August 08, 2017
Here are some photos of the first Scale Station prototype. The image below shows the unit disassembled.
Those grey jumper wires on the unit top left were added to correct a small miscalculation in the initial circuit design which has since been fixed. Below the boards are assembled and connected. The ribbon cable connection allows for the possibility that the upper deck (control unit) could be connected to a differently designed input/output unit, or one that is located some distance away.
The boards are designed to be stacked on top of each other, to save space.
The specification has undergone several revisions since I posted the public version in this blog post a few months ago. For those interested in technical details, I have uploaded the latest version of the Scale Station Public Specification, Version 9.
Firmware for this unit is almost finished, so we'll soon be able to begin hands-on testing. Stay tuned!
P.S. Sorry I still can't quote a release date or a price, but if you are interested in buying one of these, please let me know, since production cost can be minimised for orders of larger quantity. Depending on how many people contact me ahead of time, I may also be able to offer a discount to first buyers.
August 04, 2017
Today, CSE gets its first update in over a year. Added by request, users now get a new option to notate equal divisions using zero-based notation. Previously, if you wanted to notate the first scale degree of 13ET (or 13-edo), for example, the notation would be (1,13). With the new option, that can be notated (0,13). This is useful because outside the comfortable island of CSE-land, zero-based notation is used almost everywhere in modern so-called musical set-theory. The reason zero-base notation was not implemented as the default for CSE was my personal preference for 1-based notation. To me, it makes much more intuitive sense to call "the first degree" 1, and not 0, and I know I'm not alone in feeling that way. But it does make good sense to have both options available. Thanks to composer Juhani Nuorvala for the feature request. Please login and download the update from the cse software page.
In other news, MIDI Tapper reaches its 74th beta cycle today, with an update fixing several bugs related to the recent addition of note shapes, and other recent performance enhancements. A problem with file association on Mac High Sierra should be fixed, although this may cause issues with loading files saved in older beta versions of the software. Feedback on this is needed. For a full list of bugs fixed and to download the update, go to the MIDI Tapper software page. A beta licenses costs 2.99 € and is valid for all subsequent beta releases.
June 21, 2017
This new version of MIDI Tapper is introduced 10 days early to fix some rather embarrassing bugs introduced in the last update. Most importantly, MIDI file exporting now works properly again. Display issues related to the note shapes feature, such as notes disappearing in various circumstances, have also been fixed.
This release includes a few speed optimisations, and further improves playback accuracy. Though it's not likely that you'll need to move the main window during playback, that can now be done without stalling. Conductor playback has been improved, though if the window is very large there still may be timing problems. Feedback especially from Windows users on this point will be much appreciated, since I develop on a Mac, and the only Windows machine I have to work with is rather old and slow at this point.
Beta 73 also includes some new cosmetics. Notes can now "fade-in" and "fade-out". Using both options at once may be a bit much, but I find one or the other to be a reasonably tasteful effect, for example fading out only.
You can also now replace the black background with a .jpg or .png image. Photos of sky or water work fairly well.
Combined with all the different note shapes, colors, and heights, these new options are intended to provide even more ways to give a project individual visual character.
To see a full list of bugs fixed and improvements made, visit the product page, where you can download the update, try it out, and send feedback. A beta licenses costs 2.99 € and is valid for all subsequent beta releases.
June 05, 2017
The latest MIDI Tapper update fixes all reported bugs and improves performance in some big ways on both Mac and Windows, and also introduces a new useful feature that's fun to experiment with: note shapes.
Previously, in MIDI Tapper all notes were represented by rectangles. A couple of users pointed out that this was slightly boring. They were right. Since the start of this project, my focus has been on the MIDI performance aspect, and the graphics have never been a high priority. At beta cycle 72, it's high time for some more interesting graphics; hence, note shapes. You can now choose between the following seven types of shapes: rectangles, squares, circles (and ovals), diamonds (rhombi), triangles (3 types), hexagons, and octagons.
Each shape can also be left-aligned (default) or centered on the tap line. Combining different shapes with various note heights and colors will result in much more interesting visuals for your projects than those dull old rectangles (although you might want to use those sometimes too). Here are some screenshots of various note shapes.
You can assign all notes to the same shape, as above, or mix and match different combinations.
What I find useful about this feature is that it allows different voices to be easily identified, and note doublings and voice crossings are much easier to see. The documentation has been updated with a new chapter explaining the details. As a fast way to try out the new options, I also added a Display menu item which lets you quickly randomise note shapes, colors, and heights.
Funny story: for the longest time I had been interested in finding a good screen-recording app, to make software demonstration videos. (Quicktime is okay for some things, it's not good enough for making YouTube videos). Each time I looked into this, I couldn't bring myself to buy anything, because all the apps were just a bit too pricey for me. But in 2014, I picked up a screen-capture app called Screenflow along with four or five other apps in one of those software bundle deals for $19. Because I really hadn't planned on buying it (and after buying it I spent a summer working on custom software projects in France and Germany), I promptly forgot that I ever bought ScreenFlow, and never used it. Then last week I decided it was time I made a screen recording of MIDI Tapper, and when Quicktime didn't quite cut it, I poked around in my Applications folder, and found Screenflow, remembering that I had in fact bought it at a huge discount several years ago. I'm happily impressed. It does what it's supposed to do, is very easy to use, has the editing features I expect and need, and lets me upload videos directly to YouTube. Here is my first attempt at recording something in MIDI Tapper. Along with the note shapes, you'll notice the harmonic analysis feature at work on this Bach chorale. Being my first attempt at a screen-capture video, I wanted to keep it short.
Are there things you would like to see demonstrated in a video? Send me an email to let me know.
A full list of bugs fixed and features added is included at the bottom of the product page where you can also download the update. Please try it out and send your feedback. A beta licenses costs only 2.99 € and remains valid for all beta releases, which run on a 30-day testing cycle.
May 26, 2017
For well over a year now, visitors to the TBX1 product page have been met with the ominous words SOLD OUT, along with a notice that TBX1 is being replaced by a new product slated for release in 2017. Since posting that notice, I have received on average a few emails per month from musicians interested in having more information about the new product, to which I have always replied something like "I'm sorry I don't have any more information at this point, but I will be posting a blog entry about it soon."
The last few times I've said this, I've started feeling a little delinquent. It's no secret: I've been slow getting around to this (as well as other blog threads). Obviously, maintaining the blog isn't a very high priority for me. The work itself is more important. Because of this disposition, sometimes I have to ask people to just trust me, that work is getting done, even though I don't report it. Or, that when I say I'm too busy to do it just now, that's really true.
Anyway, today I want to share some details about the mystery product which will replace TBX1. First, some pictures. The device is a bit smaller than TBX1. To make the hardware able to be embedded into other projects, my original design was based on a stacked PCB model. Here are my PCB sketches.
This User Interface (UI) board sits on top of an Input/Output (IO) board.
I sent these sketches to my design engineer partner Jordan Petkov (in Bulgaria), who a few weeks later sent me back this image of his PCB design.
We had intended for the first prototype to be finished in 2016, but there were several setbacks, including moves for both of us: I moved to Germany, and Jordan moved his business to a new location in Bulgaria. Jordan also found out midway through the initial firmware design that the chip he had selected would not work for the needs of the device. This meant that a different chip with a completely different architecture had to be used, and the firmware would be need to be entirely rewritten. So, Jordan is still in the process of writing the first version of the firmware for this device.
Here is a basic overview of the new device which will be replacing TBX1.
That is the outline. Because there has been so much interest, and those interested usually want to know the details about features and MIDI implementation, I also decided to make a public version of my design specification. If you'd like to read through it, feel free to download the Public Specification (v5.1).
[ NOTE: 8.Aug 2017 - The public specification has been updated. Please see this blog post. ]
Once we have a prototype, normally we go through at least another iteration, usually two more versions, before we arrive at a final product. That has to happen before we can determine a price. Too many things are yet to be determined, so I'm sorry I still can't quote a price. We may still be able to do all this within 2017, I hope. If you are interested in buying one of these, please let me know, since production cost can be minimised for orders of larger quantity. For those who contact me early, at some future point I may be able to get you a discount on a pre-order.
Oh, and what's it called? It's called the "Scale Station" *.
Best Regards, Aaron
* One might have expected "TBX2". For sake of continuity, that is a good alternate name for the device. Scale Station (TBX2).
May 06, 2017
The latest MIDI Tapper beta update fixes a few problems with the Analysis function introduced last update, and some playback and graphics performance issues have been improved. Some "under the hood" tweaks result in less processor taxing on both platforms, and graphics rendering code has been reworked for easier modification in future updates.
Please download Beta 71 and send your feedback. Your input helps me make the software better. Current beta license holders can login and go to the MIDI Tapper software page to download the update for free. New users get a license for 2.99 € that remains valid through all following MIDI Tapper beta releases.
April 03, 2017
During the past this month, many bugs were found and fixed in MIDI Tapper, and overall performance was improved. Focus was however placed on the development of a new feature: 4-voice harmonic analysis. In summary, MIDI Tapper is now able to identify all sonorities existing in the SATB chorales written by Johann Sebastian Bach. This new feature was developed using a collection of MIDI files which will be included in a future MIDI Tapper update, along with searchable database functions.
A new chapter has been added to the documentation explaining the new analysis functions. The following diagram shows how Chord Symbols are used to identify complex sonorities.
The remaining details about this update are as follows:
Please download Beta 70 and send your feedback. Current beta license holders can login and go to the MIDI Tapper software page to download the update at no cost. New users can still try out the software for 2.99 €. The beta license remains valid through all following MIDI Tapper beta releases, and will serve as a discount coupon for purchase of the software after its official release.
March 03, 2017
In this update you'll find reported issues in Write Mode (most notably on the Windows side) fixed, as well as problems with Rubatos and Ornaments fixed. The names of the ornaments have also been corrected in the documentation, and the lengths of ornamental notes can now be set properly with a right-click on the ornament tool.
Download Beta 69 and send your feedback. Thanks in advance for your help. Current beta license holders can login and go to the MIDI Tapper software page to download the update for free. New users can try out the software for 2.99 €, and the license will remain valid through all following MIDI Tapper beta releases.
February 06, 2017
The latest MIDI Tapper beta cycle adds the ability to save default synthesizer settings in the Preferences (helpful when working with the same settings for many files). A problem with windows getting stuck offscreen for some users with multiple monitors was also addressed with a new Window > Reposition Window menu item. A few things in the MIDI Tapper documentation have also been updated.
Please try out Beta 68 and send me your feedback on the software as well as the documentation. Thanks for your help. Beta license holders can login and go to the MIDI Tapper software page to download the update for free. New users can try out the software for 2.99 €
January 04, 2017
Here we are at the start of a brand new calendar year. What better way to celebrate than with a new MIDI Tapper beta cycle? Here are some of the improvements you will find in the new release.
A few things in the MIDI Tapper documentation have also been corrected or clarified, such as the brackets and text added to the image below.
Please download and try out Beta 67, and send feedback on the software as well as the documentation. Thanks in advance for your help. Beta license holders can simply login and go to the MIDI Tapper software page to download the update for free. New users can try out the software for 2.99 €
Happy New Year,
December 27, 2016
This update addresses a problem reported by a French-speaking microtonalist. He noticed that selecting certain audio files for playback caused microsynth to crash. When I asked him to send a screenshot of the audio files list in microsynth, it was clear that the crashing was related to accented e characters (é) in the file names. It turned out that the OpenAL audio playback engine was allocating only the number of bytes equal to the character length of the file name to a memory block. That works only for Latin characters, because each of those is only one byte long. Non-Latin characters require multiple bytes. So this turned out to be an easy fix: simply count the number of bytes, not the number of characters. Interesting how a simple error like this can slip through unnoticed, because of a language bias. Thanks to Yves Marcotte for reporting the problem.
Mac users running older machines will also be interested to learn that microsynth once again runs on Snow Leopard (Mac OS 10.6.8). I had reluctantly given up support for Snow Leopard for microsynth already in early 2014. It may seem a little odd to restore support for this old OS at this point, but I hope it will benefit some musicians out there who bought microsynth when it was released and still run an older version of the software, or who have simply not updated their rigs for one reason or another. In addition to my current MacBook, I still have an iMac running 10.6.8, and I still think it is the best OS that Apple ever made. If you ask me, every Mac operating system since Snow Leopard has been a step down in overall performance. Even so, as you may notice from the screenshots and documentation for all the apps I write, although I do the best I can to make all my software cross-platform, Mac remains my system of choice.
Licensed microsynth users can download update 1.6.50 at no cost. Simply login and go to the microsynth software page to download the update. New users can try out microsynth (as well as all other released software) for free by opening a free account.
December 01, 2016
The past several weeks have been spent writing documentation for MIDI Tapper which is now included as part of this beta release. A number of improvements have also been made to the user interface, and many reported bugs have been fixed, such as the following:
The documentation contains 14 chapters and an Appendix, and is 72 pages long. I have tried to keep the text to a minimum and use plenty of screenshots, tables and diagrams. Here are a couple of examples.
Please download Beta 66, try it out, and send your feedback. I'm looking for feedback on the new documentation as well. Thank you in advance for your help. If you already have a license, you can simply login and go to the MIDI Tapper software page to download the update for free. New users can try out the software for 2.99 €
October 31, 2016
Today's MIDI Tapper update fixes the following issues:
Please download Beta 65, try it out and send your feedback. If you already have a license, you can simply login and go to the MIDI Tapper software page to download the update for free. New users can try out the software for 2.99 €
October 31, 2016
Last week, a significant modification was made to H-Pi Instruments (and all Zentralzone websites); namely, the currency was changed from USD (American dollars: $) to EUR (the Euro: €). As I now live in Germany, this important change is both a matter of maintaining my livelihood, and of fulfilling new obligations to Germany and the European Union.
For EU customers, this also means that Value Added Tax (VAT) is now collected on all orders in accordance with EU regulations. As you know, this tax is collected at the rate established by your country, to be paid to the EU and reimbursed to your country.
For visitors from non-EU countries, no tax is collected, and a price preview is available in your currency. To see the preview, hover over the price in Euros, and a popup-window will appear. These prices are tied to fluctuating exchange rates combined with PayPal conversion fees, and are therefore only estimates, but should give a fairly accurate idea of the actual price which will be collected by PayPal.
For all customers regardless of nationality, a transaction fee of 6% is collected on all orders. Please note that this fee is not a tax; it is collected by PayPal for handling online payments. Although the PayPal account used to handle the orders is now denominated in Euros and is based in Germany, the previously available payment options are still available; namely, you may either use your PayPal account, or pay with a credit card.
I hope that these changes are clear and the breakdown of fees is transparent. If you have questions or concerns about any of these changes, please feel free to get in touch via email.
October 14, 2016
Sorry for the delay; the previous MIDI Tapper Beta 63 expired a few days ago while I was away from work. This update of the MIDI Tapper beta incarnation will persist for only 15 days (half the usual test cycle) as it addresses only one problem:
A bug was reported concerning default selection of MIDI input device not working, but I couldn't reproduce the issue. If anyone has this problem, please report it along with an attached copy of your MIDI Tapper Preferences file.
Please download Beta 64 and send your feedback. If you already have a license, you can simply login and go to the MIDI Tapper software page to download the update for free. New users can try out the software for $2.99
September 06, 2016
MIDI Tapper continues its life as a beta application since several issues were reported during the last testing cycle. These have been fixed and a few improvements have been added as well. Specifically, the Windows version had problems positioning its windows properly, and the copy / paste process was not working.
The paradigm of tapping a group of notes as a single event simplifies the process of performing and also that of editing, as shown by the new option to remove or insert time into a take. This is convenient for adjusting the timing of either the onset of notes or the lengths of notes in a performance without having to select each note individually, instead looking at the recorded take in terms of event groups (taps).
Please download Beta 63 and send your feedback. As with all previous beta updates, if you already have a license, you can simply login and go to the MIDI Tapper software page to download the update for free. New users can try out the software for $2.99
August 31, 2016
I'm glad to see that Keaton Van't Hull's drawings of imagined Tonal Plexus keyboard designs created a stir. There is more to say about his work, but before I do that I want to continue telling how the Tonal Plexus came about. If you've missed previous entries about this, you can find them by scrolling down. I had left off with this previous entry. The thread will continue for a while because there is a lot I'd like to tell you, and we'll make our way back to the drawings in due time.
The story continues at the turn of the 21st century. After a frigid time in Minneapolis, with the help of some very generous friends I made my way to reasonably warmer climes at the north edge of a much bigger city — Chicago. There must be some way to give you a sense of the heady pace of rapid progress I was able to make there between 2000 to 2002, but I'm not sure what it is. I was working for Borders Books (which famously went bankrupt and closed all its doors in 2011, but back in 2000 it was thriving). For someone like me, Borders was a fantastic place to work. I was the "classical music specialist". A lot of smart and interesting people worked at Borders in Willmette, and I became friends with several of them. Often as a direct result of their help and encouragement, I made huge strides with my research.
I must thank my dear colleague Katarzyna Grochowska for making my library research possible during that time. Kasia was then a doctoral student at the University of Chicago in musicology, working at Borders part time, and she saw that I needed library access. Through her University library account, I was able to check out all the books I needed to continue my research. These were not just music books; they were source volumes on research in sensation and perception, color theory, measurement science, and so on. Without library access, I would not have been able to formulate the right questions, and would not have arrived at the right answers.
In Chicago, important discoveries seemed to take place almost on a daily basis. I'll focus on a few of the important steps that took place.
