious! and pretty funny that I hadn’t actually thought to check what he was up to in the first place.

Great I thought; I had the idea of the slide as the tool to realise my ideas  but what remained was how to actually translate microtonal ratios to the guitar? Where would I place the slide? Here I came unstuck again as the mathematics and method Partch outlines I really struggled to relate to in real terms. Check his tonality diamond below:

Harry Partch's Tonality Diamond

I just couldn’t make head or tail of it! Luckily a few things dovetailed to reveal a method to me. Firstly as part of my on going study I had been reading up on the physics of music. Within this field there’s no way you can really avoid Pythagoras and his monochord…

monochord

A monochord is a single stringed instrument. Pythagoras developed his scales and theory of music by simply moving a third bridge along the length of the string splitting the single string into different ratios to produce different notes. So the halfway point is an octave: a 1/2 and 1/2 split. A 1/3 and 2/3 split produces a fifth which relates to Partch’s 3/2. A  ratio of 1/4 and 3/4 split produces a fourth relating to Partchs 4/3 ratio for a fourth. Suddenly I realised the most simple way to realise all these ratios reached back to my practise as an apprentice luthier in Greece; you just measure the length of the string as Pythagoras did and apply Just Intonated ratios!

At the same time I stumbled across Yuri Landman who is a Dutch instrument maker who has some really useful info on Partch’s diamond and ratios on his site; he basically flips them on their heads to make them easier to understand.

So armed and excited with all my new information and possibilities I set about figuring out how to play a Just Intoned scale on a regular guitar using a slide as the fretting tool. I used ratios given in Dotys book. Below is the maths and also  what I hope is a simple diagram giving exact positionings on the neck of the instrument:

Maths and diagram for Just Intoned scale for guitarI then went on to decode a couple of the other alternate scales Doty gives in his Just Intonation Primer for guitar. Ptolemy's Malakon scale
Archytas Enharmonic scale

These all work good with the slide and a bit of careful practise and listening. Its interesting to note that in all the scales the octave, fifth and fourth are all pretty constant, while the other intervals will vary wildly.

Ill make models of and post more of these scales when i have some spare time to be working on it. Some of the microtonal ideas I have started working into recordings that should appear next year.

x

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Notes on Culture, Hegemony and Music (part one)

Notes on Culture, Hegemony and Music.

With my recent studying in adult education Im seeing more and more the importance of culture being something we create with each other rather than something that’s beamed down on us to be consumed and eaten up.

Being active in the creation of our own cultural (1.) activity solidifies the possibility that we can be active participants in the shaping and forming our world rather than passive observers deterministically sitting back and scratching arses waiting for the next master piece to fall out the sky.

This is generally the conception of culture that has hegemony (2.) at the current time: culture is something created for us, to be passively consumed by us, our only active role within the whole process is that we are given an illusion of choice over what it is we can consume and in what way; prime time TV talent show phone ins being an obvious example here.

Im interested here in the way my own experiences of grassroots musical communities can act as a counter hegemonic device in this respect. The whole concept of the punk rock DIY spirit; anyone can play, pick up an instrument, be in a band, put on a gig is all about people being empowered to create their own culture. Over the past forty years this idea originally promoted by groups like Crass, has proliferated and a wide variety of styles sounds and networks now operate locally and globally working with the tools of DIY. How these networks will continue to evolve and sound over time is an exciting possibility. How much these networks can really help to renegotiate cultural hegemonies or whether they solidify into a subculture dominated by capitalism remains to be seen….(3.)

What ive found fascinating operating within parts of these networks as a musician over the past ten years is how elements of this culture manifest as opaque post post everything hipsterism; an understanding of the surface level of grassroots organisation and why its totally cool, but seemingly no idea of the structural level, the ‘what does it mean?” and “why do we do it?” questions which bubble away insistently in the background in my brain at least. This remains problematic as the danger of being accidentally swallowed by the postmodern beast is always only step away; this process of recuperation; capital chewing up and making palatable that which poses a challenge to it is one of its most successful features. It should be held in mind that pretty much anything except extreme acts of violence against the state can be recuperated. (4.)

