|Beauty in the Beast — Wendy Carlos|
This is the best album of microtonal compositions and the first one you
should get, no matter your tastes or interests in music.
It is a tour de force of microtonal approaches.
It stands alone among all works in the attention and time invested in
The composer was the first person to record a classical music album
which went Platinum.
Dark, cold, earthy, stones of isolation, hot gusts and flashes, raw metal blown, ancient ceremony.
Wendy opens the album by throwing down the gauntlet with
Incantation, a piece inspired by traditional Tibetan music
based on the interval of the just tritone.
In western music, the tritone of 600 cents is considered to be most
dissonant of all intervals. Ambulance sirens play a tritone interval
because it is considered so distasteful and repugnant to be sure to get
your attention. But strangely, psychoacoustic studies have shown that
listeners worldwide consider the just tritone to be one of their
favorite intervals when compared to other intervals. The reality is that
the western mistuned tritone of 600 cents is hated because it is so
close to the lovely just tritones 7/5 at 582.5 and 10/7 at 617.5 cents,
but misses them, creating disappointment in the listener.
Tibetan music, with its challenge to western sensibilities can
reasonably be considered the most exotic and alien music of all world
cultures. That Wendy starts here is meaningful because the journey is
just beginning. Can there be any musical frontiers left,
or have we visited the very edge of the known world and are now ready to return?
Beauty in the Beast
Disintegration, elevation, creation, resolution of disparate elements fundamentally incombinable.
Rather than return to convention for a break, Wendy takes a right
turn and heads right out of earth’s atmosphere, leaving all that is
known and conventional behind. The second track, the title track,
Beauty in the Beast, is the most innovative and beautiful
composition that has ever been conceived, much less written down. We
have already seen in Incantation the destruction of the concept
of dissonance — the interval considered most dissonant in all the
western world has been shown to work not just as the basis of a
composition, but as the foundation of an entire culture. If the tritone
is not really dissonant, but consonant, where else is there left to go?
The only thing more sacred to western music theory than the
dissonance of the tritone is the ubiquity of the octave. All western
music theory assumes a priori the superiority of the octave interval and
its essential necessity as the fundamental basis of all of music.
Western music theory requires and demands the octave. Without it,
western music theory and its supposed basis on nature, rationality and
science falls flat, then dissolves into nothing as a witch dowsed with water. The
octave is the glue that keeps western music together. Without an octave,
there can be no identity of chords through inversions. Octave
equivalence must exist, must be inviolable in order for what is taught
in conservatories worldwide to make any sense whatsoever. Without
octave, the credentials of academics everywhere would be seen to be
hollow and false, their masks removed to show them empty of any
knowledge of music, however rudimentary. To question the octave is to
question supply and demand, it is to question Darwin, it is to question
Democracy, it is to question motherhood and apple pie. There can be no
question more subversive, no exploration more dangerous to the fabric of
Beauty in the Beast has no octaves. It uses two separate, non
conjoining nonoctave scales, alpha and beta, each which live and breath in mostly
orthogonal planes to the other. The only property they share is that each is an
equal division of a near-fifth interval, but the tuning of the fifths
between alpha and beta can not line up.
I am going to be straight up with you. This music can not exist. If
it does exist it must be unlistenable, it must be dissonant, it must be
pointless and it must make no sense. It must because the alternative is anarchy.
Unfortunately, this music is cohesive. It is beautiful. It is
intricately constructed and deployed. Its existence is not as alien as
supposed. It works. It opens up new possibilities. It is the Gap through
which the pioneers enter into the New World. It destroys permanently the
authority of the king. But not without striving, bitter sacrifice and war. It
is a Declaration of Independence. The founding fathers who sign this
Declaration will be hated. Their houses will be burned down, their
families murdered in their sleep by now foreign soldiers, soldiers
protecting the unquestioning convention of despicable tyranny. If
captured, these revolutionaries will be put to death. Such is the nature
of revolutions in which truth is valued over dogma.
Poem For Bali
They say that with robots, if you make them
too close to a human,
people feel uncomfortable around them. It might look almost like a human
but is not exactly the same, in a way that only another human would
detect and find disconcerting.
I like this piece in a Balinese style very much. But when I played it
for my teacher and friend, the renowned Balinese composer I Made
Lasmawan, it made him feel very uncomfortable. I think that means Wendy
got this one pretty close.
Just Imaginings takes Wendy’s harmonic scale and extends it completely
around the circle so that you can modulate all the way through the circle
of fifths, back to the beginning, and stay in tune at all times. This
technique is a form of extended just intonation and is one of the most
complex pieces of the album. Examples of this technique, well composed,
are extremely rare. You should know what it sounds like to do this. If
you have a background in music theory, you’ll understand why this is
a very accomplished thing to do.
