Aug 132017

A brief compilation of definitions, perspectives and practices on the topic of xenharmonic music…

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ivor Darreg

He coined the term “xenharmonic”, designed and built many original microtonal musical instruments, and wrote voluminous amounts of material about various musical tunings. Perhaps his most important contribution to music theory was his idea that different tunings exhibit different “moods”.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Xenharmonic Music

Xenharmonic music is that which uses a tuning system which neither conforms to nor closely approximates the common 12-tone equal temperament. The term xenharmonic was coined by Ivor Darreg, from xenia (Greek ξενία), “hospitable,” and xenos (Greek ξένος) “foreign.” He stated it as being “intended to include just intonation and such temperaments as the 5-,7-, and 11-tone, along with the higher-numbered really-microtonal systems as far as one wishes to go.”

John Chalmers, author of “Divisions of the Tetrachord”, writes: “The converse of this definition is that music which can be performed in 12-tone equal temperament without significant loss of its identity is not truly microtonal.” Thus xenharmonic music may be distinguished from the more common twelve-tone equal temperament, as well as some use of just intonation and equal temperaments, by the use of unfamiliar intervals, harmonies, and timbres.

Elaine Walker | NewMusicBox

What Is Xenharmonic Music?

“Xenharmonic” is the generic term that we use to refer to scales that have more, or less, notes per octave than our standard twelve-tone tuning. The pitches in xenharmonic scales are either too close together or too far apart to fit any familiar melody we’ve ever known. However, it is possible to write new music with new harmonic relationships that humankind has never heard before.

Elaine Walker is an electronic musician, microtonal composer, and builds new types of music keyboards. She is also the author of a physics/philosophy book, Matter Over Mind: Cosmos, Chaos, and Curiosity.

Xenharmonic Music Introduction and Tutorial | Brendan Byrnes

Introduction to xenharmonic/microtonal music concepts, tuning, and the harmonic series. Analysis of “Kaleidoscopic”. Music and tutorial by Brendan Byrnes.

Xenharmonic Introduction | Stephen Weigel

Lecture: Xenharmonic introduction and Q/A (University of NC at Charlotte, CNMF 2017, 6/27/2017)

Xen-Arts | Jacky Ligon | On Xenharmonic Music

Practically speaking, and contextual to musical performance, composition and the physics of sound, all audible interval relationships and resulting acoustic phenomenon displayed by various intonation systems (just-intonation, temperaments, xenharmonic and microtonal tunings, etc.) are relationships and interactions between the tuning of musical instruments and their timbres.

In Western music, perspectives, perceptions and preconceptions about intonation (musical instrument tuning) are often influenced and informed by an inner intonational cognitive template that is engrained from a lifetime of practice and listening to music almost exclusively rendered in the ubiquitous twelve-tone-equal-temperament, and performed on instruments that often feature harmonic-series or quasi-harmonic-series timbres.

Typically in music that sounds highly “xenharmonic” there may be a huge displacement between up to three different parameters:

  1. Our culturally conditioned and preconceived notions, and inner intonation template, that informs twelve-tone-equal-temperament musicians, composers and listeners about what sounds ‘correct’ and ‘in tune’ according to the standard practice of Western music.
  2. The intervals found in a nearly infinite continuum of alternative musical instrument intonation systems are often far from what might sound familiar to musicians, composers and listeners who have only been exposed to the sounds of music created with twelve-tone-equal-temperament on musical instruments with harmonic and quasi-harmonic-series timbres.
  3. The modal vibrations (timbres) of musical instruments, which may be designed to radically deviate from the harmonic and quasi-harmonic-series, but may be deliberately made to sound concordant with various kinds of non-ED2-12 tunings (Sethares, Chowning), or otherwise, playing and hearing the often exotic intervals of xenharmonic microtunings rendered with harmonic and quasi-harmonic-series timbres can exhibit completely new sounding acoustic beat-patterns in musical textures.

It is often this displacement between our culturally engrained preconceptions about musical instrument tuning, the new intervals found in alternative intonation systems and their timbre relationships, that can characterize the experience of listening to and making xenharmonic music.

All of these components interact and reveal to us a wonder-world of new sound possibility for harmony and melody that inspires our imaginations, invites creative action, as well as learning and listening, in what is one of the most exciting musical fields of our age.

Clearly though, the concepts and new sounds embodied in xenharmonic music are an effort to expand the musical vocabulary of Western musical intonation practice and are therefore intrinsically related to it, where in myriad non-Western cultures, the use of non-ED2-12 tuning systems, and even non-harmonic timbres, are often a matter of ancient cultural tradition, practice and ritual music (Indian raga, Arabic maqam, Indonesian gamelan, Mongolian music, etc.) that have been in place for time out of memory.

Among the things that may distinguish xenharmonic music practice as a frontier of exploration unto itself, is this direct relationship to contemporary Western musical practice, a keen awareness and deliberate use of often high-precision mathematical and theoretical intonation systems, as well as new (often computer generated) methods for timbre creation.

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