A few posts ago, I shared an experimental piece of music in Just Intonation made on the Commodore 64. As fun as it was to use that machine again to explore the vast new territory of JI, by the time I was in Chicago, I knew that I had to get back into computer programming using current machines like the Mac. There was really no choice; the ideas demanded it. The Commodore 64 was still a great tool, but was incompatible with anything current, too limited. For example, the rhythmic pace of Jacob's Ladder was not something over which I had much control. It was determined by the speed at which the Commodore could process the data I was feeding it to produce the desired output.
Feeling out of the loop and frustrated by things I couldn't understand, I sent out some fairly desperate emails asking for guidance in modern computer programming to people I barely knew, like Carla Scaletti at Symbolic Sound. That didn't work. (A colleague and friend from EIU, Tucker Robison, who had earned a doctorate in composition from the U of I and had studied with Ben Johnston, had taken me to see the Symbolic Sound lab at the U of I in 1999, and I met Carla and Kurt Hebel there.) Then an opportunity arose through a co-worker at Borders to barter for a copy of the visual programming software called MAX. I don't remember which version was current at that time, but as you might guess, the MAX of 2000 was less powerful than the MAX of 2016. I read the language reference (it was very long), and learned how to use it on my Mac Powerbook 3400 running OS9. Using MAX required a different way of working than I had been used to with BASIC on the Commodore, and initially I felt annoyed by the visual orientation, but with MAX, I was finally able to make the computer do things.
The learning curve seemed steep, but it wasn't long before I was building full-blown programs implementing Just Intonation. Ironically, working with newer technology was not as easy as it had been on the Commodore 64. The new challenge was MIDI, which was not at all made for Just Intonation. Instead of working directly with frequencies and producing output, the frequencies had to be turned into MIDI data. At that time MAX didn't have MSP, and it also didn't provide a way to convert between frequencies and MIDI data, but of course it was possible to do it on my own using a combination MIDI Note and Pitch Bend messages, so that's what I did.
At that time, the idea of a keyboard capable of playing in Just Intonation was a distant goal. I considered it beyond what I understood how to do at the time. Instead, I focused on the idea of a monophonic instrument for Just Intonation, and through many discussions with my friend Luke, arrived at the idea for a wind controller.
This was first instrument I designed: a monophonic wind controller called The Goose. This instrument is capable of over 38,000 pitches per octave. The concept upon which it is based had its roots somewhere in 1996 during my last year at the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, when I was briefly a student of Allen Sapp, who gave me a copy of a book called ITTEN: The Elements of Color.
The theory behind the Goose has been online for some years as part of the H-System, specifically, the page called H-Chroma, which is the name I gave to a system originally called Trichromitic Number Theory. In a nutshell, this is a way of looking at numbers, such that any number can be represented as a specific mixture of 2 out of 3 primary colors. The idea behind this is fairly simple.
Just Intonation is a way of looking at pitches and intervals which relies on numbers — a lot of numbers. Anyone who wants to understand Just Intonation has to get into those numbers and understand what they mean. For me this was not a problem, even though, despite my abilities with computers, I honestly had a rather poor background in mathematics. The first obvious problem with JI is that it doesn't correspond to music notation. It's a system of numbers, not a system of lines and dots. The notation problem was my first concern. Secondly, I know too many musicians who don't like numbers. The requirement of number facility is a huge barrier to Just Intonation ever becoming mainstream. So, I set about to figure out some way to make JI (1) able to be notated and (2) able to be understood without numbers. The answer was to use colors. Not a new idea, it turns out. But what I discovered was in fact new, and it's a very important discovery that has of yet received basically no attention whatsoever. You can see this discovery implemented in my ear training software Xentone. It's a theory that turns numbers into colors, so that nobody really needs to know what the numbers are, they only need to be able to identify the colors. Of course, there is the problem of color blindness. There are also problems involved with of color perception and identification. Problems with color reproduction, printing. I did all the research, believe me, and I optimized everything according to those problems. To anyone familiar with the history of colors in music notation and music theory, let me say very clearly at this point, the system I propose has not been proposed by anyone else in history. I mention some other music-color systems on the H-Chroma page, which gives a basic summary of the system.
Let me try to give a super-short summary here. Trichromatic number theory provides a way to represent any number with a color, and it works like this: every even number reduces through binary division to an odd number, and every odd number greater than 5 is considered a sum of two numbers in a counting sequence. The primes 2, 3, and 5 are red, blue, and yellow, respectively.
The correspondence is not arbitrary; see the H-Chroma page for more information. Here is a chart showing how the system works with 23-limit Just Intonation.
… and 47-limit Just Intonation.
Let me back up a bit and explain that when I was in Minnesota, I was working on this idea, not from the angle of an instrument design, but from the angle of music notation. I was trying to come up with a notation system for music in Just Intonation, and using colors seemed logical. At that time I didn't know much about what other composers had done to notate music tuned in JI. The notation I came up with had lines that were spaced unequally and varied in thickness. I was also using the colors blue and red to indicate 3/2 and 4/3. Because harps sometimes have blue and red strings indicating fifth relations, I was calling this notation at the time "Harp notation". At U Minn, I was lucky to be able to enroll in a class focusing on the music of the Balkan region with Bosnian professor Mirjana Lausevic. Her final assignment was to analyze a piece of music from the Balkans, and I transcribed a short Bosnian folk song using the notation. I've since lost the paper, but it represents the first step towards what later became H-Chroma, and without it, I can assure you that the Tonal Plexus would not exist.
I will pick up the story here next time and say more about the Goose, which leads fairly swiftly to the first Tonal Plexus prototype. Until then …
August 10, 2016
I've realized that telling the story of the Tonal Plexus is taking a long time. I should have predicted this, but honestly I didn't have a very clear idea about how much information I wanted to share when I began writing this series of entries.
To speak more directly to the title of the series and give you an idea of where I'm headed with it, let me share some images sent to me in March 2016 by industrial design student Keaton Van't Hull.
As you can see, these are imagined designs for future Tonal Plexus keyboards. I'll leave it at that for now with a promise to tell you more about them later.
July 29, 2016
Last time I talked about a theory I developed to understand the complex harmonic structure of intervals in a simple way, and I made the following offhand remark:
"If you program computers, you can see how it would be very easy to write a program which selects levels and places to produce music in Just Intonation based on given fundamental frequencies."
After posting that I realized that it may not actually be so obvious how to do that, so I went back to the paper I had written in 1999 and copied the following equations which show how the (level, place) notation works with any pair of numbers. In the paper instead of the term "level" I was using the term "order", hence the letter o is used for the level. The term "primary" used below means any rational interval having a power of 2 in the denominator. (A rational interval having a denominator which is not a power of 2 is called "incidental".) The basic idea of the system is to represent all intervals in a so-called "primary" form, within a couple of cents accuracy (obviously, the close to the target the better). The reason to do this is so that all intervals share a common fundamental. Doing that makes complex harmonic relationships much easier to manage, and allows for quick comparative analysis of complex interval structures.
Just in case it seems confusing that x is in the denominator, let me explain. The preferred notation for harmonic interval ratios is horizontal form using a colon x:y and in all cases this means x is less than y. This way, intervals are written in ascending order from left to right. However, ratios in general are normally written in vertical form with the larger number on top, that is the form preferred for individual tones.
Having these equations to work with, hopefully now any programmer can now see how easy it would be to write a computer program to work with this kind of data to make music in Just Intonation.
July 26, 2016
Having moved to Germany and now feeling almost free of jet-lag, I'd like to continue the story of the Tonal Plexus today by sharing some music, along with some details about the theory from which it was born.
As I mentioned earlier, my first compositions in Just Intonation were for piano, according to an idea I had developed in 1999, about which I wrote a paper, presented at Music Theory Midwest and in a different form to students and faculty at the University of Minnesota. In a nutshell, the theory is this:
Taking the above points together, the basic idea of the theory is this:
Intervals may be represented by approximate measurements with varying degrees of accuracy, within reasonable thresholds of human perception. Different measurements of intervals as ratios place the tones in different harmonic series, where all the numbers are harmonics relating to a given root tone of 1. Intervals having a power of 2 in the denominator always contain an octave duplication of the root tone of a harmonic series, which makes them the easiest to understand, especially when considering combination tones. Representing all intervals in a basic form with a power of 2 in the denominator results in the ability to see all harmonic relationships of all intervals with equal ease.
The above idea contains a kernel which later developed into the H-System. Measurements are represented ratios in Just Intonation, and so every interval can be represented by more than one ratio, with the JND margin of error. The numbers chosen to represent an interval become very important, because the Combination Tones produce a whole set of pitches revealing more than just one interval, but rather a revealing whole structure of tones within a harmonic series. The idea is to make that structure equally easy to understand for all intervals.
At the time I was starting this research, I didn't have very firm numbers on the JND, but I assumed it was a few cents (later I learned that my guess was confirmed by research). A threshold of a few cents allows a wide range of ratios to represent essentially the same interval. Obviously, the closer an approximation, the more accurate the results.
An example will help to make this clearer. With a wide range of error allowed, the equal tempered minor second of exactly 100 cents can be represented by 17/16 (16:17) at about 105 cents. The number 16 in the denominator satisfies a requirement of the theory, and this gives us a difference tone of 1, which is five octaves below the lower tone of the interval. A problem with this representation is that it conflicts with our perception. You can easily prove this to yourself. Go to a piano, and play a minor second very loudly in the middle-upper register, so that you hear a low tone buzzing in your ears. Listen to the pitch of the low tone, and you'll notice it is not a low octave duplication of the lower key on the piano that you are playing. The difference tone is flatter than that. 5 cents error doesn't correspond close enough to our perception. A closer approximation is 271/256 at about 99 cents. In this case we have a difference tone of 271-256 = 15. If you know your JI intervals, 15/8 or 8:15 is a Major Seventh, a halfstep below the root. This is pretty much where that difference tone actually is. And so, you see that representing 100 cents by 271/256 gives you a clear idea of the harmonic root of the interval, and where the combination tones are within the whole harmonic structure produced by the interval.
271/256 is four octaves higher up in a harmonic series than 17/16. These octaves can be thought of as "Levels" within a harmonic series. Within each level, there are twice as many unique tones as the level below it. For example, in the first level 2:4, there is one tone, 3. In the second level 4:8 there are two unique tones, 5 and 7, while 6 is a duplicate of 3 which belongs to the level below. From this I came up with the idea that each tone within a level has a "Place". 3 has the first place in the first level, and 5 has the first place in the second level. Every harmonic can thus be notated with two numbers which define its level and place within that level, in set notation. 3 is represented as (1,1) = level 1, place 1. 5 is (2,1) = level 2, place 1. And so on.
If you program computers, you can see how it would be very easy to write a program which selects levels and places to produce music in Just Intonation based on given fundamental frequencies. That's what I did in my first exploratory music employing this theory. The program selects levels and places while a fundamental frequency very slowly climbs from 0 Hz up to the highest frequency the machine would allow, and back down (three times faster). I had plans to compose a middle section with more deliberate, less algorithmic structure, but I never did it. The result is a composition I call Jacob's Ladder, written on the Commodore 64 and recorded with direct output into a digital reverb unit. It's about 40 minutes long, and takes some patience to listen to. To those of you who take the time to listen to it without skipping ahead, thank you in advance for your patience, and I hope you enjoy it.
July 13, 2016
What later became H-Pi Instruments had its first incarnation as a doctoral dissertation proposal at the University of Minnesota, where I was a teaching assistant enrolled in the doctoral program for music theory and composition in 1999. My idea in a nutshell was this: I envisioned a body of work based on a musical system accounting for all possible pitches and intervals, consistent and universal in terms of its theory, notation, instruments, and performance practice. If you've been following the last few blog entries, you'll know that there are many years of development leading up to this concept, but at this point in the story I've only just hit upon the idea, so it couldn't possibly be very clearly formed. I thought it made sense to cast the work as a PhD thesis, so that I would get to do what I really wanted to do, and at the end of it I would also be rewarded academically with a terminal degree.
Needless to say, what actually happened turned out a bit differently than planned. I sketched the idea generally, and received verbal approval from my teachers at the University, but the proposal was never formally submitted. Ironically, during the time I was enrolled in the doctoral program at U Minn, I wasn't able to get very far with my work. I submitted a paper to Music Theory Midwest about the concept behind the 12ET piano music — the system of large-numbered ratios of Just Intonation (sometimes called Rational Intonation) mentioned previously, and I gave a presentation at a small college somewhere in Minnesota (I've forgotten where exactly). I also gave a lecture on tuning at U Minn, along with a demonstration of the aforementioned piano music, with the help of some graduate student performers. My presentations were pretty rough, but response was positive.
The program at U Minn was in general not a good fit for me, and I decided to leave at the beginning of the second term. The main problem was that the teaching assistantship was not allowing me to get much of my own work done. I was being forced to teach too much, with duties I considered way beyond what should be asked of an assistent. I wasn't able to seriously pursue my research. I was also unable to enroll in the classes that interested me because of scheduling conflicts. I needed a different environment, and luckily I found it, with the help of a fellow student, at the Borders Bookstore in Richfield, MN.
Working in the relatively relaxed environment of Borders, with no academic responsibilities, I was able to focus on my own work in a way that simply wasn't possible at the University. Most of my research was done in libraries, but it was during that time that I also discovered new sources of information via the internet. Those were still the relatively early days of the internet — hard to imagine in the context of today's instant and endless search results, but back then it was a lot more difficult to find things, and there was also a lot less online to find. For research, the internet felt quite different from the library, for obvious reasons. The library was great for historical publications, but didn't seem to have much about what was currently happening. The combination of books in print and the new virtual information highway of the internet started to give me a pretty good grasp of the history and current state of development in microtuning.
So it happened, on the cusp of the 21st Century, through the bourgeoning internet, that I reached out and made two important connections via email: to a composer and pianist in England named Patrick Ozzard-Low, through his 21st C Orchestral Instruments website, and to an electronics engineer in Bulgaria named Jordan Petkov, through his experimental hobbyist MIDI projects website. With Patrick I began a dialog about his work and how it related to my research. With Jordan I began discussing plans for MIDI devices that would perform microtuning functions. Had these relationships not formed, the tonal plexus would not exist. 17 years later, our conversations continue.
Contact made through the internet across the globe is commonplace now, but in the 1990's it was something novel, and quite astonishing. Some amazing technology had developed over the previous decade to allow these kinds of connections to happen. This seems to me a good example of how developing technologies have played and continue to play a vital role in this story.
By 1999, computers had become very different kinds of animals than those I had known in the 1980's. After the Commodore 64 in 1984, my first computer had been an Apple Macintosh Performa 6300, bought new in 1995. I adopted the Mac platform because of a Mac-only piece of software called Overture, which offered a fast, natural workflow for composing music. Computers had changed from programming hobbyist tools into dedicated professional tools that seemed more like magic boxes than computers to me. With the Mac I was cranking out professional-looking scores on a laser printer without typing a single line of code. With the Commodore 64, I had been hacking out games with music and sound effects in reams upon reams of code stored on 5 1/4" floppy disks. And I had been accidentally programming everything in Just Intonation. I started asking myself: What had I been doing back then, and what could I do differently, now that I understood what was going on? While I continued to use the Mac for composing music and connecting to the internet, I returned to programming on the Commodore 64 to begin seriously exploring the vast possibilities of Just Intonation.
The story will continue from there next time.
July 12, 2016
Well I have some good news: there were no reported bugs during the last beta cycle of MIDI Tapper. But, let's be realistic before we pop that champaign bottle. This could mean that release 60 was stable on both platforms. It could also mean that nobody used MIDI Tapper for the past month. It's unfortunately impossible to know which reality is the right one, so I've released the same build, and added a note for clarity asking users not only to report bugs, but also alternatively to send final reports of no bugs. This release will be up for review until the end of August (through August 31, 2016).
Please download Beta 61 and send your feedback. As with all previous beta updates, if you already have a license, you can simply login and go to the MIDI Tapper software page to download the update for free. New users can try out the software for $2.99
July 11, 2016
My time at Goulding & Wood lasted about a year, after which I worked a variety of office jobs. During this time I also learned the basics of piano tuning, and began maintaining the baby-grand which my mother played fairly regularly at my parent's house.
My musical life expanded tremendously during those years under the mentorship of Frank W. Boles, then director of music at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Indianapolis. A combination of uncompromising musicianship and pure charisma, Frank was able to get professional results from a basically volunteer group. He and organist Dwight Thomas, both master improvisors, led worship services in an inspired way that I had never before seen or heard. The organ at St. Paul's was at that time an old rebuilt Möller — a real behemoth with more than a few problems, and Frank hired me to do some spot-tuning on the instrument from time to time (my father agreed to hold keys).
In addition to giving concerts and recording CDs, the choir also toured England every few years during summers. For the duration of one of these trips, Frank appointed me interim organist. Truth be told, the requirements of that job far exceeded my skills at the time, but I leaped at the opportunity. Dwight met with me several times, patiently advising as I stumbled through standard wedding-music repertoire (summer responsibilities would include three weddings, and though I had played many services as a student substitute, I had never played a wedding before).
When seemingly impossible challenges are met with intensely focused hard work, and the timing is right, then rapid growth and development can result. In this case, I improved by leaps and bounds, playing Bach Preludes and Fugues for services, accompanying soloists, and writing or improvising hymn introductions and harmonizations. These formative experiences further strengthened my connection to the King of Instruments and its core repertoire, setting a clear context for the work I would later do when designing my own keyboard instrument.