The question of improvising within all this is also an important one for the musician. If were looking at a equal and libeartional format for playing, we’d find the majority of song based and composed music’s generally cede to the authority of a single figure, the single most convincing way ive come across to side step this and create a system of equality is to literally do what George Lewis says is going on with free jazz where “everyone can do whatever they like while still remaining part of a collective group moving in the same direction”. (5.) This format for improvising is probably most commonly noted with free jazz and European free improv playing but is present within a wide variety of music’s made at a grassroots DIY level; in terms of noise, drone, rock, electronics, free rock sounds… This approach is something that many musicians ive come across are openly passionate about; that their music retains this freedom of form and structure, again this has ramifications bearing onto ways we make and organise cultural production in on a wider level as it questions the very idea of ownership and marketability through their being no possibility of endless repetition of the same tune only possibilities for exploration.
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1. This activity could be of any form, when im saying culture im talking about whatever it is that humans do socially, creatively, collective so in saying culture we could include many things; conversation, play, music, film, self building houses, growing plants and so on the list is endless. Usually here though I am talking specifically about the cultural activity of creating music.
2. Hegemony is the idea developed by Gramsci classically defined as “a social condition in which all aspects of a social reality are dominated by or supportive of a single social class” This idea is further developed to present hegemony as a fluid concept constantly being renegotiated and in flux. It has to be constantly refixed and reaffirmed to support its continuation.
see
Antonio Gramsci “Selections from the prison notebooks”
Peter Mayo’s “Gramsci, Freire and Adult Education”
3. Hakim Bey’s “Temporary Autonomous Zone” essay is an interesting response to this situation. He argues that a temporary space is the only real possibility now for autonomous cultural actions. The whole free party rave scene is heavily indebted to his ideas, though they didn’t listen to his advice on the oppressive nature of 4/4 beats….
4. For more on this and everything that’s terrifying about late capitalism see:
Guy Debord “Society of the Spectacle”
5. George Lewis “A Power Stronger Than Itself” great book on the history of the AACM in Chicago but he’s covers pretty much everything itself possible to cover.

Spiral Compositions

spiralcompos1

spiralcompos2

spiralcompos3

Started work on a few drawings after having not really done any drawing work for quite a few months. This began just trying to start out with one of the simplest shapes and one of the first recorded marks by mankind: theres spirals all over prehistoric stuff. Also it tied in with some of the ideas relating to microtonality or true tonality or Just Intonation; whichever you want to call it: that  the circle of 5ths actually being a spiral due to tiny differences in frequency as you add up.

Also wandered about the possiblities of using spirals in graphic scores: a great shape to describe shape, mass and weight as well as giving an impression of length, could be combined with boxes and shapes as potential time indicators too.

Currently Im also figuring out some actual practical applications of whole tone ratios for the guitar. After a summer reading up on the ideas of Harry Partch and Just Intonation and being slightly bemused but very excited about the theoritical possiblities I finally realised a bit of simple maths, a ruler and a glass slide was all I needed to actual make it practically relevant with the guitar.

Im going to put a longer post explaining all this in a lot more detail once I feel like ive totally got to grips with it!

x

Manchester Ship Canal

Image063

Picture taken heading from Trafford Bridge towards the Lowry along the promenade on my way to rehearsal last night with Ad Hoc dance. There’s a lot of incredible open views in that part of town; the expanse of water pushes the horizon way further out. Im not surewhat it’s like in the day time but theres a real desolate end of the world feel at night.These long quaysides totally devoid of people, only the scale gives a hint to the original purpose and labours of the place.

With the music im writing with Ad Hoc ive been trying to isolate fragments from improvising along with the dancers as they put the piece together and then to use this as a more solid base for improvising out of. Refining and refining. Guitar is tuned to D/A/D/Fsharp/A/D Some notes below:

  • Paintbrush (point 5) under 9th fret playing on either side with left and right hands. So right hand pulls out rhythmic pulses and some rhythm from guitar body. Left pulls on strings behind brush on guitar neck, can also fret some notes here to produce really clipped chimes.
  • Guitar flat in lap brush end 12th fret; percussion on front and sides played with hands and soft mallet; totally open rhythms; timing in response to dancers; they all have individual moves at this point; really open and improvised.
  • Sparse slide guitar around the words “aching, arching, anchoring” and their connotations. Added words form dancers own personal writing.
  • Piece in Em7 and pulling to D for a duet. Really flows in a welcome energetic way; as with flamenco. This is interspersed with slowly, gentle, mournful passages of making sadness, waking up and remembering the flow from before.
  • Interaction of rhythm and movement; not so much finding pulses but watching to find peoples place and individual timing. There’s something with the brain and juxaposition so you start seeing patterns and making sense of whatevers happening?

