Perambulating the Bounds

Friday, April 07, 2006

Heard a concert tonight at UC Santa Cruz featuring microtonal works for piano by two Canadian composers, Bruce Mather and Jacques Desjardins. But you ask, how can you have microtones on a piano? One pair of works was written for three pianos tuned to A440, a third of a half step below that, and a third below that, so that between the three pianos you got 36 tones. More amazing was a DVD they showed of Mather playing a piano that had been tuned so that the distance between middle C and the top of the keyboard was one octave, the same below – giving you 96 tones in each octave. Extremely cool things happen then. The key seems to bend out of tune or into another tune. Kind of a Doppler effect. When he plays a run, it initially sounds like repetitions of the same note, or like the pitch is just sagging. Interior lines seem to crawl around. Especially with the 36 tones over three pianos, the overtones with the sustain pedal seem more metallic, like the decay on a cymbal.

The two-octave piano was built by Sauter, modeled on ideas of the Mexican composer Julian Carillo.

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