I remained productive as a composer during this time, but being outside of the comfortable musical bubble of the conservatory, I found it was impossible to organize performances or recordings of my music. I applied to PhD programs in composition and theory at 8 different schools, and was rejected by all of them. At some point I arranged a couple of hymns for choir, and Frank used them in a service. Frank later commissioned me many times to write hymn arrangements and other works for choir, brass, organ, and percussion. Other commissions included a quickly written score (it was done in less than three weeks) for the silent film The Phantom of the Opera by the Baroque Artists of Champaign-Urbana, IL — one of the most intense experiences I've ever had as a composer. (The image of the phantom at the organ is tongue-in-cheek. Personally, I get annoyed by the depiction of organ music as something "scary").
At the end of 1998, I received a phone call from my mentor Peter Hesterman, inviting me to teach theory and composition at my alma mater during his sabbatical. Of course I agreed. I was responsible for teaching ear training, music theory, counterpoint, and private lessons in composition. First-year teachers are rarely very good, but I did relatively well. I felt myself learning much more about the things I thought I knew, understanding the material at a much deeper level than I had before, and I received positive feedback from the students. I especially enjoyed teaching counterpoint, and found I had a great excuse to analyze Bach's music and write some of my own in the same style.
It was during my time as a young teacher that I read Harry Partch's Genesis of a Music (maybe the most famous modern text on Just Intonation, which functions as a sort of gateway into the wide world of tuning for a great many musicians). For me, Partch's book was the second book about tuning I had read, after Martin Vogel's On The Relations of Tone. There was something magical about Partch's text that opened my eyes in a way that Vogel's much more scholarly writing hadn't. I tried some experiments tuning harmonic intervals on my Korg synthesizer by ear according to Partch's instructions, and was convinced that what he was saying was true.
As I performed these tuning experiments, something unexpected happened. There I was, poised motionless at that keyboard in a tiny apartment, when my mind suddenly reached back into memories from my childhood. As I relate this now it seems strange that this epiphany didn't happen earlier during my time as an organ tuner, but I think the reason it happened only at this point was because I was experimenting with a synthesizer. The electronic sounds triggered my memory. I remembered that the programming I had done in my youth (mostly games) on the Commodore 64 included a lot of music and sound effects using that computer's built-in 3-voice synthesizer.
My realization was this: way back then I had actually been making music and sound effects in Just Intonation. I simply had no idea I was doing that at the time. All I knew was that frequency numbers combined in certain ways sounded good or bad to my ear. My memory of this is quite distinct, because I always used the same method in my early programming, which I had arrived at through trial and error. I would take some base frequency value, and multiply it by the numbers 2 through 20, skipping 7, 11, 13, and 14. I sometimes tried other things (also purely by trial and error), but I knew that this method always worked. If you know anything about tuning theory, you'll recognize my method as corresponding basically to 5-Limit Just Intonation, with the addition of 17 and 19 as harmonics that approximate the halfstep and minor third of standard 12-tone tuning. The absence of 7, 11, 13 and 14 is noteworthy. It means that my young totally non-theoretical, untrained ears rejected those pitches, which corroborates basically what music theorists had said for centuries, that basic intervals in just intonation involving the numbers 7, 11, and 13 sound a bit too foreign. Now Partch was challenging my ears to open up to those sounds, and I found that compelling.
It was then that I remembered the moment from nearly a decade earlier — in a practice room, chiding myself for hearing pitches in my imagination that didn't exist on the piano, and I realized that the problem was not with my ears; the problem was with the Western system — specifically the 12-tone keyboard.
I began reading Martin Vogel's On the Relations of Tone in earnest for a second time. While Partch's book had been inspiring and fun to read, Vogel's thorough academic precision was much more appealing and more convincing to me. Putting together all of my experiences up to that point, I finally began to grasp what tuning was all about, and I sensed that I was on the cusp of something important, if not in general, at least for me personally.
This newly found inspiration led to my first compositions for piano in Just Intonation. Since I had adopted 12-tone tuning for so long, it seemed like a good idea to look at standard 12 tone tuning from the new angle I had finally come to fully comprehend. The idea was to interpret the tuning in terms of large ratios, always with a power of 2 in the denominator. The result of this approach is a harmonic system in which, ironically, the intervals normally considered dissonant became consonant, and those normally considered consonant become dissonant. With this work I demonstrated that combinations of pitches on a piano tuned in 12ET, in the right registers, can combine to give perceptually smooth effects normally associated with Just Intonation. This work was a first step for me towards a new way of hearing music, a new way of thinking about what music was and what it could be. It was the birth of many ideas which would later evolve into the H-System.
Near the end of the term, I received an email from the University of Minnesota, where I had applied the year previous, and had been rejected. Now U Minn was inviting me to accept a teaching assistantship in Minneapolis. Having no other plans, and feeling sure that I now had a pretty good idea for a dissertation proposal (involving tuning), I accepted their invitation to begin the assistantship in the fall.
I'll pick up the story there next time.
July 09, 2016
A couple of important things were not mentioned in my last blog post. First, several readers have asked why I am moving to Germany. I'm happy to report that I'm moving there to be married to my lovely fiancée Dorothee Mields.
Second, it should be noted that June 6, 2016 marked the official 10-year anniversary of H-Pi Instruments as a legally registered business in the United States. I allowed this day to pass without mention because I was too busy with other things.
So there is cause for celebration, and reasonable grounds for personal reflection. I'll try not to be too overly effusive as I continue telling the story of how the Tonal Plexus came to be. I'll share some of the decisive aspects of my past which lead me towards a focus on keyboard instruments and how they are tuned.
The late 80's in the U.S.A. were the days of cheap cassettes in discount "cut-out" bins. My friends and I would go to the record store in the mall and buy random things we had never heard of. It was a gamble that sometimes led to great discoveries. One day I found a curious looking cassette by someone named Leo Kottke — an album titled "6 & 12-String Guitar", that had an armadillo on the cover. It became one of my favorite records. At some point, my older sister Janis bought a new guitar and gave her old one to me. She taught me how to tune it, how to play a few standard chords and some basic fingerpicking patterns, and off I went figuring out how to play songs and making up my own music. I noticed that the music on the Leo Kottke record sounded different, and I figured out that this was because he was tuning the strings differently for almost every song. Neat idea, and it sounded great. So I started doing the same thing, making up tunings and fingering patterns. I didn't write that music down, since it didn't seem necessary and I had only a vague idea about music theory anyway. Everything was recorded to cassette.
In 1990, I began as an undergraduate music major in percussion performance at Eastern Illinois University. After the first year, I decided to change my major to music composition — a better fit for me. I had almost no background on keyboard instruments, but I convinced the faculty that I would work hard and thus was able to take private lessons in piano. After a year of piano lessons, I discovered an amazing series of CDs of Bach's organ music by Anthony Newman, and I decided to switch from the piano to the pipe organ. The small practice organ at EIU had exposed capped pipes which often slipped slightly out of tune, and I fixed the tuning of pipes that would slip from one practice session to the next.
In an effort to understand all the instruments well enough to write for them, I also studied violin, switched to viola, and played viola in the student orchestra. In addition to continuing my studies in percussion throughout those four years, I also took a semester of lessons on the horn. Classes in psychology, physics, astronomy, philosophy, and a seminar on cold war politics also held my attention.
One time when I was writing music, something strange happened, the significance of which I didn't realize until almost a decade later. I was sitting in a practice room, writing a quartet for flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon. I heard some music in my head, and I put pencil to paper. The passage was one beat of music in 3/4 time. I wrote the bassoon part, and the clarinet part. The oboe was silent. Next came the flute. In my mind I clearly heard a descending chromatic line spanning a minor third from F to D, consisting of four 16th notes and a downbeat. When I attempted to transcribe this from my mind to the paper, it wasn't possible. I looked down at the piano, and plunked out the keys from F down to D: F, E, E-Flat … D. The notes sounded wrong. The E was too low. The E-flat was too low. And where was the other note? It wasn't there at all. Three of the pitches I wanted the flute to play which I clearly heard in my head, weren't on the piano. And, I knew if they weren't on the piano, that meant they also weren't on the flute. I was young, a student, very hard on myself whenever I made errors — a perfectionist. I thought to myself, "Wow, that is embarrassing. You really need to work on your ear training." I never mentioned this episode to any of my teachers. I simply resolved to work harder to train my ears to hear only the twelve chromatic tones, since that was one of the obvious goals of my training as a composer. In one sense it was right to concede that in order to work within a system, one has to train one's ears to hear the pitches that are available in that system. But it's a bit tragic, in retrospect. How many others have destroyed the integrity of their ideas in order to conform to a system that they barely understand?
As a masters student at the Conservatory at the University of Cincinnati, I focused on studies in Bach-style counterpoint, and my thesis was about canonic melodic inversion. I continued lessons on the pipe organ, and my teacher David Mulbury (who had studied in Germany with Helmut Walcha) allowed me to focus on the music in which I was interested, which was the music of J.S. Bach (though I also studied Buxtehude, Walther, and others). My interest in organ music and the pipe organ itself deepened during that time, and I started reading about the history of pipe organs and how the instruments are built.
It was through my research of counterpoint texts for the written part of my thesis that I ran across a book by a German musicologist named Martin Vogel, called On the Relations of Tone. This book was like nothing else I had ever seen. At the time I didn't read it thoroughly, as I was focusing on my thesis, but I read bits and pieces when taking breaks. I didn't understand much of what I read, but I started feeling some serious questions brewing. Why, exactly, was the keyboard the way that it was? Why was our notation system the way it was? Why was our Western system of music theory the way that it was, and not some other way? When I brought these things up with my teachers, it seemed that none of them could give me a straight answer.
Shortly before graduation, a piece I had written for pipe organ won the American Guild of Organists composition competition. Of course this added to my enthusiasm for the pipe organ. I then learned that the Conservatory was in the process of constructing a new building on campus, and was planning to tear down the existing building that housed the practice organs. While some of the larger instruments would be moved to the new building, others would be left in the old building and torn down with it. One of the smaller instruments that I enjoyed practicing on was a 4-rank Möller organ, and this instrument was one of those tagged for demolition. I had a little bit of money in the bank, and I got the idea to make an offer to buy the instrument from the school. My offer was accepted, and for a pittance I became the proud owner of a small pipe organ.
Feeling inspired, I dug further into the books I had checked out on organ building to try to better understand the instrument I had just bought. It was clear to me that nothing else in music compared to the grandeur of the pipe organ — the magnificence of the instruments themselves, and the sounds they are capable of producing. This combination of art and science spoke to me directly, inspiring both awe and devotion. I decided this was a good direction for me; that is, not only to write music for this instrument, and to play the music that I loved on this instrument, but also some day to design and build these fantastic instruments.
What was to happen after completing my masters degree was at that time unclear. I applied and interviewed for the doctoral program at the Conservatory, and was rejected. Searching for direction, I learned that there was a job opening at an organ building firm called Goulding & Wood, in my home town of Indianapolis. This seemed an obvious path to take. As part of my interview, I was given a tool I was told was a "tuning knife", and was asked to climb into an organ chamber and fix a pipe that was out of tune. It was very easy for me to do that. They needed an organ tuner. I was hired on the spot.
Friends helped me dismantle the Möller organ in Cincinnati and move it to a second-floor apartment in Indianapolis. During the next year at Goulding and Wood, in addition to some woodworking and electrical work in the shop, my primary duty was to tune organ pipes. I traveled around the midwest, working on a wide variety of instruments. Needless to say, during that time I learned first-hand a great deal about tuning.
At this point I'll take a break, since I've covered about a decade (roughly from '87 to '97). I'll pick up the story here next time.
July 08, 2016
For a few years now, I have been receiving emails asking when I will start building Tonal Plexus keyboards again. My answer to this has been "I don't know yet" — an honest answer, but saying this bothers me. It's a disappointment to those who are asking, and it provides no context for future expectations. The problem is that a substantive answer requires a long explanation. So, I've decided to write a series of blog posts in order to give a better answer to this question. I'll start by introducing myself and telling the story of how the Tonal Plexus came to be, looking back and working my way up to the present moment. This may not seem totally necessary, but it feels natural at this point, since I am leaving the U.S. and moving to Germany. I'm not sure how long it will take to write this, but at the end of it I promise to share some exciting news about the keyboards.
The first thing to understand when asking this question is that the whole of H-Pi Instruments is a one-man operation. When people contact me through my business, it's sometimes clear that they don't know this. I take that as a compliment, but it sometimes causes unnecessary confusion. It's normal to assume that a business is an organization of many people: teams or departments working together: developing products, writing and maintaining software, manufacturing products or partnering with manufacturers, handling products for order fulfillment, marketing, designing and maintaining the website, tech support, and so on. While I would like to be in that situation as the leader, that is not currently how my business works, because I am the only person in the business. I design all the products and build them myself. I write all the software. I wrote the website from scratch. I handle all the emails. Etc. It's a lot of work. And, obviously it's important to know this because it's not reasonable to expect the same thing from one person that would be expected from an organization of many people working together.
The next thing to understand is that I am a professional musician. Specifically, I'm a composer. Like many composers, I can play a lot of instruments, with varying degrees of skill, but I haven't given a public performance in over a decade. As an organist, I have some training, and I play the pipe organ both for my own enjoyment and also occasionally for church services. The majority of my training is in percussion, which I studied between the ages of 12 and 22. I'm also an instructor of composition, with about a decade of experience teaching every area of University music theory and composition. Without all that training and experience, it's highly unlikely that I would have invented the Tonal Plexus.
I'm not a professional product designer, nor a professional instrument builder. Product design has always fascinated me, and in one sense, it's something I've been doing since I was very young, but I have no formal training in product design. I've basically been building things ever since I was able to move around. My father taught me the basics of woodworking at a young age, and I fiddled around a lot with electronics, simple circuits and dry-cell batteries. I do have some training in the visual arts, and about 25 years ago (before I made the choice to pursue higher education in music) I considered studying art further at the Art Institute in Chicago, and also considered studying industrial design at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Sometimes I wonder how my life would have been different had I taken that latter path. By studying design, I would obviously have improved my design skills, but I certainly never would have invented the Tonal Plexus.
I have no academic credentials as a computer programmer. The most I can boast is that I won a third-place award in a city-wide programming contest when I was 12. My experience with computer programming began in 1981, at the age of 9, when my parents brought me to a summer event hosted by a local chemist named Richard Miess, who lived on the neighboring block and was one of the first people to have built his own computer at home. He invited all the children in the neighborhood to come see the computer and learn about BASIC programming. I was spellbound. My parents noticed this, and offerred to pay Dr. Miess to give me weekly lessons. He agreed to the lessons but not to the pay. We met once a week for the next 8 years. The first lesson he gave me was how to program a prime number sieve - the Sieve of Erotosthenes. The impact of his guidance on my personal development was profound. My father bought a Commodore 64 for the household, and I spent many hours in front of that green screen, programming all kinds of things, but mostly games. I sometimes wonder what kind of logical thinking skills I would (or wouldn't) have now, if I didn't have that guidance then. Without those skills, I'm certain that the Tonal Plexus would not exist.
Fast forward a couple of decades and two music degrees later, and somehow I had acquired the skills needed to make all the things that are now here at H-Pi Instruments, though my original plan had nothing to do with starting an online business. I was personally motivated for no other reason than that I wanted to be able to compose music using pitches outside of the standard Western 12 tones. Anyone who has ever tried to do that has run into major difficulties. Tools are needed that simply don't seem to exist. Standard music theory doesn't work. Standard notation doesn't work. What I discovered was that, in the whole history of music, these were serious basic problems nobody had ever solved in a comprehensive way. Some had tried, but failed for any number of reasons - their vision was too narrow, the time wasn't right or the technology wasn't ready, they weren't equipped with the right skill set, and so on. I realized that, in order to do what I wanted to do compositionally, I would have to solve those problems, so that's what I set about doing.
But I'm getting ahead of the story. Next time I'll begin by telling about what happened in the years leading up to the launch of the business.
July 06, 2016
In case you haven't heard through other avenues, I am moving to Germany this month, and of course this means that H-Pi Instruments moves with me. For a while at least, H-Pi will continue to operate as a business in the U.S., and no changes will take place until all legal matters are sorted out, which should be done by 2017.
This move has other things in store for the future of my business. I'll soon be releasing some information about the upcoming replacement for TBX1, and possible future developments for the keyboards, but before doing that it makes sense to me to take a look back at where this endeavor has come from, to see where it's going. In the next few blog posts I'll try to do that.
Stay tuned! ;)
June 15, 2016
Here is a melancholy synth tune in xD, played on the last U-Plex keyboard I just finished building (the last to be built in the U.S.), making use of 9/8 and 10/9, among other useful ratios.
June 09, 2016
Many thanks to everyone who reported bugs in the last beta release of MIDI Tapper. Thanks especially to users of the new Windows version who reported problems in these first few releases for Windows. Many issues have been found and fixed, and a new version is up for review for the next 30 days (through July 12, 2016). Some of the problems that were addressed are as follows:
Please download Beta 60 and send your feedback. As with all previous beta updates, if you already have a license, you can simply login and go to the MIDI Tapper software page to download the update for free. New users can try out the software for $2.99
June 04, 2016
The 8-octave prototype Tonal Plexus which I built in 2004 is now for sale. Two modules work together to scan 8 octaves of keys and send GM microtonal output (round-robbin pitch bend polyphonic output using the same method as standard Tonal Plexus keyboards). This is the first keyboard I built having the isomorphic octave pattern (similar to Bosanquet and Fokker) used in the standard Tonal Plexus keyboards; that is, where each octave has 211 keys for 205ET with 6 keys repeating at the triple-sharps / triple-flats. The switches are of the low profile tactile variety. There are no key caps. Sustain and volume pedal inputs, MIDI IN/OUT/THRU, 6-position numeric LED display, and small control/programmer module for selecting presets (tuning/bank/patch, same as standard Tonal Plexus). It is mounted on masonite divided into sections and joined together with mending plates.