Performance is on 9th November at the Lowry Studio theatre.

Kalbakken Tour Diary

design by Kev Craig
design by Kev Craig

3 & 4 & 5/8/09 Skipton

Nick & Kirsty hard at work
Nick & Kirsty hard at work

We’re holed up at Nick’s folks house on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors running through old material and working on a new arrangement from scratch to be recorded next weekend with Jack in London.

Radiant sunshine keeps giving us the impression that the label may have accidentally sent us ot the south of France…

6/8/09 Cambridge

Nick is sustained by constant intake of coffee and dates...
Nick being the sole driver requires a constant imput of coffee and dates...

I’m reading bits from Oliver Sacks ‘Musicophilia’ and navigating on the journey which is all on the A1 from Skipton, a road I never really knew about previously. There is some trepidation as our past touring partner and general navigator Dan Bridgwood Hill is tied up with work and not present so we are relying on a satnav and an A to Z, rather than his stoic and zenlike presence.

First serious discussions of educational theory and practise erupts. Paulo Freire leads to all kind if places…This kind of thing, as well as debates about the exact meaning of the word “esoteric” and what it may point towards, are usually our main talking points on the road. Rest of the time the conversation is usually completely infantile and debased with a shared vocabulary of 150 words and body sounds.

Paulo Freire author of 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed'
Paulo Freire author of 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed'

The gig is in a bookshop come café bar ran by real Italians who tell Kirsty her voice is “BELLA“ in no indistinct terms. People wear flat caps and tweeds jackets unironically in Cambridge and climb on bicycles and ride off into the night. Even though I have visited something like 19 countries in my life this is probably the strangest place ive been to. Mainly because I had no idea a place in the archipelago I am from could be so civilised. Im flabbergasted and delighted. We play with rad musicians too, C. Joynes rocks out and onwards from Takoma and Molepaws delves into old school record player and tape loop ambience.

After the gig Xav feeds us really good bread, a selection of cheese and red wine. Then he starts putting on late 60s Californian psych records. Totally amazing.

7/8/09 Brighton

photo by Lianne Hall
photo by Lianne Hall

Gig is a on a newly established community garden on Lewes Road, we play in front of a tiger painted on a wall and have a small fire wafting smoke across us and a charming appreciative audience mustered by Bela and Lianne H.

Look carefully in the picture and you can see that Nick’s mind has melted and is pouring forth as a source of light…

After the gig we go to rave in a farmhouse next to the A23. It totally blows our brains and none of us are quite stable for the rest of the tour.

I wake up in the passenger seat of the car with vehicles flying past below and Kirsty and Bela looking down on me, a can still within reach. Our cohesiveness as a touring unit comes to the fore as one member of the band casually sicks up an apple they’ve just eaten while the remaining two try to understand what the map means.

After we drive to a lovely beach in Rottingdean over the South Downs and get I get sunburnt and deranged even though I tie my Skull Disco t-shirt round my head.

8/8/09 London

drawn by Zeke S. Clough
drawn by Zeke S. Clough

Nick and Annabel are super happy exchange reading lists on Jewish culture and swap ideas relating to the possibility of conversion (was possible back in the day, bit trickier now unless you want to go for all the religious side also) sometime before Spoono relayed the wonderful possibilities of Debussy living in yr left hand and Takoma in yr right. Discover via Karl (the third housemate who’s laid out a set of harsh and dark acoustic numbers that night too) that there is a book about the AACM, im more excited than I have been for a long time and head up to Charing Cross Road to sniff it out.

