↬ Twenty-one – 08: Ratios, Shō Chords, Web Poetry and the World

Hi, I’m Rudiger Meyer and this is my monthly newsletter covering what I’ve been up to and what’s been catching my attention.

I’d hoped to have another short video in my Partch series ready, but due to some unexpected audio issues, and not having had the time to redo it, here’s a transcript and some pictures:

One thing is having all the ratios of the Partch 43-tone scale nicely presented with this keyboard layout but how does one get a handle on the ratios between all those ratios?

In his book Genesis of a Music Partch himself points out that it’s easy to calculate the interval between two ratios by simply inverting the smaller of the two and using that to multiply the other. So in the case of 4/3 and 3/2 we would have 3 × 3 = 9 and 4 × 2 = 8, which gives us the interval of 9/8, which is the major whole tone that we have between a perfectly tuned fourth and fifth.

With some of the more complex ratios, e.g. 81/80:32/31, things can get a little more complicated and so I’ve set up a spreadsheet to do the work for me, also including a representation of the interval in terms of cents using the following formula: 1200*log(n/d)/log(2) where n/d is your ratio.

And in order to makes things a little more fun I’ve set up a little device using the Audulus 4 beta that uses the same principles to display both the ratio and the cents of any two notes played on the keyboard in real time.

* * *

I’ve found that playing around with the purely intoned sounds of the Partch scale has brought home an awareness of the difference tones that arise. Since the combinations are stable (there’s no change over time) it seems that one’s attention is freed up to go elsewhere.

(For a strong contrast to those steady tones see the heavy vibrato of Hainbach’s fascinating visit to The Forgotten Synthesizers Of The Marche Region Of Italy.)

I have a memory of the shō player Mayumi Miyata explaining that the traditional (Gagaku) chords for the instrument created a specific baseline in terms of the difference tones that they created. I found a photocopied diagram in my study notes from that workshop in Bremen some 25 years ago, but unfortunately it doesn’t, as I’d remembered, indicate what those difference tones are. I’ll have to try and figure them out myself.

Many of diagrams from the workshop are fortunately now beautifully presented, along with a wealth of other material, on website of the composer, shō performer, and sound artist Chatori Shimizu. He also has a beautiful description the traditional Gagaku shō chords as creating “a continuous textural soundscape for the melody” rather than a harmonisation.

A little like the Khaen that I mentioned in previous edition of this newsletter, there’s an interesting distribution of the notes between the left and right hand, with the height of the bamboo pipes and the resulting ‘structural beauty’ of the instrument, apparently a balance between practical and aesthetic considerations.

* * *

I’ve been charmed by Soft Corruptor, a digital poem by Everest Pipkin (They/them), whom I first came across via their article on the environmental (and other) consequences of NFTs and the blockchains they’re built on, that I wrote about a few newletters back. Soft Corruptor makes use of the simple <details> HTML element to unfold the nested layers that structure the poem. And while that’s beautifully native to your browser, they’ve also thrown themselves into assembling a physical paper version of it.

This is a summary. And this is the detail of the summary.

One could quickly get into Laurie Anderson territory…

(The <details> and <summary> tags for the above are stripped away in Outlook and probably GMail, but are there when viewed in Apple’s Mail.app, for example.)

That simple method of clicking links to unfold the poem also features in another, much larger piece that they’ve created around (the whole industry around) the creation of custom text to speech voices. Shell Song is well worth the 30–40 minutes that it takes to work your way through it. And as a follow up Everest’s ‘making of’ presentation for the Open Data Institute (founded by Tim Berners-Lee) is available on YouTube.

I’ve long been fascinated by the relation between music and speech, having constructed a number of pieces based on speech melodies over the course of the years. Those speech musics have in some cases also been based on the text to speech syntheisis available in the (Apple) computers that I’ve been using rather than recordings of human speech. I’ve also played around with the sound possibilities offered by those TTS voices as a thing directly in their own right.

Everest’s Shell Song investigation takes it all to another level though and tackles considerations concerning the ethics around these technologies that’ve seen some remarkable developments during the past few years.

In their ODI presentation Everest also mention projects that collect online material ‘at the edges’ of platforms, not optimised for their alogorithms: default-filename-tv for example, finds and plays YouTube videos that were uploaded from a camera without edits to the filename.

And along those lines, finding delight in those ‘pleasant lacunae’, Robin Sloan has a few things to say about checkpoints.

* * *

The Harmonic Series, Vol. 2 is a second collection of works in just intonation, this time featuring Kali Malone, Duane Pitre, Catherine Lamb, Tashi Wada, Byron Westbrook, and Caterina Barbieri. There’s a review of it on The Quietus.

The goal of this compilation [Vol.1] and its accompanying liner notes is to educate listeners about the origins and use of Just Intonation, as well as to portray the unique beauty of this tonal “color palette,” which is heard by relatively few in the Western world and explored by even fewer.

My favourite track from Vol. 2 is Duane Pitre’s Three for Rhodes. The audio is not directly available for listening on their Bandcamp, but is available on the streaming services.

* * *

August 6 marked the 30th anniversary of the web. Here’s a timeline of its history.

The web as a space for ourselves to create in (independently of the big company platforms), has long had a place in my heart, as does the approach of Everest’s old-fashioned hand-coded HTML website, for example, or the web poetry of their If Jupiter had turned into a star.

From that world of the web Ethan Marcotte (who invented the whole responsive design thing) posted a little article on Stress Systems. He’s thinking about (large-scale) design systems, but also the environment:

Franklin’s suggesting that the work begins not by “fixing the system.” Rather, she suggests it’s about shifting the priority a little: to removing whatever stress you can… Or as Lívia put it: …big complex systems rely on small self-sufficient systems within so fixing the small stuff can affect the big stuff.
You don’t start by fixing the system. You start by relieving the stress.

And thinking of the web, after paying little visit to Jeremy Keith’s website, here’s a quote from an article that he linked to:

I should emphasize that rejecting longtermism does not mean that one must reject long-term thinking. You ought to care equally about people no matter when they exist, whether today, next year, or in a couple billion years henceforth. If we shouldn’t discriminate against people based on their spatial distance from us, we shouldn’t discriminate against them based on their temporal distance, either. Many of the problems we face today, such as climate change, will have devastating consequences for future generations hundreds or thousands of years in the future. That should matter.

Awareness, changing.

And, having just read that rain has, for the first time ever, been recorded falling on the peak of the Greenland ice cap, here’s a video of Laurie Anderson talking about how We Have to Imagine Different Ways to Describe the Ends of Things:

I am a student of Buddhism so I asked my teacher, said okay how does karma work then? If there’s no one to pass, let’s say everything goes way off the rails like it might do and humankind is wiped off the earth. What happens with the karma? Who then takes on the karma of people before them? Where does that energy go? And he said well, that’s why the Buddha talked about other universes… I was like, oh I see we’re not limited to geographical place. We don’t have to hang around earth. You go off into other the universes. I mean what is energy and how does it work? So we have to, I think as humans, begin to think of other ways to understand time, and understand our place in time, and that perhaps we are part of this cycle…

All the best

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Hi, I’m <a rel="me" class="p-name u-url" href="https://rudigermeyer.com">Rudiger Meyer</a>, a composer interested in the play between music, sound, and&nbsp;media.