Paper overlays having the standard Tonal Plexus octave graphics with holes punched for all the keys are placed over the switches. The paper is in rather poor condition. An industrious owner could make new overlays (I can supply the design files).
The keyboard ships in sections for the owner to connect and mount. Below I show the process of preparing the keyboard in its shipping box, showing how the keyboard will need to be put back together.
Here is the underside of the controls.
Each section is numbered, and marks along adjoining edges show how pieces should be connected.
The encoder uses a scanmatrix having "rows" and "columns". Each "column" corresponds to a MIDI channel. The "rows" are eight wires connected sequentially across all octaves by the cable I'm holding in the photo below.
Each octave is connected to the next with a jumper cable (this is the "rows" part of the scanmatrix).
Note that the order of the colors left to right is the same from one octave to the next.
The "columns" of the scanmatrix are connected to each octave with two 16 conductor ribbon cables. Each cable represents one MIDI channel, and each connector is marked with the octave number and an "A" or "B", from left to right.
Each octave is mounted by 16 standoffs (this may seem like overkill, but I wanted it to be strong, with more support than necessary in order to avoid trouble.
Once the screws are removed, the mounting panel can be separated from the standoffs.
I decided that removing all the standoffs as well wouldn't gain much advantage in shipping. Instead, two layers of styrofoam are placed between the standoffs and the octaves are prepared in pairs like so.
The process of adding each layer is shown below.
This makes the octaves easy and safe to stack.
Eight octaves along with control modules, mounting boards, hardware, and power supply — everything fits neatly into a 14" x 14" box.
You may have to solder a wire now and then to keep everything working, but overall this keyboard is very stable.
May 09, 2016
One user of the new Windows version of MIDI Tapper was quick to point out that selecting a MIDI input was not working properly, and rescanning MIDI devices produced a crash. These problems have been fixed in this update, which will last until June 10, 2016 — unless similar fundamental problems are reported, in which case an update will be issued sooner.
Registered users can login and go to the MIDI Tapper software page to download the update for free. New users can try out the software for $2.99
April 23, 2016
After more than a year of development as a Mac-only application, I'm glad to announce that MIDI Tapper is now available for beta testing on Windows. The app will run on Windows 7 or higher. Please note that there is still no documentation. The basic functions of the app should be intuitive. If you're curious, poke around and you'll find a lot to explore.
Windows users who have not optimized their system for audio will notice sluggish audio response. This is not a problem with MIDI Tapper; it is a problem with Windows. The native Windows audio drivers are frankly terrible (although I understand that Windows 10 is supposed to have high quality default drivers). On a standard Windows 7 installation, there is so much latency that MIDI Tapper is almost unusable. The way to solve this problem is to install ASIO audio drivers, and whatever you do, please do not use the dreaded built-in default Windows GM Synthesizer. Install MIDI Yoke or LoopBe and route MIDI out from MIDI Tapper to another synthesizer application, or use a physical MIDI interface to route MIDI out to hardware. Once you do that, you will see MIDI response working in MIDI Tapper with virtually no latency.
Mac and Windows beta licenses are being sold separately because the app is still in the beta testing stage. If you already own a license for Mac, this new version for Mac is a free download from the MIDI Tapper software page. If you would like to join the beta testing team for Windows, just purchase a beta license (it's only $2.99, and is valid for all beta releases).
March 28, 2016
This update fixes a reported problem with the display of MIDI Meta status messages in the MIDI Events list. Although MIDI Events cannot be deleted from source tracks, events in a recorded take can be deleted. The next beta will likely focus on the usability of the events list.
This test cycle remains Mac-only and lasts until May 9, 2016. Registered users can login and go to the MIDI Tapper software page to download the update for free. New users can try out the software for $2.99
Please take note that tech support response will be slower than normal between March 28 and April 12, as I am traveling. Your patience and consideration is greatly appreciated!
March 22, 2016
CSE's recently added MIDI Tuning Standard (MTS) sysex file (.syx) export feature has been updated with the ability to select a tuning table number to be saved in the .syx file. CSE user Warren Lee had requested the MTS export feature some months ago and paid me to do it, but I had overlooked this important detail in my implementation. There is no tuning table number intrinsic in a CSE file, so adding the ability to control that in the MTS export involved adding a new UI component as part of the export procedure. That may not seem like such a big deal, but it actually was rather time-consuming work.
Any time I update a piece of software, after doing the actual programming and testing, I must also recompile the software for both platforms, upload the packages to the website, update the XML files for software auto updating on the website, update the software product page, write an announcement (this), and share it on social media. In all, even for something relatively minor like this update, with no need for beta testing from users, that amounts to half a day of work. Had I done all the work at once (when the feature was initially implemented), the amount of time needed to complete the work would have been considerably less, because all the tasks associated with a release would only have to happen once.
It is a problem for me that I receive way too many emails and cannot possibly keep track of all the details. This is why I added a menu item to all my softwares specifically for the purpose of requesting features for that software, from within the software. All users of my software can request features by using the menu option 'Request a Feature …' which opens a special window in which a request can be described with an initial offer to begin payment negotiations. This way all the information is stored in a database and other users of the software can also see what is happening when they log into their accounts through the website. Some dialog the takes place over email, but is also stored in the database system. I made this system for myself so that I could keep everything in order and not miss details, and for users of the software to make it clear how this process works. In this case, the feature request was handled only through email.
Sometimes requests are very specific and not something that users other than the person requesting would need. Some requested features may have a broader appeal. In the future I plan for users to be able to work together with their requests to combine their ideas as well as their payments for the work I do, so that multiple users can benefit from sharing their use-cases and individual users don't have to bear the entire burden of paying for features that other users might also be interested in. I have yet to add that functionality to the system; it is a planned future improvement. The more the system gets used, the more incentive I have to improve it. I invite everyone with ideas for improving the software to please use the internal system to make all feature requests. Hopefully then details will not be missed, and everything can be done properly the first time!
Please login to download the update from the CSE software page.
February 23, 2016
I am hoping that this will be the last beta release of MIDI Tapper to be Mac-only. Only one problem was reported last time around, concerning a crash when the pencil tool was used on a blank project. MIDI Tapper isn't intended to be a full-fledged MIDI editor; the editing functions are geared towards shaping an existing MIDI file for performance. Writing MIDI data to a blank project was not something I had tested myself, which is how the crash slipped past me. The problem is fixed in this update. If no errors are reported during the next month, MIDI Tapper will finally be ported to Windows for the next round of testing.
If you already have a Mac beta license, this new version is a free download from the MIDI Tapper software page. If you would like to join the beta testing team, just purchase a beta license (it's only $2.99, and is valid for all beta releases).
January 31, 2016
The new MTS export function had a few issues which are fixed in the latest CSE update 2.9.89. An issue with .scl exporting using the "Scala by Selection" option has also been fixed.
Thanks to the users of the software for reporting issues and testing beta versions. You help make the software better!
Login to download the update from the CSE software page.
January 18, 2016
Custom Scale Editor 2.9.87 adds a MIDI Tuning Standard (MTS) export option to save tunings in .syx format. This file format is required by Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 6, and may be useful for other synthesizers as well. I've been told that some softsynths also use this format, though I don't have a list at this point. If you have information about this, please send an email. Special thanks to CSE user Warren Lee for requesting this feature. All registered users can request features in any H-Pi software simply by clicking on the menu item Request a Feature. The CSE update is free for all registered users.
MIDI Tapper beta 55 is released early, since a major problem was found with MIDI file exporting when patch change messages were inserted into a project in beta 54. The new beta cycle lasts until February 24, 2016. If you already have a MIDI Tapper beta license, the new version is a free download from the MIDI Tapper software page. If you would like to join the beta testing team, just purchase a beta license (only $2.99).
January 14, 2016
Only 4 days left and 2/3 funding to go in this unprecedented campaign for a microtonal jazz record to be performed by Berlin-based microtonal saxophonist Philipp Gerschlauer, Jack DeJohnette on drums, multi-guitarist David Fiuczynski, electric-bassist Matthew Garrison, and keyboardist Giorgi Mikadze. An impressive lineup, to say the least. It is also needless to point out the legendary status of drummer DeJohnette, except to emphasize that this opportunity represents something very important not only for the up-and-comer Philipp Gerschlauer, but also for the history of jazz! I sincerely hope you will support this project, and please invite your friends (especially those with more money than you have), to bring this project to reality. Support the project Now! Kickstarter Project Page.
December 19, 2015
This beta release of MIDI Tapper fixes reported bugs from the last cycle, and adds two user-requested features.
One of the reported problems concerned an interesting aspect of MIDI files. Some exported MIDI files from MIDI Tapper would play back at the wrong tempo in other software, but they would play at the right tempo when imported into MIDI Tapper. Moreover, it was found that if this file was exported from MIDI tapper, then imported back into MIDI Tapper, and then exported again, then it would play correctly in other software. The last bit was the clue I needed to solve the problem, which had to do with the Parts Per Quarter Note (PPQN) value in a MIDI file.
As the name suggests, the PPQN is the number of units used to represent a quarter note in a MIDI file. Since music consists of many rhythmic values smaller than a quarter note, one can imagine that the number chosen for the PPQN should be divisible by a lot of factors. MIDI Tapper uses 480, which is a widely used standard for MIDI files, because of its large number of factors:
Factors of 480: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 16, 20, 24, 30, 32, 40, 48, 60, 80, 96, 120, 160, 240, 480
Some software will optimize this value based on the smallest note value used in the file, so the recorded numbers can be as small as possible, to save bytes. Well, you can see how the choice of number for PPQN will have an effect on the tempo of playback. Time is all about counting, and conducting music is all about timing. In this case, the computer is the conductor, and it needs to know how many things are supposed to represent a certain amount of time. A human being could not count 480 things in a second, but of course a computer can do that very easily. You can see that if conductor thinks some value represents a quarter note, and that value actually represents an eighth note, then the tempo would be two times too slow. This is the sort of thing that was happening with some exported files (not all) from MIDI Tapper. In terms of a MIDI file, for the tempo to be right, the PPQN has to be known and matched to the internal clock which is conducting the music, both when recording, and when playing back.
The problem was this: MIDI Tapper would read the PPQN of an imported file, and play it back at whatever the PPQN was for that file (so far so good), but it would always record takes at 480 PPQN — and here's where a problem could arise: when MIDI Tapper would export a MIDI file, it would grab the PPQN from the original file to put in the exported file. So a take recorded at 480 PPQN could be exported at, say, 120 PPQN. The result would be, wrong tempo when playing back the exported file. Why? Because the PPQN in the exported file was not the same as the PPQN used when recording. Tempos would only be consistent for MIDI files imported that used 480 PPQN, which was most, but not all.
Another problem that was solved concerned MIDI Running Status. This is a way to save bytes in a MIDI file, by omitting the status byte for messages that follow in a series that are all the same status byte. The Note OFF message is often not used because Note ON with a Velocity of 0 can be used in its place, with running status, to save bytes. Well, up to now, MIDI Tapper would read these values almost correctly, but not quite. The problem was that after a running status was found, everything would be read wrongly offset by one byte — the missing status byte. The result was that notes would be read correctly, but the delta time for the very first note would be lost, so that all the notes on all the track would begin at time zero. My test piece for this problem was the first fugue from J.S.Bach's Art of Fugue, and the result of the wrongly read file is kind of funny. The fugue entrances at the octave and fifth (notice the tonal answer) are all stacked on top of each other, giving a sort of medieval effect.
After fixing the problem, the voices enter at the right time. (The window title still says artoffugue_wrong_start-times only because this is the name of the MIDI file.)
To make a long story longer, here is a list of the fixes in this version of MIDI Tapper:
This beta cycle will end on February 1, 2016. Still no Windows version. I know I have been pushing this back for some time. The reason is, as you can see, there still have been some basic issues to iron out in the Mac version, which is what I use for the code base. One I get a test cycle that has no reported bugs, then I will port it to Windows, and there are bound to be issues there specific to the platform that will then need to be addressed.
So for now MIDI Tapper is still Mac only. If you already have a beta license, this new version is a free download from the MIDI Tapper software page. If you would like to join the beta testing team, just purchase a beta license (it's only $2.99, and is valid for all beta releases).
December 08, 2015
Last week, ScalaVista user Hermann Beyer reported some problems with ScalaVista. When he tried to copy scale data from certain Turkish scales to the clipboard, the result was blank! Nobody had run across this problem until now. Since the Scala archive consists of over four thousand scales, it's understandable that something like this could be overlooked.
When I received these bug reports, I knew that this had something to do with character encoding, because the Turkish language requires non-latin characters. Sure enough, when I checked the relevant parts of the code, I found that character encoding was not being preserved in certain functions involving the clipboard. When text placed on the clipboard has the wrong encoding, the system may not see it as text, because the byte structure of the data is unknown.
After corresponding with Hermann Beyer, and sending him a beta version to test, the problem was solved. Everyone please download the update and let me know any other issues you find. When you report problems and work with me to test beta versions, you are helping to make the software better! Thanks again to Hermann Beyer for the help this time around.
November 20, 2015
All software having PDF documentation has been updated this week to allow better viewing and easier access to the documentation. Under the Help menu, three menu items now appear, to open the PDF in a window, in a PDF viewer, or online. Depending on the platform and where you bought the software, one of the options may not be available.
Windows versions cannot open the PDF in a window, and Mac App Store versions of the software cannot open the PDF in a PDF Viewer. Only the Mac versions of the software purchased directly from the H-Pi website have all three options enabled.
CSE also gets some bug fixes per user feedback, including correct recall of MIDI ports for users in countries where those ports may have non-latin characters in their names. Correct parsing of Functions and Constants has also been restored since this was broken in a previous update.
Click the images above or the links below to visit each software page, login and download the updates.
November 07, 2015
This beta release of MIDI Tapper fixes all reported bugs, and adds several requested features.
If you already have a beta license, this new version is a free download from the MIDI Tapper software page. If you would like to join the beta testing team, just purchase a 30-day license (it's only $2.99).
October 10, 2015
This beta release of MIDI Tapper rounds out the intended feature set, approaching readiness for the commercial release. All known bugs have been fixed, user interaction has been improved in a few subtle but important ways, MIDI functions have been expanded, a Preferences window has been added, and partial features like the write mode have been brought to a reasonable level of completion.
The wider variety of note coloring options introduced in beta 51 are now all user assignable, with the addition of Color Sets. These come in six flavors:
Perhaps the most interesting of these options is the velocity set, which allows the user to select 3 hotspots for three colors in a 5-color gradient. What this means is that the visual feedback can show how close the data has met target velocities.
Each track can have its color scheme set to a different type of display, so for example an upper part could show velocities while a lower part shows chromatic notes. Note colors can now also be easily edited directly in the view by right-clicking on the note and choosing the menu option Edit Color.
Each track now also has a note height parameter, so that parts can be more easily distinguished at a glance. This also helps when voices overlap with the same note and duration. A voice with a taller height will be drawn behind a note with a shorter height, as shown in the example below with yellow and green notes.
Write mode was newly developed for the previous update, which included a couple of crashing issues that have now been fixed. A few cosmetic changes were also made. The pencil tool now points in the same direction as the standard arrow, and the cursor also now changes to the pencil tool when the user switches to write mode. MIDI Tapper is intended to be a performance tool rather than a writing tool. The intended purpose of write mode is to allow quick editing of imported files. Nevertheless, the previously required MIDI file import prior to engaging write mode has been dropped, so that write mode can now be engaged immediately on startup to begin writing on blank staves if desired. If you try this, you might notice that a couple of things seem to be missing, like the ability to change or insert meters. Such things are non-essential to the core function of MIDI Tapper (performance of already existing MIDI files), but they may be added in the future. It is recommended to use music notation software or other composition software to create MIDI files for use with MIDI Tapper.
The full list of update details is as follows.
If you already have a beta license, this new version is a free download from the MIDI Tapper software page. If you would like to join the beta testing team, just purchase a 30-day license (it's only $2.99).
September 30, 2015
Each software I offer starts out as a tool I develop for my own work. I feel this is a good model for my business, because it means I have more of a personal stake in the quality of my software. MIDI Tapper is no exception, and in this beta update, you will find several features implemented because I want these features, not because someone else asked for them, but they are certainly useful for everyone. I have used MIDI Tapper to make recordings of many of my own compositions already. The first large scale work I recorded entirely with MIDI Tapper was 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano, recorded mostly in October 2014 (which also proves that MIDI Tapper has been capable of handling piano music quite well for over a year now).
One of my projects that has been delayed from being recorded is the New Goldberg Variations for pipe organ. Organ music requires some things from MIDI Tapper that piano music does not. The most obvious is multi-timbrality, or different voices being assigned to different patches (timbres). The manuals and the pedals of a real pipe organ do not sound the same. Each manual is assigned its own set of stops, and has its own unique sound. In the MIDI world, this translates into a separate MIDI channel for each division of the organ, with separate "patches" assigned to each channel. This functionality was added two beta cycles ago (beta 49 released in August 2015), and I have been implementing more features related to multitimbrality in the last two releases.
In beta 51, MIDI Tapper is newly equipped to deal with 3 important MIDI channel messages relevant to multitimbrality: patch changes, volume, and panning. These messages are now imported from MIDI files, appear and are editable in the tapping graphical environment, and may be freely added by the user to any MIDI Tapper file. The messages are displayed with a small MIDI DIN icon, as shown at right.