Zeke turns up and makes the great sketches you can see of the group live in action and carries out his on going anthropological and psychotheraputic survey using only the question “If you were a superhero, what would your super power be?”

drawn by Zeke S. Clough
drawn by Zeke S. Clough

People actually dance to our “dance” number the tune Bansull and we rejoice. Realise my lung capacity needs to improve greatly if im going to play my Jaw Harp every single night. This inability later has dire consequences in Manchester, relating to the possibility of hyperventilation and how this affects the delivery of oxygen to the brain. The ability of the brain and body to function on less oxygen than that which is actually necessary is seriously depleted. As Milford Graves maintains:

“music produces sound which is a manifestation of variable changes in atmospheric pressure…In this respect music is a motivator for the transport of the essential factors of the life force- oxygen.”

Milford Graves
Milford Graves

9/8/09 London

drawn by Zeke S. Clough
drawn by Zeke S. Clough

Record new tune with Jack later in the afternoon. Its still without a name but im sure it’ll come to us. The tune is roughly named as being from the Wolf Valley but the melody doesn’t seem to have a specfic title attached. It should appear on a 7” with Spoono on the other side in the near future to be released by audioMER over in Belgian.

Later we go and eat curry goat and rice and pea from Peaches restaurant in SE5. Absolutely recommended.

Earlier in the morning I ate a filthy meaty roll followed by a huge baklava and a potato latkah in a pitta.

10/8/09 Llanfairfechan

welsh castle
welsh castle
N. J. Dobson
N. J. Dobson
D. M. Birchall
D. M. Birchall
K. J. Birchall
K. J. Birchall

Ten minutes into Wales and we’ve already found an abandoned castle on top a mountain built by Welsh princes’ with difficult names and even more complicated historical threads. Sheets of mist keep threatening us to be followed by bursts of brilliant sunshine. As Edwin sagely informs us “Wales is pretty black metal init”.

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Gig is in a wood next to a beach. We can see the sun setting over Anglesey as we play and there’s a huge mountain covered in old quarry workings, tumble down buildings and cranking rusting machinerys to our right which we walk up the next day with Edwin and get a healthy dose of sunshine, though when I look in the mirror I start to suspect that I may have lost the “youthful” elasticity of my skin although everything else seems pretty radiant; the sea is an unexpected blue and you can’t see any sign of human habitation. Ed tells us he once saw a dolphin in the sea down there.

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Before the gig we take rest at Edwin’s mum, Evelyn’s house with cups of tea and good quality talk. People keep dropping in from every direction seeming excited about the gig later. Evelyn cooks us really tasty home grown veg roasts and spuds for tea. We head down to meet Ed and others at the crossroads and then the beach and so to the forest as its called. Sweet guys play Leonard Cohen songs before we play. There is miles of incredible beach and coast line everywhere you look and in the other direction green mountains and undulating hills. We have to force ourselves to leave; it’s really all quite extraordinary.

11/8/09 Leicester
There’s a guy who’s wandered into the gig who on discovering we’re playing Norwegian songs starts on,

“Han Gabrack? Han Gabararack? You must know him?! Saxophone player! He’s Norwegian, Yann Gubluckarack!”

full flight
full flight

We shut our eyes and launch into what we affectionately call “ the horse song” which is really a mediation on a dark medieval tale about the black death and the eternal suffering and struggles of mammals whether conscious of themselves or not. Check Erik Satie’s “A Mammal’s Notebook”.

vibrant
vibrant

Kirsty sways and leads from the front like the “lusty, vibrant and violent” ( you dont believe this, check the Metro write up later…) front woman she has grown to be through a healthy combination of learning to be a primary school teacher and touring consistently in front of baying Spanish punk rockers holding only a violin and a voice to destroy and enlighten at 3 metres.

Victoria, Dave and Jim play a cracking set of newly improvised space jazz also. Jim kindly videoed throughout the evening see more here.

live in Hub...
live in Hub...

(all pictures of Leicester gig by Nicholas Birchall)

12/8/09 Sheffield
The mothership is a huge orange and pink cloud gently sitting squashed on hilltops off the A616. We’re driving towards it at a regular and energy efficient 60 miles per hour and im pretty much convinced were about to be picked out of our rented speeding silver rocket and carried off.

The mothership on it's way to collect us...
The mothership on it's way to collect us..