That’s Just It
These are both written in 19 limit just intonation.
Four sections, four african scales.
A Woman’s Song
This is a gorgeous downtempo place evocative of a lone woman gathering
water at a well as the sun rises and dust swirls. I would guess a middle
eastern tuning, but it is actually an indian tuning and a bulgarian
Conclusion / Technique
Wendy is a big name. She knows what she is doing. This is a great album
just for the music alone. But it is also an introduction to more
microtonal techniques than is reasonable to expect from a library of
works, much less a single album. No one should be without this album. If
you hate this album, you need to keep listening. Or possibly you are
insane. No fear. It has happened to many for lack of good music. Just
keep listening and regain your sanity. Wash away the years during which
boring conventional pieces polluted your ears. Put aside cheap
imitations and thin wannabes. See what real gold tastes and smells like.
Wendy has thrown this down for us to examine. In so doing, she is
saying, “Here it is. I have been to the other side. This is where we
are going. Come and see.” And she is right. This is where we are
going. Come and see.
Where to Get It
Wendy Carlos is one of the most renowned and best selling performers
of Western Classical Music. Many of her greatest fans love the best
pieces from the distant past, but find lacking other works done by living
composers. They yearn to return to a romantic, idealized image of old ways
and old times, to leave behind new things and settle down comfortably
with the best music written three centuries ago. The past seems safe
to many because it seems to be predictable and known.
For these fans, this album was a betrayal of all they held dear. It
was a challenge which they did not want to be confronted with. It was a
sin that was unforgivable. Because of this, Beauty in the Beast was
reviled when first released. Almost no one understood anything about the
album. It quickly went out of print and could only be found in bargain
Fortunately, the album has at long last been rereleased and can now
be obtained from a number of sources, including
here at Amazon
which has excerpts from each piece. This newest release comes with
supplementary materials on an enhanced track of explanations and
demonstrations of the tunings used. You may also wish to read
Wendy’s notes here.
After twenty years of shock, horror, repulsion and disregard,
listeners are at last beginning to understand what Wendy has really
said. It is not hatred or spite with which she revealed this music, but
courage and love.
2010 Update: The album has gone out of print again and is no
longer available new from online stores.
|Galunlati — Jacky Ligon|
You are traveling through space, falling feet first, at
the speed of light. Because you are not accelerating there
is no physical sensation of motion. You are traveling
within an infinitely long cylindrical solid made of a
translucent blue-green gel.
Effervescent bubbles in the gel come up at you and ripple
around your body in shimmering eddies. The gel luminesces
and you feel its wetness. Its temperature matches
your body. Falling falling, down you go across the
universe, past clouds of interstellar matter, past stars,
through perfect blackness. The bubbles in the gel somehow
enable you to breath deeply and slowly, rhythmically.
Your body has been impaled on a shaft of light that is
being transmitted through the center of the gelataneous
conduit. Grounding Energy enters your feet and comes up
through your body, activating each of your chakras. You
feel each of them in turn as they resonate and align with
each crest of the wave of energy that continually flows
through you. As a burst breaks through your third eye and
then triggers the crown chakra, you have the sensation of
the white globe above your head bursting open like a white
peony in spring. The energy wave, the impaling shaft of
light, travels on up past infinity and into the eye of
An intoxicating aroma swirls within your nasal cavity,
shimmering and resonating within your senses. You become
aware that your vocal chords are vibrating — you are
groaning in unison with the voices you hear. They chant a
prayer of unity with the cosmos. All is one, we are all
interconnected. You have become attuned and in resonance
with that truth.
Welcome to “Ten Thousand Things”.
Now it is night time but it is bright because a full moon
has appeared on the horizon, slowly ascending. You are
on top of a clearing on a hill in the mountains. The
clearing is surrounded by woods. You are lying down,
facing up at the sky. There is bright light flickering
nearby but you feel no warmth, but no cold either. There
is no discomfort, no fear, all concerns are gone. You are
in a deep state of peace and awareness. Without turning
your head, you know that a wolf to the east observes you
silently from just within the woods.
Now you remember why you are here. Your body is burning
away on top of a funeral pyre. Flesh is being reduced
to ashes. You observe the process intimately. It feels
Slowly, the moon traverses the sky as the fire burns on
throughout the night. It is silent except for the
crackling and occasional boom coming from the incinerating
Morning comes and then a brief afternoon squall finishes
off the embers. A few skull fragments are left but not
much else. Ashes wash away into the ground from the rain.