When one of these icons is clicked, a popup menu appears showing all of the MIDI messages it contains.
The ability to add and edit these messages tied in with several other features I had intended to add since the inception of the project — namely, note duration editing and ornamentation. In Write mode (selected by the pencil tool) the display now shows a small toolbar at the top left.
Now when adding notes, durations may be selected, which are proportional to whichever measure the note is being added to. This is simple enough. A more unusual feature is the addition of ornaments. Below is shown a portion of an imported MIDI file.
When the mordent tool is selected, and the first yellow note is clicked, a mordent is added, as shown below.
All ornaments are "intelligent" in selecting which notes above or below to use in the ornament. MIDI Tapper looks at the context within which the ornament is added, analyzing the pitch content surrounding the note to be ornamented. Based on what it finds there, either wholesteps or halfsteps above or below are selected. If no adequate context can be found, MIDI Tapper looks at the imported MIDI file for a key message (what key the piece is in) and if it exists, bases its choices of step sizes on that.
Ornaments vary in their rhythmic structure, and the user should be able to select the duration which is used for the ornament; for example, a short trill is often executed as a 32nd note triplet (that is, 1/48th of a whole note duration) while a turn is often executed in 16th notes. In MIDI Tapper, ornament durations are selected by menu activated by right-clicking on any of the ornament tools.
With multitimbral support and ornamental functions in place, MIDI Tapper is now ready to record projects like the New Goldberg Variations, and I hope to have a recording completed soon.
One feature that was added by request was additional display color options for notes. Now in addition to color by channel and color by velocity, the notes can also be colored by MIDI note (12ET) chromatically, or by position in a 12ET circle of fifths. The possible note color options are shown in sequence in the image below.
The full list of update details is as follows.
If you already have a beta license, this new version is a free download from the MIDI Tapper software page. If you would like to join the beta testing team, just purchase a 30-day license (it's only $2.99).
September 14, 2015
Those of you who have been wondering if MIDI Tapper has any microtonal support now have an answer in the affirmative. Along with many bugs fixed and several other features added, Beta 50 sports a new synthesizer output options window which includes support for microtonal output, and importing six different types of tuning files. You can now select the patch, volume, and panning of each output MIDI channel. Since Mac has a nice built-in soundfont synthesizer (the Apple DLS Synth) this means you can now orchestrate the output without having to use an external application. I'm now using this for organ music that I have written, and it works very well. The image below shows three output channels assigned to three different timbres (MIDI patches) with a little differentiation in volume. A tuning is not assigned, but you can see the interface below the channels list which maintains a library of imported tunings, available to all your projects. All this data is of course now saved with your project, so when you open a project to work on it, you can immediately have the orchestrated output you want for that particular piece of music.
The full list of update details are as follows.
Here is a screenshot of the marker numbers now shown in the overview area as well as the main view.
August 31, 2015
There were no reported bugs in the previous beta cycle for MIDI Tapper for Mac OSX; however, I found and fixed a couple of minor issues.
One missing feature which I will hopefully find the time to add to the next version of MIDI Tapper is basic control of the Apple DLS Synthesizer (for Mac users). Although there is no corollary for the Apple DLS Synthesizer on Windows, some additional options for MIDI control will be available in the Windows version as well. The first Windows version of MIDI Tapper will likely be available within the next few weeks. Moving towards official release, I also hope to begin writing documentation for the application in September. Thank you for your patience.
If you already have a beta license, this new version is a free download from the MIDI Tapper software page. If you would like to join the testing team, simply purchase a beta license (it's only $2.99).
P.S. If you have installed a previous beta version, when you install this new version you may have to manually delete the old version, because of the small change in the app name.
July 31, 2015
First, a small apology — due to a calendar mixup, this release of MIDITapper Beta 48 is a day later than expected. If you already have a beta license, this new version is a free download from the MIDITapper software page. If you would like to join the testing team, simply purchase a beta license (it's only $3).
As has been the case with every other beta release, all reported bugs from the previous beta cycle have been fixed, and some new features have been added. Here is a short list of a few things in this update.
I had considered releasing a Windows version this time around, but there are still too many issues which need to be vetted, so Windows users will have to wait through another month cycle of testing on Mac OSX. Your patience is appreciated.
June 28, 2015
All reported bugs from the previous beta cycle have been fixed, and some new features have been added in MIDITapper Beta 47. It was suggested that after a take has been recorded, the take data should be editable directly in the main window without having to open the MIDI Events list. So, when notes are selected in the window and you right-click (or Control-click) with the mouse, a menu now appears with all the options that were previously only available in the MIDI Events list, allowing you to the data belonging to the currently selected take, or edit the original data (which was previously the only option). This new feature makes editing takes a bit quicker in cases where you don't necessarily need to open the events list.
June 25, 2015
Users of CSE have been busy, and have recently reported several bugs which are fixed in this update. A few of the problems fixed …
Thanks to the users of the software for reporting issues. You help make the software better!
Download the update from the cse software page.
May 27, 2015
The Tune Equal Division window in CSE just got a whole lot better.
Previously, the window offered only a minimum of options:
That was fine for a quick mapping of an EDO, but what if you wanted more control? You had to do things like transpose and tweak the Global Key and Hz settings. Not ideal. What if you wanted a non-octave equal division? You had to use an Algorithm for that.
Not any more. Now you get all these options in one place, plus you can assign a specific degree of the scale to a specific key on the keyboard with a specific frequency in Hz, all at once. Could it get any simpler? Let's try it and see…
Example 1: 15EDO starting on C. Here's what it looks like in the new Equal Division window, using the options listed above that CSE has offered for years.
To make this more interesting, let's instead use the new to key with frequency option to map the first degree to middle C to 264 Hz.
This gives us the following result.
Example 2: Now for some new magic. Bohlen-Pierce 13th root of 3 scale. We just select non-octave, type in 3 for the period, and 13 for the number of divisions. We'll map the first degree to middle C at 264 Hz again.
Here is the result.
Pretty simple, huh? Also notice that after one period of the non-octave scale is completed, the tuning entry gets multiplied a factor of the period (in this case, 3). Multiples accrue for each iteration of the period, so the scale is correct and you can also still see the proper scale degree in the tuning entry, rather than just an inscrutable decimal number as is the case when using an EDIV algorithm.
Oh, and that non-octave period can be anything you want there. You can write a ratio or a decimal, or even a full blown tuning entry, with up to 32 operators. For cents, you would first make sure you have cents selected as your Unit, and then just type a + before the value, so a period of +1203.44 means 1203.44 cents (3.44 cents more than an octave). You could also type that in as (2/1)+3.44 if you preferred.
NOTE: The new Equal Division window was introduced in version 2.9.70, and a few bugs were fixed in update 2.9.72, issued June 1.
May 15, 2015
CSE gets some major improvements this time around with the way Scala files are imported and mapped to keys of the keyboard. It's now possible to import a scale, put a certain degree of that scale on a certain key of the keyboard, tune that keyboard key to a specific frequency and have the rest of the tuning follow, all in one step. Specifying Hz values is now easier than ever, with up/down arrows that follow whatever precision you are using, so that you can change the value by fractional increments if you like, rather than whole Hz (previously fractional values were only supported by typing values directly into the input field). Scala Files also appear more normally when imported, in that the period 2/1 is not replaced with 1/1 as in previous versions of CSE. All non-octave periods are also mapped properly, with correct octaves. Special thanks to Juhani Nuorvala for requesting these features and working through the beta debugging process with me. By the way, Nuorvala's new album 7.13 has just been released on the Finnish label ALBA. Kudos, Juhani!
May 11, 2015
From time to time, new features are requested for CSE. An interesting problem was presented by a recent request: map a Scala file to the keyboard, tuning a specific key to a frequency, changing the value of the global tuning frequency according to the tuned key. Sound confusing? It's actually pretty simple, and it makes sense. It means that, in a performance situation, a pitch of a scale can be tuned to an exact frequency, and all the other pitches in the scale will adjust to the desired pitch. Usually the tuning pitch is A, but not always.
To implement this new feature, I decided to split the Map window into 2 options: (1) as it is now and (2) a new option shown below:
So you simply select a tone to put on a key with a frequency, and the scale mapping follows from that. Look for this feature in the next CSE update.
May 05, 2015
Do the words MIDI file suggest mechanical and lifeless to you? If yes, it's probably be for good reason; there are after all vast numbers of MIDI files in circulation which basically fit that description — unmusical, lacking in interpretive nuance, dynamics, rubato, and all the things that real musicians do when they actually play music.
To deal with these problems, some software implements humanizing functions, which attempt to make MIDI files sound less mechanical by processing the data with a set of algorithms intended to mimic the way human beings play music. Those solutions can help if you just want the playback not to sound so rigid, but what about when you really want to be able to interpret the music yourself, and hear it the way you would perform it? No algorithm is going to do that; at that point, you just have to play it. But then, well, you have to be able to play it, which means you have to practice it. That's time, and hard work. Of course, it's what musicians do — we practice the music we want to hear until we can play it the way we want to play it. But what if there was some kind of middle ground, leveraging this brilliant tool called the computer that can process all the musical instructions that are in a MIDI file, and your brilliant brain which already knows exactly how the music should go?
That's where this software comes in, making real human-directed musical performance less difficult and time consuming, by having the computer do things it's good at, while staying out of your way to let you do the things you're good at. Today marks the official beta release of a new app from H-Pi Instruments called MIDITapper, designed to let you bring your musicality to those otherwise lifeless MIDI files. So how does it work? I tried to sum it up on the product page as follows:
"MIDITapper for Mac OSX and Windows allows you to perform music of any level of complexity quickly and easily, by playing with just one or two fingers on a MIDI controller. Record, edit, and shape your music with the performance nuances you want, fast. Get results with precise control in a fraction of the time it would take with conventional performance and recording methods."
The core idea behind MIDITapper isn't new; it has a long history. MIDITapper is in fact a direct descendent of Stephen Malinowski's Tapper software (hence I kept Tapper in the name). I found Malinowski's Tapper some years ago when I was looking for a way to realize my Equal Tempered Keyboard project. With Tapper, I made the first real performance recordings of those keyboard pieces, and I was elated.
At that time, I was running OSX 10.6.8. Tapper worked on that OS. When I was forced to upgrade OSX in order to continue developing software for Mac, I was dismayed to find that Tapper wasn't compatible with newer versions of OSX. I contacted Malinowski, asking if he intended to release an update, and he said no. Long story short, I asked Stephen if I could write my own version of Tapper, and he said he was all for it. He reviewed all the early versions of the software, pointing out what didn't work quite right, and explaining features he'd like to see.
I continued developing the software for my own needs, to realize piano music I had written. That process led me to develop features which allow performances to be easily spliced together, and then reshaped afterwards in ways that maintain the original expression. What emerged is not only a powerful performance tool, but an equally powerful recording and production tool.
I recorded my 24 Preludes and Fugues album with MIDITapper, using a sampled Steinway piano. You can hear excerpts from those performances at Zwillinge Verlag.
For now, MIDITapper is being tested on Mac OSX. A small team of users are reporting bugs, and I'm ironing out the issues. If you'd like to join in this process, simply open an account and buy a MIDITapper beta license (it's only a few dollars). We can then correspond about any issues you find and any ideas you may have for improving what's there, and your beta license will renew throughout each test cycle, until the software is released.
May 04, 2015
I've been building Tonal Plexus microtonal keyboards by hand for almost a decade now. I could never build these keyboards fast enough; I either had to ask people to wait, or just apologize and refuse orders. Occasionally, I was asked if I would consider selling the keyboard as a kit, or if I would just sell the circuit boards. Only once did I sell a special-order keyboard which consisted of mounted circuit boards, with no enclosure, for much cheaper than a finished keyboard.
Now that the new website is launched, it's time to start offering a Do It Yourself option. Click the hardware menu, and you'll now see two new entries: DIY and prototypes. Individual circuit boards are offered, some of which are available in quantity, others which are one of a kind. These are stock items that can ship immediately around the world.
Note that to assemble a keyboard, you'll also need cables and connectors. If for example you want to build a 4-octave U-PLEX, you'll need a U-PLEX control module and 4 TPX Octaves, and a 16 conductor ribbon cable with 5 connectors to assemble the unit. You'll also want to mount the boards using standoffs, etc. It seemed to me a bit complicated to try to handle cables and connectors as order items, so instead, when you place an order for PCBs, just also send an email explaining what you plan to do, and I'll make sure you understand what cables you need. In most cases I'll probably throw in the cables and connectors for free.
DIY users usually consult forums to discuss ideas and solve issues as they design and build their projects. Presently there is no user's forum on the website, but this may be added. For the time being, discussion can take place on the H-Pi Instruments facebook page. Happy building!
April 28, 2015
A couple of small details related to the new Cocoa framework in the Mac version of CSE have been corrected. Threads are handled differently in this framework, which caused an error when clicking on the question-mark buttons for help within the app. Opening the synthesizer window also may have caused an error for some users. Mac users, please download the update from the cse software page.
April 27, 2015
Tools built for a specific need can sometimes be repurposed, with interesting results. I designed the Tuning Box for microtuning General MIDI synthesizers, but "Professor" George Hall has found a novel use for it: remapping MIDI notes via a Trombone to wirelessly control a color lighting system. Confused? Here's what Professor Hall told me recently about his work via email:
"Without going into detail, there are great artistic possibilities with using the power of a synth - but silent - to operate lights, and being able to modify a scale to fit the range of movement of the trombone slide, thanks to CSE and TBX1".
Just operating lights based on MIDI notes created from slide movements would be easy, but quickly become predictable. Of course having a synth audible and changing sounds with the slide movements of a played trombone is another realm. My original goal was just to create color from slide movements, kind of like a visual Theremin."
So, if I understand this correctly, it sounds like remapping pitches via TBX1 would result in different changes in color, so selecting tuning presets would be like selecting a new color palettes for different motions of the slide. Neat idea!
"By the way, I first played a Moog synth in 1970, and was in a backup band behind Don Ellis, so I have a special appreciation for your accomplishments. I play Ragtime piano with Silent Movies. 'Professor Hall' is just my stage name; I cannot claim to have a PhD, or an institutional position. It is all about having some fun."
For those of you who don't already know, Don Ellis recorded microtonal jazz featuring a quartertone trumpet — noteworthy in the history microtonal music.
Thank you, Professor Hall, for sharing your invention!
April 23, 2015
Thanks to CSE user Baris Karademir for reporting a bug in CSE. The problem was introduced in the CSE update released along with the new website, and it affected both platforms. The MIDI Window was not responding to authorizations, locking out users from selecting MIDI input devices. The devices could still be selected in the Live Input window, which was why this bug went undetected for a while. In any case, once again a bug was reported, fixed, and update released the same day. Please download the update from the cse software page.
April 19, 2015
Since version 1.6.1, the Mac version of microsynth is compiled with Apple's Cocoa framework. Some things work a little differently in Cocoa than they did in the old framework (Carbon). One unexpected issue turned out to be accessing pixel information from graphics objects, which caused the Cocoa version of microsynth to crash when clicking on any of the knobs in the tracks window. So this bug has been fixed and an update issued today, for Mac users. This is a case where the bug was reported, fixed, and the update issued all in the same day.
April 17, 2015
The new website offers something H-Pi Instruments never had before: a user account system. This might seem like an inconvenience to some. Why is it a good thing?
Well, it's good for me to be able to keep track of the business in a more organized way than before. In the past, everything was done by hand, through email, without databases. While it's not impossible to work that way for a low-volume business, it's time-consuming, and more importantly it is error-prone. From this point of view, the new system simplifies matters, keeps information correct and consistent, and saves a lot of time.
The system is useful for you, too. In addition to downloading software, you can also manage your software licenses, view your reports (bug reports, and feature requests), and starting today you can also view your account history, including your authorizations and deauthorizations, and your purchases (only the items are listed).
Now the most important question that should be asked of every system like this. Is it secure? Yes, it is. Here are some details to help put your mind at ease:
Just to explain a little …
I hope this gives you a better idea of what the system is all about. If you haven't done so already, please go ahead and open an account.
April 13, 2015
The latest version of microsynth is now available for download. Thanks to microsynth user Yossi Tamim for reporting bugs in the previous version of microsynth relating to hand-edited tuning entries and file saving, which have now been fixed.
April 10, 2015
I've been working on issues with the new website and software license registration over the past 24 hours. Updated versions of the following software are now available for download:
microsynth has also been updated, but an additional issue was brought to my attention which I want to address before posting the update. It will be available in a day or two.
April 09, 2015
Dear loyal fans,
The good news is that the new website has been launched, along with software updates for CSE, TPXE, Xentone, Scalavista, and microsynth. The bad news is that I have received so many reports of problems with software installation and license registrations today, that I finally have disabled downloads until I can figure out what all the problems are.
It may be a day or two until everything is sorted out, and it also may require reinstallation in some cases.
All the software is of course tested and thought to be free of these kinds of problems before it's put up for download, but unpredictable things can sometimes happen.
I appreciate your kind patience as I fix the problems.
March 31, 2015
Loyal fans may have noticed that the H-Pi Instruments website domain has changed from h-pi.com to hpiinstruments.zentral.zone , the PayPal checkout now says Zentralzone instead of H-Pi Instruments, and the copyright notice at the bottom of the website says Zentralzone instead of H-Pi Instruments. So what gives?
A few things..
