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↬ Ratios, Shō Chords, Web Poetry, Karma.
Life, the universe, and a few things – all in my latest newsletter:
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Nick Cave’s Berlin loft recreated for the Stranger Than Kindness exhibition at the Black Diamond in Copenhagen.

Stranger than Kindness, the wonderful Nick Cave exhibition at the the Black Diamond has been extended until the 7 August. Highly recommended. youtu.be/0VbupGhmvFg

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↬ Paths, Portraits, Interiors. My next newsletter goes out this evening: Mansoor Hosseini, Holger Czukay, David Sylvian. “Blue” Gene Tyranny, Robert Ashley. Pauline Oliveros.
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Here’s a podcast project that I’ve had the pleasure of working on for a while. Based on texts by @ShadiBazeghi, read by the poet herself, with music by Mansoor Hosseini. Big-picture reflections on the state of our planet rooted in everyday intimacy: poetiskpodcast.dk/produktioner/flowmatic/blood-moon

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Amidst the greenwashing and lack of action on the part of governments and corporations it’s easy to fall into despair about our climate crisis. Here’s a film (and site, podcast, blog, organisation) that restores hope by showing how we can restore our soil: kisstheground.com

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↬ My next newsletter goes out in an hour:
Microtonality with Harry Partch, Clarence Barlow, Khyam Allami, Wendy Carlos.
Khaen music and Degrees of Freedom Found with “Blue” Gene Tyranny.
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Now that I have all these ratios at my fingertips, having set up my Partch overlay for the Sensel Morph, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the humble pentatonic scale and the various ways in which it might be tuned.

We can set up the scale by stacking up a series of fifths: 4/3 2/1 3/2 9/8 27/16. Or if I mirror that: 1/1 32/27 4/3 3/2 16/9.

So what we have here is Ben Johnston’s Pythagorean tuning of the minor pentatonic, and you can see that it starts with quite a complex ratio: 32/27 for the minor third. And that got me thinking of Clarence Barlow’s notion of harmonicity and wondering what the scale might sound like when tuned with the simplest ratios possible: 1/1 6/5 4/3 3/2 9/5.

It’s slightly different.

Let me add an arpeggiator and we can compare.

So the Pythagorean version comes quite close to an equally tempered tuning. But the ‘pure’ version has a slightly different character.

The main difference between the two scales is that the Pythagorean version has same size major second throughout: the so-called major whole tone, which corresponds to the ratio of 9/8, whereas the ‘pure’ version starts off with a minor whole tone, corresponding to the ratio of 10/9, followed by a major whole-tone, followed by a pure minor third 6/5, and then a minor whole-tone at the top.

I could also mirror that: 2/1 5/3 3/2 4/3 10/9.
Or in a different transposition: 1/1 10/9 5/4 3/2 5/3 – the ‘major pentatonic´.
I could also mirror that: 2/1 9/5 8/5 4/3 6/5.
And so on…

If I wanted to create a pentatonic scale with 5 equally spaced steps, the closest that I can get with this set of ratios is something like this: 1/1 8/7 21/16 32/21 7/8 2/1.

Since the middle two notes are quite close to the purely tuned fourth and fifth I could also choose to embrace them. Or alternatively choose to obfuscate those pure intervals by adding the adjacent notes: 21/16:4/3 32/21:3/2 – taking a little inspiration from Javanese Gamelan music in which some of the instruments are tuned in pairs quite close to one another, but not exactly, so that beating arises.

A pentatonic scale with five equally spaced steps would have the property of being perfectly balanced – i.e. without any particular point of gravity. If one represented the scale as weights distributed around a suspended wheel, the wheel wouldn’t turn in any particular direction, no matter which position we placed it in. One might say that this corresponds to a spatial mode of hearing, rather than proportional one, as is the case with ratios.

In practice much of the music based around (somewhat) equal distance scales, Gamelan music using the slendro tuning, Mbira music or Chopi Timbila music for example, the individual steps change slightly depending on the player or region. They’re never exactly equal. This probably also has to do with the relation between tuning and timbre, which might differ from note to note given the hand-made nature of the instruments. And that’s something we might take as a point of inspiration when experimenting with our own (equal distance) scales.

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My first espresso sitting outside at Darcy’s Coffee since last September. Sunshine, city life. Looking at the wonderful trees that align Åboulevard, and imagining what it would be like if it was car free once again.
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↬ The next issue of my newsletter will be sent out this evening, 21:12. Microtonality, tuning systems, a META podcast, my lockdown photo project, NFT follow-up (ugh!), The Little Prince, music.
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