Various Artists

The Harmonic Series

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The designer of this CD put the crucial information, "Musical Works in Just Intonation," in almost unreadable small reversed print, requiring distributors to slap a big sticker on it explaining what's going on. Just intonation is the derivation of intervals from simple rations of frequencies, such as 3:2 for a perfect fifth. There are several ways of getting basic scales using this system, but all of them, to quote composer Pauline Oliveros, result in "colorful intervallic relationships that produce a variety of beat frequencies." Sometimes those beat frequencies are so fast that an interval seems to shimmer. Terry Riley once said that Western music is fast because it's not in tune, and indeed all the pieces here, basically, are hypnotically slow, luxuriating in the beats and other odd effects produced in the ear of the listener accustomed to equal temperament. The focus of the compositions, in other words, is the tuning system itself. Your mileage here may vary according to your basic enthusiasm for such a project, and there is no intrinsic reason this tuning should be associated with any particular texture. But the sheer unfamiliarity of hearing the intervals of just intonation "stretched out" as these pieces do makes for an intriguing experience. The most effective pieces pair unusual instrumental timbres with the just-intonation tuning. Sample the Comprovisation for Justly Tuned Ukelin No. 1 (track 6) by the project's compiler, Duane Pitre; a ukelin is a sort of Hawaiian psaltery, played with a bow. The best-known composer here is Oliveros, whose The Beauty of Sorrow is excerpted; her just-intonation accordion adds the unique expressive dimension of artificial breath to the musical palette used. Recommended for anyone interested in tuning-system experiments.

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