Some curious readers may also have noticed that the new website name, hpiinstruments.zentral.zone, is a bit long. It's certainly a lot longer than h-pi.com. The .zone top level domain (TLD) is also very new and may seem strange. My prediction is that .zone is going to catch on; I think we'll see more and more websites using that TLD in the near future. The destination website domain for H-Pi Instruments is actually hpi.zentral.zone, and the new website is already waiting there in a password access directory. Either way, the new site is a subdomain of zentral.zone So what's that about?
Over the past decade, I have developed several different websites for various aspects of my work. These include my own site at aaronandrewhunt.com, a software site at matherpointsoftware.com, and the h-pi.com website. Maintaining many websites all under different domains is unwieldy and expensive (for me, anyway) — and too limiting. I decided that a better method of organization would be a flexible TLD that suggested centrality, under which all my other sites could be subdomains. In terms of design organization, this model leads anywhere, because there is no limit to the number of subdomains I can add to the TLD. For my (low traffic) websites, it's a much cheaper, more efficient, easier to manage structure.
Another important issue is the size of the site, and its ease of use. The current site has become too big and complex to navigate. The new site will be much smaller and more focused on products. Much of the existing H-Pi content, including the history and theory materials, will be moved to different websites completely. For some time much of the information currently available will not be found anywhere anymore.
The h-pi.com domain will continue to forward to the new website until it expires later in 2015.
A note about the software…
To launch the new site, all H-Pi software must be updated, since registration processes require each software to communicate with the H-Pi website. These updates will include a completely automated license issuing process, and so the current license formats will change for all software. Current license holders will need to pay a small fee to continue upgrading their existing license. Look for these updates in April to accompany the launch of the site.
June 20, 2014
All H-Pi Instruments hardware sales will be suspended for at least the next two months, during which time I'll be traveling in Europe, staying as guest at the kind invitation of several generous souls with whom I've come into contact through this business.
Having spent the last four years in Muncie Indiana, for family related reasons, it became clear in recent months that my time here is drawing to a close, and it's time to move on. Instead of moving directly somewhere new, given the opportunity to visit and collaborate with fellow musicians in Europe, I decided to arrange for my things to be placed into storage, and to take a one way flight to France in July. Once there, I'll likely use trains to navigate. If you live in Europe and would like to meet up, drop me a line using the contact form, and we'll see what we can work out. So far I have plans to be in France, Germany, Bulgaria, and possibly the Netherlands. I'll have some kind of global Eurorail (or Inter-rail?) pass, so I should have some flexibility.
H-Pi Software sales will continue as usual, via the website shopping cart and email registration. Please keep in mind that I may take a while to send out license information, since I don't know what my circumstances will be, and it all has to be done manually. I'll also remain available of course via email, but also may take longer than usual to respond.
Thanks to everyone who has supported me through the past four years while I've based all my operations at this location, and I look forward to the next chapter in the adventure.
March 17, 2014
microsynth 1.5.5 is released today, March 17, 2014. This update fixes a problem with using External Output to send MIDI output to other apps, which sometimes caused other applications to crash. In addition to fixing this problem, a new feature was added to allow Panning and Volume to be filtered from External Output. Thanks to microsynth user Alex Neumann for reporting this problem, working with me to reach the solution, and testing the beta to verify that the problem has been fixed.
Please download microsynth 1.5.5, and remember, if you should ever find a problem with my software, please kindly use the Report a Bug menu item to send me an explanation of the problem, and I'll work with you to fix it. The work I did for version 1.5.5 was a direct result of correspondence with a customer who reported the problem and worked with me to test a beta version before releasing this update. Thanks everyone for your continued support.
February 23, 2014
I'm pleased to announce the release of CSE 2.9.52 today, February 23, 2014. This update fixes a few bugs and adds a couple of new requested features.
Pro users will see a new split-keyboard feature for Live Input, as well as new options in the Quick Hz Window, both added at customer request.
Do you have an idea for a new feature? Discuss it with me and we can decide on a reasonable fee for its development, or if it is simple enough, sometimes I'll add it for free.
Please download CSE 2.9.52, let me know any problems you find, and tell me what new features you want. Thanks everyone for your continued support.
September 12, 2013
An old adage goes that a major rewrite of a piece of software tends to require a bit of tweaking. Well okay, maybe it's not exactly an adage, but ScalaVista 2 has proven to be no exception to this well known fact, rule, Murphy's law, etc. To wit, several problems in the initial release have been fixed and an update issued today. I would like to thank everyone who reported problems with the initial release, particularly Heinz Bohlen and Juhani Nuorvala, who pointed out issues with the Windows version and the Mac version respectively. Please install the update today, and enjoy!
September 03, 2013
The ScalaVista Online Archive was created as a replacement for the original version of ScalaVista, which first appeared in 2009. This online database improves in many ways on the original ScalaVista, which was freeware, worked directly with Scala text files, and had no way of reliably correlating the scales on a user's machine with the scales in the current Scala archive. With the ScalaVista desktop app, the user had to keep his or her archive up to date by manually syncing with the archive, and this was a confusing process which involved downloading a zip file and moving files around. While the approach allowed a certain kind of flexibility for the user, it also was a bit too confusing, and somewhat error prone.
So, in consultation with Manuel Op de Coul (the creator of Scala and the Scala Archive), I programmed the online searchable database from the existing Scala archive, as a permanent addition to the H-Pi Instruments website. This archive is a much simpler way to provide access to the scales with search features, as well as other benefits, like the ability to link to search URLs for sharing and bookmarking. For example, here is a link to all the scales in the archive with Yarman in the description: http://scalavista.zentral.zone/scalearchive.php?match=description&requires=contains&search=yarman
The online archive allows searching for matching text within the parameters of the Scala format: filename, description, tone count, and tones. I was also pleased to receive kind permission from Mike Battaglia to adapt a project of his for use in the archive, adding a basic MIDI playback function. Dynamic audio playback in a browser is tricky business, and unfortunately MIDI seems to simply be very poorly supported in modern browsers, but the good news is that the new Web Audio API should allow us to improve playback of microtonal music in browsers in the near future.
Overhauling the design of ScalaVista to turn it into a true database app, and to link it with the growing Scala archive, was no small task. Why should I spend so much time on it, all for free? Having finished the free online database (volunteer work), it occurred to me that the ScalaVista desktop need no longer be freeware, since everyone would now have access to the online database for free through their browsers. Getting paid, even just a few dollars, helps as an incentive for a lot of hard work. So, I focused on improving the cross-platform functionality of the app and also designed some more advanced features to make ScalaVista an app that would be worth buying. Full PDF documentation seemed to be in order as well, since ScalaVista would be growing up to play with the big boys now.
The result is a much more advanced database allowing more specific searching using comparators as well as matching, introducing advanced search options and advanced functionality, and most importantly allowing the tones of every scale to be heard and compared quickly and easily, with visual feedback.
Below is shown the new Advanced Search window, which allows combining any number of search parameters at once.
ScalaVista has also been submitted to the Mac App Store, but we'll have to wait and see if it is approved or not. Users should note that a license purchased through the App Store will be for Mac only, and will allow updates only through the App Store, while those who buy a license through H-Pi can use it on both Windows and Mac, and will receive updates through the H-Pi website. The price will be the same, but I receive more of the income from a purchase through H-Pi. The App Store reaches an audience that doesn't know about the website, and the lower income is the trade off for the extra exposure.
The price? A mere $4 — there are hundreds of hours of work in this app, so at this price, it's basically like you're buying me a drink (a beer, latte, whatever) to say thanks. And, of course, I appreciate it, as always. With ScalaVista 2, we begin a new journey into the future, and I hope you'll share your ideas for improving the software as you use it.
May 06, 2013
If you've just downloaded some of my software on your new Mac, it might crash when you open it. The reason is that I have yet to issue updates for the latest version of Mountain Lion.
But have no fear, these updates are on the way, along with some improvements to the software.
Thanks for your support, everyone.
February 07, 2013
Melle Weijters is a guitarist of a different stripe … or maybe we should say different color? Namely, yellow! As you may already know, he has been very busy now for some years now in the field of alternative tunings. Recently, he was appointed duties at the Fokker Foundation concerning the famous 31-tone pipe organ. He also has commissioned a special 41-tone guitar of his own design, which is yet unfinished. A year or so year ago, Melle ordered a special 3-octave yellow U-Plex keyboard, to which I gave the project title 'The School Bus'.
And, just a few days ago at the EuroMicrofest, on February 3 2013, Melle delivered a presentation to an audience of enthusiasts in Köln, Germany which included various aspects of H-System music theory:
Melle is known already for playing an unusual (yellow) fretless guitar, which you can see and hear him play in some videos on YouTube like this one:
You can also listen to some of Melle's tracks on SoundCloud.
So keep an eye out for this guy, folks! Thanks for all your great work, Melle!
January 23, 2013
Devoted readers, you both may already know that the tuning-geek community eagerly welcomed new software versions earlier this month from H-Pi Instruments. Updates for Custom Scale Editor (CSE) and Tonal Plexus Editor (TPXE) were released on Jan. 10, 2013.
It turns out that there was a minor problem with the TPXE release; that is, specifically, trying to do anything in the application made it crash immediately. Among others, TPXE user Juhani Nuorvala noticed this and sent me several bug reports about it, such as the following:
When TPXE crashed, I was trying to tune a note. Can't do anything in TPXE - crashes on first action … Immediate crash. Disaster - TPXE doesn't work ar all. Version 1.8.2.
This puzzled me until I downloaded the software and confirmed that trying to do something other than click on keys and hear sounds brought up the OOPS! window. Ah, what joy is felt when one discovers one has made such outrageous blunders.
The mystery was soon solved. I had accidentally copied a line of code from CSE into TPXE, within the Undo engine. These applications use different kinds of memory objects in their undo methods, so the consequence was that any action which was undoable in TPXE resulted in calling this wrong line of code, that resulted in a crash. Luckily, this was very easy to fix. Windows users had also noticed that the version number of their download was incorrect, and window placement was strange in Windows 7. So, I fixed the version, fixed the window placement issues (Microsoft changed the margins and spacing of windows again), and released TPXE 1.8.3 yesterday — to great acclaim, I might add.
Update: As it turns out, CSE also inadvertently included a bug that kept exporting from functioning. This has been fixed as well; CSE 2.9.3 issued today, Jan 25.
2nd Update: It has also been brought to my attention that the email sent out to customers on the mailing list had a broken image. So, it has been a month of many silly mistakes.
Thanks for your patience and continued support, dear friends. More software updates to follow …
December 31, 2012
Five years ago, I began selling Tonal Plexus keyboards online. I started doing this mainly just to bring the instruments into existence, so that musicians (including myself) could use them. As many of you know, all the circuit boards are manufactured in Bulgaria by my friend Jordan Petkov of MIDI Gadgets Boutique, and the finished products are constructed manually by me. Needless to say, if I hadn't decided to do all this, these keyboards would not exist.
For five years now, I've turned printed circuit boards into instruments, doing everything myself, building the enclosures from scratch by hand with raw materials - sheet metal, plywood, sheet plastic, screws, standoffs, adhesives, plastic key caps, etc. For every keyboard, I have hand-punched all the holes in every octave panel. That's a lot of hand-punching …
My original plan was to work this way for five years, and then to restructure my business so that I was not doing all the work myself. Now it's five years later. My designs have improved over this short time, and I've learned a lot, and have even been able to introduce a new velocity sensing keyboard. But, I'm not only building keyboards; I'm also building TBX1 units, as well as programming all kinds of software, and maintaining this website. I have wanted to collaborate on all of these things for years now, but that hasn't happened. It's quite a lot work for one person. According to my original plan, something needs to change at this point.
So, I've decided to take some some steps toward change. First, in 2013 I'd like to start sharing more about what I have learned, to help anyone who wants to do this kind of work. Toward this end, yesterday I had an idea to start something called the Open Source Microtonal Keyboard Initiative (OSMKI). I don't know exactly what this could be, but eventually what I would like to see is an online resource repository, organized and annotated in a user-friendly way, like a book, providing everything anyone would need to build a microtonal keyboard.
To kick things off, today I decided to make existing design documents for Tonal Plexus TPX and U-PLEX keyboards available for free download. My design documents are simple 2D drawings, nothing fancy. In fact, much of what I do is completely undocumented. It just seems wrong to me that nobody else knows how to make these keyboards, so I want to start sharing for anyone who is interested.
I admit that this initial offering is far from complete, and not exactly user-friendly; there are no assembly instructions, or even parts lists. But it's a start. Also, I'm not going to pretend here; generally because I need to spend time on my livelihood, I don't have much time to devote to this kind of thing. I'm taking the time to do all this now at the end of the year, and I want to follow through with it (like any new year resolution), but it's really hard to justify working on something like this without getting paid for it. In this particular case it's even harder, because part of my idea is to give away all my work essentially for free. I'm not sure, but it seems like that runs sort of counter to gaining income from my work. It also seems to me the right thing to do at this point. Anyway, if you are interested in seeing this project grow, donations would be welcome.
Happy New Year!
December 29, 2012
Leave it to Aria-engine designer and sample expert David Viens of Plogue to give a fantastic year-end gift to all of us. This free player loads a bank of SFZ samples, and lets you retune them with scala files.
This is another great opportunity to design your scales with Custom Scale Editor (CSE) and export them to the player to start hearing the tunings you want to explore. The next version of CSE (coming soon!) will include an advanced export scripting feature to automate and speed up the process of exporting your tunings to destinations such as the sforzando player.
Happy holidays, everyone! See you soon in 2013!
December 12, 2012
Do you like music? Then check out this hour-long retrospective radio program of music and words by Finnish composer Juhani Nuorvala. I have listened to this program at least four times now, and I can tell you, the music is wonderful, and I want you to hear it. And, act fast, because this link will expire on Dec 25: http://areena.yle.fi/radio/1695941
Details for the musical excerpts are:
A list of the musicians is available TBX1 units were used to help train singers to internalize special tunings. I'm honored that something I made has contributed to this innovative creative work. While the performance of Boost on this program uses a Moog synthesizer with built-in microtuning, a previous performance of that piece used a TBX1 with a Dave Smith Instruments MoPho, and I have some pictures from that earlier performance in 2009.
Listening to Nuorvala's music, I have the feeling that it is saying something very important. Not surprisingly, others have been making similar observations. Take a moment to read some good words about Nuorvala's music by fellow composer Matthew Whittall.
Last, please also enjoy Prélude non retouché by Nuorvala, an organ piece which was written using microsynth with an organ soundfont, tuned in meantone, with a midi keyboard controller and Finale:
Music by Nuorvala can be found on soundcloud here. Enjoy!
December 01, 2012
Multiinstrumentalist and Tonal Plexus devotee Dolores Catherino has been hard at work again, this time reworking her composition Toward the Continuum for Tonal Plexus, tuned in in 106ET using a special layout of her own design. Check out the score which features colorcode and shapenote notation. The video can be viewed on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WB-MSUahx6I
Here are a few words from Dolores:
My current approach is to create microtonal music that retains enough melodic/harmonic familiarity to create a perceptual and aesthetic bridge between traditional macropitch (12ET) music and higher resolution micropitch music systems. My initial introduction to microtonal music was emotionally reminiscent of the atonal music that accompanied the old grade school film reels about the atomic bomb. The music was also associated with old frightening sci-fi (pre John Williams) and horror movies. Later, I found Harry Partch's Delusion of the fury to be very intuitively and emotionally accessible musically. My hope is to compose microtonal music with romantic stylistic tendencies - strong melody, emotionally driven harmonic development. This is an amazing era in music history, Rapid technological advancements are allowing epic advancements in the creation of artistically expressive tools. I believe a new mindset is required to take full advantage of the rapid changes (instability vs removal of entrenched limitations). We are at a pre-rule stage with these new instruments in which we can create the approach as well as the music (blank slate). This allows for the development of pluralistic musical pitch systems systems and microtonal perspectives. The potential dimensions and limits of musical perception/appreciation await discovery and artistic development. Optimally, the pluralistic development of microtonality through collaboration and multiple perspectives may lead the way to new approaches and perspectives in many other fields of study. In this way music can change the world. A visual analogy always with me these days is that of a 2 dimensional sheet of music with black notes/note boundaries, which, when viewed in a 3 dimensional perspective 'accordions' out to a spectral color continuum for each note. Going back from the 3D perspective to the 2D, the note colors combine 'subtractively' and appear black once again. The continuum awaits …
November 26, 2012
In late 2009, I was asked by musicologist (and Harry Partch expert) Bob Gilmore to write an article about the Tonal Plexus for the second volume of the Fokker Institute's Journal: Thirty-One, a microtonal series, the first volume of which had appeared in 2004. I submitted my article in 2010 and it was accepted for publication, but the journal has not published its second volume yet, some two years hence. Since so much time has passed, I recently wrote to Bob to ask if it would be all right to place the article online here as a PDF, which he thought would be just fine. Therefore, I bring to you my article "Tonal Plexus Microtonal Keyboard: Regent for the Future of Music". Enjoy!
November 22, 2012
After a long absence, TBX1 is scheduled to be back in stock by January 13, 2013. Thanks for your patience! Orders are open now for shipping in January if you would like to make sure you get yours before they are gone again.
September 15, 2012
The second MegaPlex in existence is on its way to the New England Conservatory.
The keyboard will be used by students in microtonal music classes taught by composer Julia Werntz.
September 09, 2012
Since the introduction of Tonal Plexus keyboards in 2007, the most requested feature has been velocity sensing keys. After years of development, with the help of funding provided by Tonal Plexus devotee Dolores Catherino, I'm proud to announce a new line of velocity sensing Tonal Plexus keyboards called MegaPlex.