As the seasons pass, you feel each atom of your body
as it is redistributed throughout the earth. Parts of
your minerals feed grass and wildflowers and you feel in
resonance with each blade. Deer eat the grass and you move
on and travel with each of them, seeing and experiencing
what each of them sees and experiences. Slugs and
grasshoppers eat your blades of grass. Other men eat the
deer and then one day, they burn too. Some particles of
you soak into the water table and move hundreds of miles
underground then up through a spring into a creek then
down the creek into a river then out the river into the
ocean. Your body is now thousands of miles across. You
are completely aware of each molecule and of each atom
within each molecule. Some molecules chemically react
with others in their new environment and became new
substances. You are aware of each one. A thousand years
pass. Then two thousand. During this time, you see and
are part of all and are completely aware.
One day each molecule will be reassembled from diverse
places into a resurrected body and you will move again.
You will then be told of Galunlati — the Celestial Upper
Realm. The Land of the Great Elders, where the animals and
plants lived before the Creation of Man.
Galunlati: Ancient Sounds in A Modern World
by Jacky Ligon (2001)
- Transmigrations of Inner Light
- Quest for Pure Metals
- Clouds of Remembrance
- Ten Thousand Things
Mixing is extremely well done. Transparent with no harmonic distortion.
Uses spatializer type 3D enhancement throughout, but also some
use of a 3D positional audio algorithm.
Orchestration shows superb choices of timbres, combining acoustic drums and live vocals
with organic use of synthesizers, and samples of acoustic instruments as needed to facilitate retuning.
Performance is flawless with the use of highly talented performers.
The percussionist Bill Smith is particularly remarkable and vocalists
Richard Hunt and Ghighua are extremely professional.
Liner notes are included with details on the tunings used.
Who can deny that music hit a brick wall and died two
hundred years ago? It has lain dead in a ditch on the side
of the cow path since that time, though some have confused
the occasional twitching of that corpse with symptoms of
The 21st century is finally showing promise though with
the appearance of tribal artists resurrecting the ancient
traditions and creating new paradigms of metaphysical
unity through multidimensional soundscapes. Jacky Ligon, a
Native American from North Carolina, is one such artist
who has tapped into the wavefront of the energy of his
ancestral spirits, riding that crest as it builds up
approaching the shore of the 21st century, ready to become
a tsunami or wildfire that levels the old cities, erasing
their constrictions and gifting us with an opportunity to
Where to Get It
Not available, sorry. I really mean I am sorry since I want you to hear
this work. It is a sad thing that you can’t get this album right now.
But snatch one up if this album goes back into print.
2011 Update — Several years have gone by and Galunlati is sadly
still out of print, but this year Jacky released a new album called Other Time. It’s a very different style of music
than Galunlati, but is excellent. Jacky has also released a microtonal VSTi synthesizer plugin called Xenharmonic FMTS.
Be sure to check it out if you are on the PC.
|Bad Thing — Willie McBlind|
Blues, as a music of emotion exposed expressively, has always been
microtonal. The subminor third of 7:6, below the western minor third, is
widely known as the “blues third”. Blues also makes use of
the harmonic seventh and other intervals, some just intoned, others not.
Jug bands play intrinsically harmonic scales.
Jon Catler is a microtonal guitarist, luthier, teacher and inventor.
He founded a Blues duo called Willie McBlind. He has multiple albums out
and his record label, FreeNote Music, also publishes CDs from other
active and performing microtonal musicians.
There’s not much that needs to be said about this. Bad Thing is
buxom, blustery Blues and superb songwriting. It also contains some of
the most marvelous microtonal guitar work you’ve heard. The guitar
work in Primo in particular is breathtaking. At the tail end, Catler
energetically rides the harmonic series through distortion that
amplifies the buzz of rational intervals. This ending smoothly
transitions into the introductory Alap of the next track, Blood Moon,
where you'll hear sensual stroking of the harmonic series, yielding an
erotic purring from which arises ecstatic gamakas which then yield into
the walking rhythm of the earthy blues song. The microtonality in some
tracks is subtle, in others it is extremely obvious. You will learn new
methods of working with microtones melodically.
There’s three tracks available for listening at the FreeNote
site. This is one of the albums where most of the other tracks are just
as good or better than the free samples. No duds.
Where to Get It
Buy Bad Thing direct from FreeNote Music.
Bad Thing from Amazon.
|Micropangaea — Brendan Byrnes|
Where to Get It
Micropangaea Animated Liner Notes
And may be purchased here:
Spectropol Records Web Shop
|Transcendissonance — Igliashon Jones|
Igliashon Jones is the Emperor of Xenharmony.
