This is variation #7 of People. It is based on the harmonies of measures 15 & 16, which I play on scales derived from the 5:4 utonality, the 4:3 otonality, and the 9:8 utonality. From those 31-limit 16 note scales I derive E minor from the 5:4 utonality, A major from 4:3 otonality, and D minor and Bb major from the 9:8 utonality. There are lots of slides and trills that explore other notes in the scales.
This is a story about a piece I created in 2001 while listening to the music of Colon Nancarrow. The story is fake, but the music is “fake but accurate”.
I recently found a large music box at an antique store in the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle. Fremont is a district that welcomes visitors with the sign, “Welcome to Fremont, Center of the Universe. Throw your watch away”. The only two industries are beer and antique stores. The music box is about the size of an old washing machine, made of wood. The only markings on the box are a small label on the bottom: “F. Nicole 014751”. It has a crank on the right side, which connects to a spring-loaded drive for the cylinder. Inside is a long row of about 100 metal teeth, from about 1/4 inch at the top to almost 8 inches long at the bottom. The big ones make the whole case vibrate when they play. Inside is a large metal cylinder, with tiny pins that pluck the metal teeth. It appears to be removable, but there weren’t any more cylinders at the store. It runs for about 6 1/2 minutes on a full crank, and has a delightful gradual deceleration as the spring runs down. I’m not sure where to start the song, as it doesn’t appear to have a beginning or an end mark. For this recording I start and end at around the same place. The tuning of the keys is what attracted me to it in the first place. I have no way of knowing if it has drifted from its original tuning, but it is a charming sound, nonetheless. It appears to shift from a utonality-type sad minor key into a harsh super-major, and sounds a bit like some of the changes in a Philip Glass composition. (I know because I have been listening to a lot of Glass lately.) There is a cryptic notation on the drum: “#38 Cuernavaca 1975 CN”. This must be the title of the piece I guess, but it doesn’t sound very Mexican to me. Perhaps there are some more cylinders somewhere that I could try out. Sounds kind of like circus calliope music, for a Javanese circus troupe. Boogie-woogie on Saturn. If anyone has any idea about the music box, let me know.
The source code for the music box is below. How can you have source code for a physical instrument? The actual samples are taken from my finger piano, an amplified kalimba-like instrument I made in 1978. The samples were cleaned up with CoolEdit and programmed using Csound to simulate a music box. Then convolved with Teatro Alcorcon to simulate reverb. Tricky.
Not the instrument, but what it might be like, if it existed.
Here is another variation #6 of People. The only change is that I ensure that the chord progression is played in order at least three times. That is, the string of G minor, C major, F major, Bb major is selected in that order three times. All the other changes follow the drunkard walk Markov chain. If it selects to play a measure in C major then the next measure is G minor or F major, but never Bb major. Backwards or forwards only, with loop around.
Here is variation #6 of People. It’s based on the harmonies of measures 13 & 14. Out of the 1:1 Otonality I derive a just G minor and C major. Out of the 16:9 Otonality, I pull a just F major and Bb major.
This set of chords share many of the same notes, except for D which moves from 182 to 204 cents like variation 5, and F, which moves from 471 to 198. G and C are stable at 702 and 0 respectively.
Here is a proposal for variation #5 of People. It’s based on the harmonies of measures 11 & 12. Out of the 5:4 Utonality I derive a just E minor and D minor. Out of the 4:3 Otonality, I pull a just A major. Inside the 16:9 Otonality, there is a just D major.
Unfortunately the most prominent note is D, but it shifts from 182 to 204 cents depending on the tonality I’m in. The same is true of other notes, like F, which goes from 460 to 498 cents. And Bb from 969 to 983 to 996. G stays at 702 cents, which is nice.
Here is a proposal for variation #4 of People. It’s based on the harmonies of measures 9 & 10. Out of the 4:3 otonality I derive G minor and C major, and out of the 16:9 otonality, there is a nice F major and Bb major.
I’m stepping my way through the theme one or two measures at a time. This is the second variation, which uses the keys of measures 5 & 6, which are derived from the 16:9 otonality, and the 4:3 otonality. There are more features of Prent’s Microtonal Slide Bosendorfer in this one.
This is the fourth try at a tuning that sounds reasonable. I’m using the same two utonal and three otonal 16 note scales as the source for the notes. I start at with the 9:8 utonality, which has a very nice D minor and A minor modes. In measure 6 I shift to the 5:4 utonality to play a sweet G minor and A major, the D minor and F major modes. Each is unique and charming, to my ears.
Rzewski used this theme as the vehicle for 36 variations that explored the range of pianistic techniques that he was so famous for. It’s really a wonderful piece. I don’t plan to transcribe his variations at this point. I may come back to variation 13, my favorite. My intention is to explore the tuning in different ways. I’ve been playing along on my little Midi keyboard in the various tuning, and have found some delightful keys that I plan to explore. And I can transpose the tunings in interesting ways as well.