MegaPlex keyboards not only have velocity sensing keys (having 3 mm travel), but also feature 45 more keys per octave than TPX and U-PLEX keyboards, for a total of 256 keys per octave. The keyboards also feature selectable USB-MIDI and MIDI DIN outputs, six pedal inputs for a variety of MIDI CC control, a tough aluminum exterior, an internal amplifier and stereo speakers, and a built-in Mac with an LCD screen and access to USB, HDMI, Audio IN, and Firewire 800. The Mac produces the audio output for the keyboard.
Below is pictured the first 6-octave MegaPlex, built by hand especially for Dolores Catherino, now residing at her studio in Anchorage, Alaska.
The planned H-Pi product line includes the above 6-octave keyboard (1536 keys) with the embedded Mac, and a line of controllers without the built-in Mac, having 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 octaves (that's 512, 768, 1024, 1280, and 1536 total keys, respectively).
General pricing for MegaPlex keyboards has not yet been determined. I am considering a KickStarter campaign to fund production and save me from having to build every keyboard by hand. If you are interested in owning a MegaPlex, send an email to let me know. If you would like to be informed of news regarding MegaPlex, please join the mailing list. Thanks as always for your support.
June 14, 2012
In 2009, I received an order for a TBX1 unit from Michigan-based sound artist Mitchell Walcott. Two years later, another order from Mitch appeared, this time for a custom finish two-octave U-Plex keyboard all white (shown above) similar to the Moby Plexus TPX unit I had made for color-blind composer Jesus Lopez in 2010. Little did I know what Mitch had in mind for his keyboard.
Shortly after I shipped the white U-Plex to Mitch, I received an email from him, asking about the possibility for connecting the keyboard to an iPad through Apple's USB camera connection kit. This was something I had wondered about myself, but had no way to test. Since I don't develop for iOS (the operating system used on Apple's iPads and iPods), and U-Plex outputs only untuned raw MIDI, I thought it was probably not possible to get the keyboard to produce microtonal output on iOS, but Mitch was more optimistic.
A little background for anyone unfamiliar with all this iPads were originally cut off from the world of MIDI hardware, apart from a few companies who were able to design special interfaces for the iDevice docking system. Then Apple released the USB connection kit, which is compatible with the second generation iPad and later. Although marketed to photo enthusiasts, the connector also allows USB MIDI devices to connect to iPad2 without a pricey third-party gizmo. An update to iOS followed shortly after the release of the connector which added CoreMIDI support to iOS, and since then, development of MIDI apps on iOS has become much easier; instead of developers resorting to clever workarounds, they can now just call directly to Apple's programming framework.
In January of 2012, another email appeared in my in box, this time a CC on a note from Mitch to audeonic developer Nic Grant, who is based in Ireland. Mitch offered to hire Nic to add support for Tonal Plexus keyboards to his app MidiBridge, a brilliant little app which runs in the background of iOS and routes MIDI between any and all iOS MIDI ports; physical, network and virtual.
That very same day, Nic responded in the affirmative, and to my amazement, the project was underway.
Prior to instigating all this, Mitch had been busy contacting various iOS synth designers to find out about possible candidates for an iOS U-Plex controlled microtonal synth. Homework! I joined in the search, and corresponded with the folks at crimson technology, makers of iOS wavesynth, to find out about the possibility of adding CoreMIDI support. Sure enough, in April crimson added the necessary support.
Beyond a little bit of fiddling with iPod touch units to test MIDI over WiFi, I didn't do much other than supply some documentation and correspondence with Nic and Mitch, answering questions and trying to keep up with the quick pace of Nic's progress.
Long story short, here we are half a year later, and Mitch's vision is a reality - U-Plex works with iOS synthesizers through MidiBridge! The basic requirements of an iOS synth app are as follows:
If the above requirements are met, it's just a matter of setting up MidiBridge to listen for input from U-Plex, process the input with the brilliant H-Pi microtuner programmed by Nic, and the U-Plex can control the synth and produce microtonal polyphony on iOS. Here are a few synth apps tested and approved to work with U-Plex and MidiBridge:
Now I shall clear the stage for the real stars of this show, Mitch and Nic. Mitch Walcott writes:
Exploration in Sound "The idea of discovering new sounds is intriguing to me. This is what prompted me to purchase a U-PLEX keyboard controller from H-Pi Instruments. I wanted to further investigate microtonal music and I asked Aaron Hunt to build one for me. Because of my preference for the iOS platform, I wanted the ability to use my U-PLEX keyboard with different synthesizer apps. After researching what possibilities were available, I found that iOS developer Nic Grant (Audeonic) grasped the concept and was interested in the project. Numerous e-mails and bench testing then ensued between Nic, Aaron, and myself. A modified version of Nic's MidiBridge app ultimately made this all possible. Some synthesizer apps already work accurately with the combination of MidiBridge and U-PLEX. My hope is that other iOS developers will listen to our suggestions on MIDI implementation in order for their apps to also obtain correct microtonal capabilities. Using my iPad, my U-PLEX controller, MidiBridge, and various synthesizer apps will become my preferred method of sound exploration."
Nic Grant of audeonic says:"Mitch approached me with a view to adding support for the H-Pi U-Plex to MidiBridge in order to bring H-Pi to iOS. With Aaron's excellent documentation and superb support, I was able to implement H-Pi's microtuning algorithms into MidiBridge without too much trouble at all. The difficulty we faced after making the changes was finding the right iOS synths that would be able to handle to retuned MIDI data. Luckily some excellent synths could handle per channel pitchbend like Arctic Keys, Thumbjam and Wavesynth so we were in business!"
In the coming days I'll be updating the website to include links to MidiBridge, and possibly other iOS apps that are proven by Mitch to work with MidiBridge.
I should mention that the H-Pi microtuner on MidiBridge can also be used on iPhone and iPod touch, to retune incoming MIDI over WiFi. Though I wasn't able to test this completely myself, Nic Grant assures me that with a good network connection you should be able to play your U-Plex and send the output to your iPod running MidiBridge + your favorite multi-channel MIDI app and use your iPod as a microtonal synth engine for your U-Plex.
Additionally, TPX owners need not flinch at the USB-only connectivity, since special iPad MIDI interfaces like the Line6 Midi Mobilizer (I & II) and IK's iRig MIDI can connect TPX keyboards through conventional MIDI cables to iPods, iPhones, and iPads.
What can I say about all this, but that I'm very grateful for Mitch Walcott's enthusiasm and generosity, for Nic Grant's iOS finesse and patience, and and for the pleasure of seeing new ground broken to open up new possibilities in music making.
By the way, here is a U-Plex similar to the one I made for Mitch, which was recently requested by a customer in Germany. You may notice that the design of the body is slightly improved.
More to come; I have many photos from keyboards built over the last year, which I plan to show in the blog soon.
Thanks again to Mitch and Nic for making good things happen!* photo of Mitch Walcott by Erin Meekhof Sturgill
May 23, 2012
Many have noticed that Tonal Plexus keyboards and TBX1 units have been sold out for over a month now. So what gives? When will the keyboards and tuning box be available again? I have been answering this question a lot, and it's about time I wrote something about it here.
There is good news and bad news. The bad news is that all hardware sales have been suspended until the Fall. The good news is that when sales return, new products will be part of the line up. Prototypes have been in serious development recently, and I'm pleased with the results. I'll share some specifics on that with you soon.
Software sales will of course continue through the summer, as will all technical support. This summer I will also be involved with an intense programming project in the UK, which will help me to improve existing H-Pi applications in major updates scheduled for later 2012 and 2013.
To wrap things up here, for the time being, the focus will be on software. When hardware returns, look for it to come back with some new exciting options in the mix, and look for some details on that soon …
By the way, since this Facebook thing seem like it might catch on, H-Pi Instruments now has a Facebook page. I hope you 'Like' it ;)
Thanks everyone for your continued support!
May 10, 2012
While most software synthesizers give little or no control over tuning, I'm pleased to announce the release of a new app that's different than the rest. It's a microtonal SoundFont synthesizer simply called microsynth, now available on the OSX Mac App Store in two versions: 16-tracks multi-timbral, and single-track mono-timbral. This synthesizer gives you exactly the tuning control you need. Tuning features are the same in both versions. Some features include the following:
Here's a look at the mini version:
The 16-track version can also send pitch-bend microtonal output to external devices. This is the first H-Pi Instruments app to be sold exclusively through the OSX Mac App Store. Want to know more before you buy? Check out the full documentation PDF.
Special thanks to John Reed for commissioning the initial version of microsynth and doing a lot of beta testing.
For now, microsynth is Mac-only, but send me a note if you're interested in a Windows version.
Thanks everyone, for your continued support!
March 22, 2012
Multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Dolores Catherino has been busy since giving this interview back in December of 2010. I don't know how many hours she has spent practicing the Tonal Plexus, but you'll see from this video that she's definitely got a handle on playing it.
The proficiency shown here surpasses my own, and I think this proves what I always say when people ask me how hard it is to play, that this instrument is like any other - to play it well just takes practice. When Dolores recently shared this video with me, and when I responded by asking if I could post it on this blog, to my further amazement, I received PDFs of a written score and a chart showing the layout for the 106ET tuning system she is using.
I know a few composers have written for the Tonal Plexus, but this is the first score (other than my own) that I've actually seen for the instrument. The notation system is her design, using colors, as well as shapes, to correspond to fingerings and tunings on the keyboard.
Be sure to check out the fascinating material at Dolores's website Expanding Musical Consciousness.
Keep up the great work, and thanks for sharing, Dolores!
March 15, 2012
Thanks to all the feedback I received for Custom Scale Editor 2.8.0 (released in January), I'm pleased to announce the release of CSE 2.8.7 today, March 15, 2012. This update fixes many bugs found in 2.8, improves several features and also adds a couple of new requested features.
Windows users will notice the return of the Libs folder, as it was hidden in the last update and this confused some new users.
Pro users will appreciate a new feature to export Scala files from selected keys in a single .scl file rather than having to export all 128 keys with a .scl + .kbm combination, or being limited to a 12 tone temperament. Saxophonist and composer Curtis Macdonald made a donation for the inclusion of this feature. He tells me he will be using the new feature to work quickly between CSE and Melodyne using Hz entries. Thanks, Curtis!
Do you have an idea for a new feature? Often I'll add it to the next version for free, but in any case, paying me always helps speed things up! : )
So please download CSE 2.8.7, let me know any problems you find, and tell me what new features you want. Thanks everyone for your continued support.
January 29, 2012
Custom Scale Editor 2.8.0 is released today, January 29, 2012. This update fixes many bugs which have plagued the app during the last year, mostly having to do with octaves, but also with Hz tunings and working in Keys other than C.
Windows users will notice that the Preferences window and layer switching stalling has finally been fixed. Mac users will notice more native Mac app behavior, with sheet dialogs rather than detached popup windows. This update also features a new Preferences window with many new and useful options.
I hope you'll download CSE 2.8 and enjoy using it. Thanks as always for your support!
January 13, 2012
I've said many times, that one of the great things about this business is coming into contact with so many interesting people all over the world. Back in 2009, I was contacted by Mark L. Vines, of Austin, Texas. Mark began by asking me about the Tonal Plexus, and how well it works with tunings other than its default master tuning of 205ET. This began a lengthy correspondence which continued through 2010, during which time we discussed tuning and alternate keyboard layouts, and the advantages and disadvantages inherent in different approaches to keyboard design. At one point, Mark sent me his own designs for a custom keyboard suitable for 113edo.
I tried to convince Mark that building a custom keyboard would be much more expensive and in the end not really necessary since the Tonal Plexus is already here and could do what he wanted. At the time, Mark wanted to realize many different divisions of the octave on a single keyboard. He eventually ordered a TPX6s, which I built and delivered to him in September 2010, almost a year after Mark first contacted me.
Since then, Mark has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Tonal Plexus, and has contributed to the development of TPXE software by reporting problems and requesting features.
Recently, I asked Mark if he'd like to share something about his experience with the keyboard for the blog. Here's what he wrote in response. Thanks, Mark!"Playing the Tonal Plexus has drastically changed what I want and expect from it. Even though retuning is literally as easy as pushing a button, the Master Tuning is the only one I enjoy playing on the Plexus. So, whereas I originally intended to change tunings with great frequency, now I never stray from 205ed2. The energy and time, time, time I thought I would put into alternative tunings, I now put instead into learning the various regular temperaments that 205ed2 embraces, and programming the shapes editor to help me learn the chordal possibilities in the different key signatures of those temperaments. If my experience is any guide, once you own a Tonal Plexus, the sooner you decide to explore the Master Tuning, the happier you'll be. Benefits include a whole gallery of Moment of Symmetry scales, especially the schismatic temperament called Garibaldi. The wide, bowl-topped center keys make playing in Garibaldi feel most natural, as if the Plexus wants you to play that way. Gary Wright's "Love Is Alive" and "Lay My Love" by Cale and Eno are the first tunes I played on the Plexus in Garibaldi, and I'm still improvising variations on them. Treat the higher of the two black center keys between G and A as your home key signature. The higher black center keys and all the white center keys together spell Garibaldi. Then add the lower black center keys and you have Garibaldi. The learning path from from Garibaldi through Garibaldi to Garibaldi will allow you to vary common-practice musical works in a way that integrates higher harmonics into them while helping you navigate the keyboard more fluently. Resisting the Master Tuning just doesn't pay. Resisting Garibaldi doesn't pay. Go with the flow and it will reward you. As your mind and fingers get comfortable with Garibaldi, you'll be better qualified to explore the other temperaments available, first among the bowl-topped keys that play 41ed2, then using the entire keyset that plays 205ed2. When that starts to feel like swimming upstream, return to Garibaldi for awhile. That, in my opinion, is the most joyful course for the Plexus player. When tempted to retune, ask yourself this: What tuning can give you Garibaldi, Porcupine, Bohlen-Pierce, Quanic, Miracle, Magic and Meantone all in an easy, intuitive key layout that's friendly to your common practice favorites? Stick with 205!" — Mark L. Vines, January 2012
September 09, 2011
I was contacted by the well-known German organist Hans-Andre Stamm some months ago. Stamm had found my website and was interested in buying a TPX4s Tonal Plexus keyboard to take with him on a trip to France, to demonstrate to some filmmakers the kind of music he is writing for films these days. The time frame was very tight — two weeks. I set up a chat session with Stamm and explained that since I build each keyboard by hand when it is ordered, there must be some lead time, and for an international order, there are some other things which delay the process even more: paperwork requirements, VAT / Duty upon reception, etc., so that it was almost impossible to build and ship a keyboard to Germany in two weeks. But, I was able to work with him to change his order from the more time-consuming 4-octave TPX to an easier-to-build custom 3-octave U-PLEX, and I was able to get it done and shipped on time, as you can see it is the keyboard he is using in this video.
Not only is Stamm well reputed as an organist, but he is also well known in tuning circles, having worked with Martin Vogel on the 7-Limit Just Intonation Pipe Organ. Stamm has written music for that instrument and given performances of his microtonal music in Germany.
You may notice that Stamm's U-PLEX keyboard is somewhat unique — the body of a U-PLEX keyboard is usually white, but Stamm said he preferred the black body. He also said that the colored keys bothered him, and he would prefer only black and white. Since there are gray keys already, the compromise was to make the edge keys white instead of colored. The top panels also changed accordingly, with black background instead of white. The result is the keyboard you see here.
I took a few pictures of the keyboard before shipping it off, as I try to do with every keyboard I build. Usually I also try to record a short video, if there is time. I had about half an hour to record a little improvisation on this keyboard before I sent it off to Hans-Andre in Germany.
August 05, 2011
I am honored when composers contact me to share their work. Today was happily such a day, as I received an email from Brazilian composer Fabio Costa. He saw some of the H-Pi YouTube videos and wrote to share a microtonal work of his that is posted on YouTube. The piece is called "Meditation", which is excerpted from a larger work called "Meditation and Psalm for the Earth", for which Costa was awarded the 2008 Claudio Santoro Prize. He is working with Just Intonation, apparently doing some rather arduous manual retuning using Pro Tools. I find the piece quite beautiful and expressive; listen and watch the score below. Thanks for sharing, Fabio!
July 15, 2011
In response to my last blog post, I received a request to have a closer look at the keyboard Alf plays. So here it is! You may recognize the music, which is composed by me, and is called "A Dream: The H-Pi Instruments Theme Song". Needless to say, the fancy camera work in this video may win me a major award.
July 10, 2011
Alf (a.k.a. Gordon Shumway) is an alien from the planet Melmac. Everyone knows that.
What you may not know is that Alf is also a musician who plays Tonal Plexus keyboards. You don't believe me? Consider the evidence. In an early episode of the 1980's television series called "Alf", a situation comedy which gave millions of humans a glimpse into the life and times of Alf, there is a scene in which Alf is found playing an upright piano in the living room. The lady of the house remarks, "I didn't know you played the piano", and Alf replies, "Well, I was winging it. It's tough to play without the red keys." [ALF, Season 1, Episode 5: "Keepin' the Faith", time: 04:40]
Now take a look at this Tonal Plexus keyboard.
That's right; it has red keys. Therefore, Alf plays Tonal Plexus keyboards. This is bullet-proof logic, folks. True, Alf does not mention the grey keys, but after all, one cannot expect a space-alien to give away everything all at once. Alf plays Tonal Plexus keyboards. Why the media continues to suppress this information is unknown.