Transdissonance is his latest, an exhilarating work of brilliant genius.
Listen first very carefully.
Then, afterwards read the liner notes carefully.
Where to Get It
The holy scriptures of microtonal truth may be obtained at the split-notes
microtonal net label here:
And may be purchased here:
|Chrysalid Requiem — Toby Twining|
If you have a taste for well-done classical music or acapella vocal
groups, this is the most complex and difficult work that has ever been
sung in history, yet it is also fascinating and beautiful.
It is an example of a composer burrowing through impossibilities through
the eroding force of massive amounts of hard work.
I enjoy a really well done opera. I loved the San Diego Opera
performance of Catan’s Rappaccini’s Daughter. Brilliance. I loved La
Traviata the first time I saw it because of the lighting design. I hated
it the second time because there was a different lighting designer.
Listening to opera on the radio or on records, please count me out.
Dull. I want the gestalt experience. I want the opera that is a
brilliant mockery of the establishment. I want opera that transcends
sound. I groove on Ladysmith Black Mambazo — who doesn’t! Bobby McFerrin
is great. Old time scat is funky. I heard some crazy ancient nasal stuff
in a church once and that technique has almost died out, but it was
awesome. But over all, vocal’s not really my thing so much. It’s ok, but
I’m not going to sit around and listen to a choir sing block chords.
Yawn. How can you even stay focussed. A whole album of vocal pieces in
just intonation? How could that be interesting.
Oh dear. It’s not that. It’s something that’s never been done before.
It’s something that is leading the way into something new, something you
can sink your ears into. Something that challenges the performer and
surprises and delights the listener.
The day will come when it is accepted knowledge that Toby Twining was
one of the greatest classical composers of the 21st century. People will
ask why it took so long to get funding to produce his second album. They
will write essays about how backwards the establishment was that his genius
was not immediately recognized and celebrated. But who knows, maybe this is
a good thing, so it doesn’t go to his head and rest on laurels. I doubt it
though. He’s not that kind of person. He has a passion and drive and is ready
to do more, he is waiting to be unleashed.
Toby writes in extended just intonation. There are hundreds and
thousands of different, discrete notes that are written for each piece.
You may never sing the same note twice! Many people have discussed this
approach, or wanted to do it, or wished they could do it. But no one, no
one could accomplish it because it was just too hard to do on acoustic
instruments. Acoustic, unfretted instruments like the voice, well there
is no point to bother writing that way because it is simply impossible
to get any humans that could sing it.
It is both audacious and unreasonable to write this music. But
it was written. And it was performed. Beautifully. The sort of thing
you can put on and any one can listen to and appreciate. The sort of thing
you can listen to again and again and wonder at its genius.
People ask me about extended, or infinite just intonation on acoustic
instruments. I tell them not to get their hopes up. It’s too hard to do
this. It’s not just hard, it’s actually impossible. Please don’t waste
your time even trying. Spend your life doing something else. Many have
tried to do this and many have failed. If Toby had asked me what I
thought I would say he was crazy. He was wasting his time. He was
embarking on a futile quest that could have no good end. Don’t throw
your life away, move on to something that is feasible. And coming from
me with my nonoctave tunings, maybe it would be taken as good advice.
Good thing he didn’t ask me! He didn’t take no for an answer and he
accomplished the impossible. You have a full choir singing in perfect
harmony, in acapella free infinite just intonation, following a score
that, absurdly, has notes with dozens of accidentals each. It is obvious
to anyone that such a score can not be sung and that no one should
Toby changed my mind about what is possible if only you believe.
There’s also multiphonics on here. That’s where one singer sings more
than one note at a time. These are really good singers. Where did Toby
get this choir? How could they have so much talent as they display, and
yet not realize that what they were being asked to do was impossible and
it was pointless to even try. They should have laughed at him and walked
out at the first practice because what he was asking was impossible.
Well, somewhere he found vocal geniuses that could do the task and yet
weren’t scared to try. Brave, brave people. Foolish too. But they made
us the fools by proving that they were up to the challenge. And they
succeeded. This makes Toby also the greatest living choir director.
Where to Get It
Bang on a Can Store : Samples from each track can also be heard here.
Buy this. Get money to him so he can produce another album. Are you a
wealthy benefactor? This is a good cause. Listen to this album and think
about what he is doing. Hire him for a professorship. Whatever it takes.
The world needs Toby Twining.
|From On High — Marcus Satellite|
Fans of Electronica and Techno will find this album essential listening.
