THE THIRTEEN TONE ENSEMBLE
By BUZZ KIMBALL
Instruments of Buzz Kimball’s 13-tone ensemble:
tubalon, rod instrument, bar instrument
About 1981 I visited Ivor Darreg in Los Angeles and was introduced to the 13 tone scale through a wonderful sounding metallophone he had made using scrap aluminum bars which were shaped like a wedge. After I returned to New Hampshire I discovered 70-odd feet of 3/4″ copper water conduit and it was adequate to make a tubulon in 13 tone equal scale.
The 13 scale has been considered to be as far different from the everyday 12-tone-equal scale as can be. Indeed, it is somewhat inharmonic, not having any ordinary chords or equivalent progressions as would be found in 12. But, what the scale lacks in harmonicity is more than compensated in its melodic aspects.
Many years later the tube instrument was followed by a bar instrument. And several years later after much procrastination, discouragement, and otherwise unwanted emotions I welded up the rod instrument to produce a full-fledged ensemble dedicated to the 13 tone scale.
The somewhat austere tonal qualities of metal seem to be perfect for the resources of the 13 tone scale. The notes have a certain definement but do not overpower each other. A synthesizer tuned to 13 equal and played with an organ tone is horrid; it makes the dentist’s drill seem tame in comparison.
The tube, bar and rod instruments seem to be the most minimal and easy to construct metallic implements. An instrument based on tetrahedrons had suggested itself to me, but an experiment proved it nearly impossible to produce. Perhaps my metal working skills will improve someday.
© 1993 Buzz Kimball
This article originally appeared in Experimental Musical Instruments, December 1993