Jon Rose / Veryan Weston

Temperament

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The paradox: Centuries of exposure to the diktat of equal temperament have left listeners' ears withered. Although different tuning systems were common before J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, today they sound like cutting-edge avant-garde music. On the two-CD set Temperament, Jon Rose and Veryan Weston explore alternate tunings, some historical, others stemming from their imagination. They all rely on the same observation, dating back to Pythagoras: "12 perfect fifths should in theory add up to 8 perfect octaves, but they don't," as Rose explains in the liner notes. There is a discrepancy of 24 cents (hundredths of a semitone), the basis of all feuds between supporters of just intonation and equal temperament. The two musicians use all kinds of tunings, often more than one at the same time (Weston even has the two registers of a harpsichord tuned differently in one piece). Rose plays mostly on his tenor violin, but also takes out some of his mutated inventions (like the 16-string long-neck violin). Weston shifts between grand piano, harpsichord, harmonium, and organ. No matter how accustomed to free improvisation and atonality you may be, these recordings sound strange, alien -- even more so since they feature a piano/violin duet, the most beaten-up instrumentation in the history of Western music. If the two musicians had been third-rate players, it would make it unlistenable. But Rose and Weston are among the finest improvisers on this planet. Their level of listening, interaction, and exploration of these unusual tunings make Temperament a fascinating, albeit disorienting listen.

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