Electronica is one field that just seems naturally right for xenharmonics. You are
using all electronic instruments and they can be retuned any way you like with no
constraints. But a lot of it, which I call Bad Techno is in 12 equal,
and 4/4 meter, and 180 beats per minute. But there is some microtonality I
hear from time to time, fortunately more often as time goes by. But I wonder if
they know what they are doing or if they are just randomly messing around,
or maybe their instruments are just all out of tune.
Marcus Satellite is one who understands. He knows how to do xenharmonics.
He totally understands everything. Perhaps too well. He could probably bore you
to tears talking about math. Usually math guys stay on the math side and don’t
enter the music side. But that’s not Marcus. He’s a composer first and foremost.
He knows how to write a great song with catchy riffs. This is so important. If
you can’t write a song, knowing the math won’t do you any good since you can never
connect theory to reality. You can only speculate and hope that your speculations
have some bearing on reality, which they probably don’t through no fault of your
own. You need both sides to make that connection. The curse of the
math head who wishes to be creative, but simply is not that sort of person.
But there are rare folks that can master the creative side and the
technical side. We call these people genuises. Marcus picked up what he
had to to accomplish what he needed to and uses it to supplement and
feed into his songwriting skills. And he kept on top of it, not knowing
when to stop until he was so far out there that he had transcended
anything that had been done. And kept going because it was so darn much
fun to be a pioneer on the frontier with a banjo and a skillet for cornbread.
He’s good at the math. Really good. The music makes sense, the
tunings make sense, and half the time, I have no idea what he is doing,
only that it sounds cool.
I have some of his songs memorized. The lyrics are catchy, poignant,
whimsical, dark, a whole range. He’s not going on about scoring some
chick in an alley or yammering about the size of someone’s butt. These
are much more hard core than that. Hard core, philosophically. But
humorous as well. Marcus knows how to be funny.
Great, professional singers complement well written lyrics and can turn
your work into a real class act. You know they do. This is the stuff you
hear on the radio. Except it’s not the same. The tunings are not the
The mastering and mixing and balances are all what you expect from someone
living in LA who works in the industry and knows exactly what he is doing.
I don’t know what he is doing as far as technique. Hundreds of years from
now, someone will write a book about it. But until then, know that
this is his first big full microtonal album and you should get it.
But then you should check out his
website and subscribe to
He has gone way beyond this album and now he is off on a vista somewhere
where no one and no one is exploring. I mentioned above how some brave
folks are doing extended just intonation. Marcus is beyond that. He
traverses multidimensional spaces in which pitches exist, floating,
waiting to be tickled by the paths he follows. Marcus is now, as we
speak, doing insane things that put the experimental music programs at
the most avant garde institutions to shame. I sort of understand some of
what he is doing but only some. He’ll show you the diagrams and point
out different things. Some people that do this are faking. You can tell
them because they have no music to share. But Marcus has music. He is
the real deal. The diagrams do describe what he is doing. I hope you
have extensive experience with ancient languages and are comfortable
speaking space alien dialects. This stuff I can follow with my ear, but
it is insane. It is futuristic, but it is too futuristic. Someday this
will be heard as normal. But how would jazz sound to someone from the
Renaissance. It would be just too different for them to understand. But
they might be able to recognize that there is pattern and structure,
they just can’t grab what it is.
It’s going to take the collapse of civilization and rise of
a new one before this stuff seems normal. I thought I was out there on
the fringe of what was possible and then Marcus showed that there is a
new frontier beyond that one, or maybe even farther, than we could just
see in the distance, but not make out completely. But he is there. And
he has some apple seeds that he is planting. And when us stragglers get
there, there will be some nice apple trees. Thanks for planting those
Where to Get It
Shrink-wrapped CDs are available for purchase directly from the
composer, Marcus Satellite. E-mail him directly at: perfectbuzz at yahoo.com.
Also, many sample tracks, including entire singles are available at
Perfect Buzz Music.
|Ghosts I-IV — Nine Inch Nails|
Ghosts is a well known, nearly two hour long ambient studio album by Trent Reznor
and collaborators which features extensive use of microtonality and xenharmonics. It was famous
for being one of the first pay-what-you-want Creative Commons licensed album
released by a high profile rock group.
Obviously the production values are exceptional and the tracks are great as
well, and since there are free options there’s no reason not to listen to it
right now and decide for yourself if you like it.
extensive information about the album. Note you will find no public
information about the microtunings used, you have to rely on your ears.
Where to Get It
Buy Ghosts on Amazon.
Ghosts from Internet Archive.