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Various Artists: The Harmonic Series: A Compilation Of Musical Works In Just Intonation

Various Artists: The Harmonic Series: A Compilation Of Musical Works In Just Intonation

Release Date:2009

By Michael Byrne | Posted 11/11/2009

For a minute, step outside the avant-garde fray and think about how music is built, what it's made of. With g-d knows how many marginally creative white twentysomethings collecting delays and effects like G.I. Joe figures and fashioning marginally interesting drone bands on musical cheap shots, it's easy to forget that there are things such as notes and chords and musicians that thoughtfully compose them into beautiful and interesting music.

The musical idea of just intonation is a particular way of breaking down the musical scale into mathematics, not deconstructing but subdividing it further into microtonalities, an infinite number of them. As it turns out, the musical scale we're all used to, chromatic, is a bit contrived, imperfect. (Quoth Terry Riley: "Western music is fast because it's not in tune.") So composing and performing music in just intonation--rare enough in Western music that searching "just intonation" on Google already brings up this CD pretty quick--yields harmonies that are more "perfect" and a unique, infinitely customizable palate.

The Harmonic Series and curator Duane Pitre, via Important Records, delivers eight meaty-if-brief (from six minutes to about 11 minutes) compositions by eight different composers. Not being a music student, the technicalities of what happens on Just Intonation is a bit too much skipping the forest for the trees. Notice instead how clean the sounds are--violins, accordions, piano, cello, guitar--how gracefully everything bends, curves, and mingles in harmonies not forced together mechanically, but that find each other like rivulets of water down a gentle slope. Take special note of Pauline Oliveros' "The Beauty of Sorrow" with its accordion rendered into almost an ethereal bell sound; Ellen Fullman and Theresa Wong's eerie experiment with 50-foot-long bowed wires, "Blue Tunnel Fields"; or Michael Harrison's blissful piano piece "Tone Cloud II," an overt homage to La Monte Young's The Well Tuned Piano (a just intonation landmark). Meditative and stirringly gorgeous, a lesson in musical tuning couldn't get much finer.

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