Of course were not but it later turns out that Rashied Ali has in fact gone on to some other place or just stopped plain dead and passed away on this very day. Striking me with a terrifying but elating synchronicity as the majority of our obsessional tour listening so far has been to the cosmic post classic quartet recordings of John Coltrane, on which Rashied Ali is the drummer. We’ve spent many happy moments the past few days picking out his delicate cymbal patterns and finese of movement round the drum kit. Even starting to associate the contents of Nick’s forever clanking and sounding small percussion bag with him everytime there is a jingle my the formidable sonic arsenal of cheese slicer, knitting needle, letter opener, pewter bowl, brass bowl, cooper bowl, butter knife, pine cone and many more rang out. Still now chewing over Rashied’s delicate cymbals patterns, treble cutting through the background rumble of car travelling.

Rashied Ali
Rashied Ali

As in Spain; were my hopeless pleading for Don Cherry’s Sound of Mu for a good 600 miles was eventually reciprocated by the others just outside Malaga, near the town, we later find out from the promoter Carlos, where he lived the last part of his life.

Don Cherry
Don Cherry

13/8/09 Manchester

This is what the Metro said before the gig,

Indeed...
Indeed...

and so Billy Hell had this to say about the actual Manchester gig,

“Kalbakken are a trio who play mostly old Norwegian folk songs on acoustic guitar, violin and inventive light percussion. They have one song about a dead crow and one about a dead horse. Dave Birchall the guitarist also whipped out a jaws harp for a song that I asked him to dedicate to Rolf Harris as he’d already dedicated songs to Dan (DBH), Walt Whitman and John Cage. Kalbakken don’t really remind me of anyone else, but I am no aficionado of Scandinavian tradition.”

Afterwards I had a funny turn and was mentally and physically sick all over the place. Went home feeling reborn and sleep.

14/8/09 Glasgow

scots rain
scots rain

We listen to the Papa M singles compilation on the way up. It’s quite extraordinary, moving from post slint vibes to laptop noodling to one tune with a huge coda of a single riff going for 15 minutes , when combined with driving sheets of rain; nearly does it for us all.

Chas Lalli is our man here. He cooks us the best lentil daal in Glasgow, totally packs out the gig at the 13th Note, ruins minds with the incredible VOM and generally treats us with total love and respect before sending us off with a packed lunch. Quality.

15/8/09 Newcastle
We’re next to the river Tyne, silt and curious lock workings the Sage and loads of bridges in the distance. Im reading Philip Roth finally. Gig is under a half train arch and on the door of the gents some comedian has written “goys” this leading to another full blown interband discussion about Judaism and its interaction with all the Abrahamic faiths and leading on to as ever to educational theory and its interaction with actual practise in the real world.

Drive back through totally amazing countryside Northumbria rocks. On our way we’d stopped at a bit of mile castle ruin on Hadrian’s Wall and felt sorry for the Romans thinking how they sat there freezing in the dripping rain. We quickly remember the Romans were in fact the first serious Imperialist Empire builders and feel less sorry for them.

Quartet for the end of time
Quartet for the end of time

Coming down through the Snake Pass the second time this tour Nick busts out Messiaen’s ‘Quartet for the End of Time’. It’s a moving piece of music and I’d recommend a listen.

16/8/09 Nottingham
Roll gently through the Peak District, stopping off in Tideswell and have an amazing ice cream. We head to check out the bells being rung in the c and affect is quite extraordinary. The overtone patterns of struck metal is totally unpredictable and there is a crazy thick fog of constant drone of tones below and above the notes actually being struck by the bells. Pretty cosmic. Going to investigate bell ringing some more.

photo by Nicholas Birchall
photo by Nicholas Birchall

Gig is at a folk club run by Nick of Folkwit Records. There’s laid back friendly vibes upstairs in this local boozer in Sherwood, approprately named the ‘Robin Hood’. Good listening audience and it suits our slowly winding down mood. Send Kirsty off to Leicester and we head north and after carrying out some vital wrong moves with the car.

Many thanks to all who worked hard to help put on gigs and came out to support us! We had a lovely old time.

xx

"Well it all fitted in last night..."
"Well it all fitted in last night..."

xx