It may be noted, however, that a cryptic quotation appears in the text below the keyboard image, stating that "Even in 2011, microtonal MIDI controllers are still being developed." This obtuse remark may be a veiled allusion to the fact that the television series Alf enjoyed its prime time viewing slot during the 1980's, and it may seem remarkable that some thirty years later, while Alf seems to have vanished, Tonal Plexus developments flourish.[Editor's Note: A slight correction should be offered concerning the Computer Music article, where it is stated that Tonal Plexus keyboards have 211 pitches per octave. This is a common mistake. The master tuning of the H-System is 205 tones per octave, not 211. Although there are in fact 211 keys per octave on a Tonal Plexus keyboard, six of those keys provide duplicate pitches. But, the keyboard can in fact be tuned arbitrarily to anything, so if someone wants to tune every key within an octave pattern to a different pitch, that is certainly possible. It would also be possible to tune the entire keyboard to divide only one octave, which for six octaves would give 1266 pitches in an octave. Or, those same 1266 pitches could be tuned to span only a third. The possibilities are infinite. Kind of like outer space? Which brings us back to … ]
March 22, 2011
Custom Scale Editor (CSE) is now updated to version 2.7.3. In this update you'll find many bug fixes, in particular if you are in a non-US location. Support for non-octave scales is much improved, and many enhanced editing features have been added to the Freehand Editor, to assist in data exchange between CSE and other applications. Programming-oriented users will appreciate that Code Snippet support has been fixed in this update (it was broken in a previous release). The new features in this update were added at user request. Is there a feature you would like to see added to CSE? Let me know what changes could be made to help your workflow; I want to help you make the most of your creative time. Happy tuning!
February 16, 2011
Contrary to some internet rumors, the current location of H-Pi Instruments headquarters, Muncie, IN, is not an indication that H-Pi products are crafted by the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. [Editor's Note: Nor was that film actually shot in Muncie, though the story does begin there.]
I am quite comfortable being associated with gentle aliens with big brains and nimble fingers who are familiar with the Kodaly System and who announce their presence through music and dreams (their chosen melody consists of basic harmonics in Just Intonation, after all). But today I'd like to set the record straight, to explain why H-Pi Instruments is where it is, and to share a bit with you about someone who is very special to me, who I have always admired, to whom indeed I owe my own life: my mother, Marjorie Ellen Hunt, who came into this world on June 21, 1936, and departed from it on January 28, 2011.
I'd like to introduce you to my late mother by way of my own memories, to give a glimpse of what it has been like for me to be her son.
Peacefulness, kindness, and gentleness pervade my earliest memories. I recall how my mother would let me draw pictures and listen to music while she was sewing in the adjacent room. I remember us riding the bus together, going to the library, or shopping. I recall how in my youth, she gave me piano lessons, letting me play by ear, always encouraging my imagination and creativity. Later, when I was in my teens, when I practiced my drums in the basement, making a terrible racket, she would call down, "sounds good Aaron!"
My mother took me to music lessons and art lessons throughout my teenage years. She took me to my first concert, took an interest in the music I liked, carted me and my drums and marimbas to various venues for competitions and concerts, and always encouraged my love for music. When it was time for me to leave the nest, she traveled with me, for interviews, to the Chicago Art Institute, and to the Philidelphia School of the Arts. She and my father came to concerts throughout my college years, supported me when I chose to pursue music composition, attended my graduation, helped me move to Cincinnati for graduate school, and supported me through all my student years.
Whenever I would write a new piece of music, I would call my mother and play whatever I was working on to her over the phone. She wasn't a professional musician, but her response was always more helpful and meaningful to me than anyone else's. If she liked what I was working on, I knew something in it was good. She also had the kindest and funniest ways of telling me what could be better. For example, one time she said "I like it! I thought maybe it was going to be shorter." She always said such wonderful encouraging things to me, and the most beautiful part about that is that she was always sincere.
After I had earned advanced degrees in music, my mother asked me to give her piano lessons and to teach her music theory. What an honor that was for me! She had played piano all her life, but had never learned any music theory. She said it opened up a new world for her. What great fun that was for me.
When I was finally on my own as an adult, my mother treated me as an adult, but she still looked after me, occasionally sending me tins of cookies and fruit, short letters by paper mail, sometimes with newspaper articles with notes like "I read this and thought of you". These things were always gentle and nurturing, sincerely caring, never overbearing, never hovering or intrusive. She always respected my privacy, and I always appreciated that.
When I think of my mother, some words that come to mind are: kind, caring, patient, giving, sincere, humble, loving, encouraging, and joyful. As I try to express to you the kind of person she was, what I arrive at is something like the following. She was everything that a human being ought to be. A true human being. She was and will always be to me, a shining example of goodness and love in this world. I know that many people who knew her and were touched by her spirit, have similar things to say about her.
For such a person one could only wish that passing from this life would be free of unnecessary suffering. It wasn't so for my mother, but she showed grace and courage in the face of her suffering. A certain disease of the mind called Lewy Body Dementia afflicted my mother in the final years of her life. She was formally diagnosed in 2008. The disease is similar to Alzheimers' and Parkinsons', but differs in several significant, rather terrifying ways. The most upsetting symptom of Lewy Body is persistent hallucinations. For my mother, a life-long teacher of young children, these waking nightmares often took the form of children in distress, for whom she felt responsible, but powerless to help.
For the past several years, as my mother's illness progressed, I tried to stay in better touch and give her more of my attention. For much of 2009, I called her by phone on a daily basis. Some days, our conversations were light and cheery, and other days she would tell me through tears of her helplessness, sometimes cutting conversation short, for worry that she had somewhere to be or something pressing to attend to, phantoms of her suffering mind. 2008 to 2010 my family struggled tenuously with the distressing changes taking place, as my mother's waking life became more and more of a nightmare. My own connections took the form of dreams, often awakening me in the middle of the night, in tears, with visions of my mother's suffering.
Early in 2010, a day care center in Muncie where my father had been taking my mother closed its doors due to loss of government funding. My father needed help. Making the move was an easy decision for me, and one I will never regret.
Over the past 10 months, I've continued H-Pi Instruments here in Muncie while also teaching music theory and composition part time at Ball State University. The reason I am here and my business is here is because of my mother. At least two days each week, I would give my father much needed respite from the exhaustion of his care taking. My journey through this is only a fraction of his. I can only imagine the spiritual toll of witnessing the suffering and loss of such a life partner of 53 years.
I share all of this with you not to bring attention to myself and this particular personal drama or to garner your sympathies. In the days directly following my mother's death, I was never more conscious of the brokenness of this world we live in, where almost nothing seems to work the way it should and everything goes wrong all the time, where there is such unjust suffering and sometimes it seems nothing at all is right. We all have our stories of everything going wrong, of injustice and pain. We don't all suffer equally, but we all suffer. No one is immune to this. It is the human condition.
My mother suffered terribly at the end of her life, trapped in a mind that wouldn't work right, in a body that wouldn't work right. She couldn't speak coherently, was plagued by terrible visions, by anxieties out of her control, overwhelming concern for all the children, worry over whether there was enough food or money, the weight of everything in her life that she had ever felt responsible for, all that she had to prepare for and take care of. At times she was utterly inconsolable, when I would tell her everything was okay and sometimes she would insist through tears, "No, it's not". What do you do when you hear your mother cry through incoherent sobs and a barrage of invented nonsense syllables, "I want to get out of here," "please make this stop", and "nothing is real", and even "I feel useless." It was simply heartbreaking to witness her pain, and to be unable to do anything but be there with her, trying to reassure her in her desperation.
Many people who suffer from dementia exhibit uncharacteristically negative personality changes as their illness progresses; a person who was gentle and kind before the onset of dementia may become angry, hostile, obscene, violent, or worse. My mother did none of those kinds of things. She only wept mightily, sometimes with all her being, and lost all her ability to reason. There were times when I felt in her presence it was as if she was taking upon herself the suffering of humanity. I know that sounds like overstatement, but if you were there, you would understand. In retrospect, I see that through all her terrible suffering there was still the enduring expression of her caring, of persistent concern and of unconditional love. Though lost both to herself and everyone around her, she was still always there, still present.
Even when she had lost all command of language, when everything she tried to say came out all wrong, when she could not tell dream from reality, when she existed in a terrible state of imprisonment within a mind and body failing to work properly, when she could not walk, could not stand up, could not feed herself, and could not even open her eyes any more, my mother still found ways to express love. She was still grateful, and even joyful in her suffering. She still sang. This amazed me. Her singing was spontaneous, unstructured. It came in unexpected bursts of melody. Usually it only lasted only a moment, but sometimes she went on for more than a moment. I jotted down one of the longer melodies that she sang and repeated several times. I included that melody in the music which was played at her funeral.
My mother taught me so many things, not didactically, but by example, by her way of being. I learned from her that the most important things in life are intangible, and I am fortunate to have gained such understanding from her. There is relief in this type of passing from suffering, that the one who suffers is finally free of everything that tormented them. I was with my mother when her suffering came to an end, when she was set free. I was with her when she died. To the last moment, when she could no longer speak or even move her emaciated, contorted body, I heard her cries and reassured her that all the children were okay, that there was enough food, that there was enough money, that everyone was okay, that she did not need to worry. When my mother drew her final breath, there was music playing, Bach's keyboard partita in G, a very joyful piece. In my tears and distress, as I waited for her next breath that did not come, that joyousness concluded and the solemnity of the next partita began, in E Minor. If you know that music, you know the emotions that can be connected with it.
Bach called music a spiritual activity. I believe it is. Music is a very mysterious expression of a person's soul or spirit, of a person's feelings, understanding, desires, hopes, dreams, aspirations and inspirations. Music can help a person live a life filled with joy and compassion for those who suffer. We all need such mercy. In our suffering in life, we should never forget that the smallest of things could save our spirit, and the spirits of others, as my mother never forgot, even when her whole universe came crashing down. My mother taught me, we should never forget to sing.
In loving memory, Marjorie Ellen [Neff] Hunt (1936-2011)
January 23, 2011
In March of 2009, I received a few questions by email concerning TBX1 from Gordon Self, who lives in Manchester, UK. A few months later, he ordered a unit. Fast-forward a year and a half later … an email appears in my inbox from Gordon, opening with the following annoucement: "I've at last managed to get my own microtonal keyboard built to go with the Tuning Box." This eye-popping photo was attached:
A 31-keys-per-octave custom keyboard! Well, congratulations were clearly in order, and an email exchanged ensued over the next month, through which Gordon told me a bit more about his project, and supplied more photos.
I thought it would be fun to devote some space here to what he's been up to, so I posed the following questions by email.
I suppose I should start by admitting something of a missed opportunity! As a lifelong synth-head and fan of electronic music, I owned a microtonal synth (a Yamaha DX11) for 12 years before I finally got round to using its micro-tuning feature…
When creating a roaring drone sound using the granular synthesis software Crusher-X, for my piece Cathode, I wanted to use its oscillators but found that you had to set the pitch in hertz. It was much easier to use multiples of a starting frequency (harmonic series) than to calculate hertz values for the notes of the 12 equal temperament scale. I had so much fun with that, that I decided to do some proper research and find out how to get the same harmonic series on the DX11, so everything in Cathode would be in that tuning. [NOTE: You can hear a short clip of Cathode, Track 11 of Gordon's album "Compilation Zero" here.]
On the whole I'd describe my current listening (and composing) as a varying mixture of electronic, minimal and spectral… As my interest in modern classical music and acoustic instruments has continued to grow, I took up harp a few years ago. I've enjoyed the relatively simple microtonal work I've done with this instrument so far: even though it only has 7 strings per octave you can tune it to any temperament without making it harder to play. And as I'm totally studio-based I can re-tune it for different parts of the same piece of music.Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your design and how you arrived at a 31 tone layout?
I like the fact that when you divide the octave into certain large numbers (31, 41, 53…) you can get major and minor scales that sound at least as consonant as the 12et we're all used to, while still benefitting from the compositional skills that you've learned in 12et. But you now have so much more freedom gradually to bring in more exotic intervals and chords, and to write melodies with steps smaller than conventional semitones. As a lot of my music is heavily chord-based, I'm hoping to learn how to combine the chord progressions successfully with microtones. Before I had a dedicated keyboard I started composing in 31et on the piano-roll of my MIDI/audio recording software, and I already started to find this tuning a very good trade-off between the new possibilities it offers and the moderate difficulty of working with the extra notes…
This key layout is partly inspired by the Fokker Organ and partly the Tonal Plexus. Fokker also used 31 notes per octave, but the diatonic scale runs diagonally across his keyboard, so to make it go horizontally from left to right I had to use staggered key columns like the Tonal Plexus. Sharps and flats are black; double sharps and flats are silver. The keys with green dots are the 12-note meantone scale - or at least a pretty good approximation of it; this should help me to compose for meantone instruments so that they can play a part in 31et music. The range of the whole thing is 126 notes or 4 octaves, and it doesn't sense velocity. The MIDI encoder circuit is from MIDI Gadgets Boutique. [NOTE: H-Pi Instruments PCBs are designed by MGB's chief engineer, Jordon Petkov.]
The keys are hinged from the top, piano-style, using microswitches. This, as I'd feared, is the weak point. The key action is rather light and noisy, and there's quite a bit of sideways slack in it too. It works for my purposes as a composing tool, but wouldn't be at all suitable for performance. To fit so many key columns into the space, they had to be quite narrow; that and the light springing means I keep pressing more keys than I meant to!Q: You are using the keyboard with TBX1. Can you say a few words about how your setup works for you?
This keyboard is meant mainly for getting a feel for microtonal scales and trying out compositional ideas - my finished work is sequenced on the computer as it always has been (apart from the acoustic instruments and even there I use MIDI guide tracks). The Tuning Box allows me to use microtones on nicer-sounding synths than the DX11. I've been programming it with various other equal divisions of the octave that are specifically mapped to fit the key positions/colours of this keyboard. So far I've got 17, 19 and 29 (well written about on the H-Pi site) and the fascinatingly weird 22 (which Ivor Darreg used to recommend). 19 is particularly good on this keyboard because like 31 it's isomorphic - moving across the keyboard by the same distance/direction always gives you the same jump in pitch. Assigning these specially mapped scales to the TBX1's preset buttons means I've got all of them instantly available. I don't think these other scales will get as much use in my finished compositions, because they aren't as good for chords as 31, but they can be great fun to play around with.Q: Now that you have a custom keyboard, what's next for you?
So far, 31et and the harmonic series are the only microtonal scales that I've used in finished pieces of music. I'm planning to put most of my effort into 31et for the moment. I hope to integrate it with my existing techniques - and start producing long multi-movement pieces in this tuning.
If I do build another keyboard, I'd like to find a better key action more like a computer keyboard, so that all parts of the key top respond equally to the right kind of pressure. For now though, I think this one will give me plenty to work with.It's certainly not every day that someone designs and builds a custom microtonal keyboard; kudos again for what you've accomplished, Gordon, and thanks for sharing your work!
January 21, 2011
A new version of Xentone microtonal ear trainer is released today. This update features an exciting new user contracted feature called Dynamic Xone Arrays, with which you can flexibly and quickly arrange arbitrary scales in dynamic arrays of buttons for practice and testing. This comes in handy when you want to train your ears to distinguish between tones that would otherwise fall onto the same Xone button in the default array, for example the tones 10/9 and 11/10. If you want to get your ears in tune, there is simply no other software like this; download it and try it out. Single-user, multi-user, and site licenses are available for very reasonable rates.
Custom Scale Editor also gets an update today, to fix a few bugs and improve MIDI performance. CSE has been around for many years now and is a popular utility for creating scales in any tuning, with all kinds of tools at your disposal. It works seamlessly with the Tuning Box TBX1, but you don't have to own a box, or even a software license, to use it. The license turns the software Pro, enhancing some features and opening up MIDI features that allow real time retuning. Find out more here.
January 17, 2011
It's been quite a while since the initial release of the H-Pi Lo-Fi Microsynth for MacOSX, and high time for an update. Not only has overall output and performance been improved in HPLF2, but many new features have been added to make HPLF a much more versatile and useful tool for microtonal composition.
New features include a filter bank, multi-delay reverb unit, and a bank of assignable LFO modulators. Basically, this means that HPLF is no longer just a raw waveform generator. HPLF2 has a little more refined style, maybe even some penache. Through the process of programming HPLF2, I've become more convinced than ever that a little filtering and delay can really go a long way in terms of output palatability. The sounds of HPLF2 are much more attractive than those that came from HPLF. Of course, if you want the old crunchiness, you can just turn the filter and delay off.
One small complaint I got about HPLF was that there was no way to get any sound out of it except through MIDI. So, I added a floating keyboard window that allows you to hear the output using mouse clicks.
Another complaint I got was that HPLF output could not be easily recorded and mixed with other audio. System Audio had to be captured with a utility like JackOSX, and editing had to be done in another application, like Logic. This led to the idea that with HPLF2 you should not only be able to record output, but also edit that output and mix it with other audio without having to open another application.
So, output can now be streamed to a .wav or .aiff file, and HPLF2 has a full featured audio editor built in, allowing you to do all the typical manipulations, and some not so typical things as well. Essentially, HPLF2 is also now a multi-track recording utility. You can load up to 4 tracks of audio, and mix them along with your playing. Tracks can be looped, panned, soloed, muted, and attenuated. You can record output from the synth, and within the editor you can also record directly from a microphone. Edit the results, set loop points, add fades, change the gain, reverse audio, find fundamental frequencies, and more.
Along with all these new features, HPLF2 retains the basic microtonal utilities of the original release. Tunings can still be specified across the entire MIDI range (unique tunings per channel, totaling 2048 available pitches). HPLF2 reads both .csv and new .hz files, exported from the free Custom Scale Editor (CSE). The new .hz file format is just a text file with a list of Hz values expressed as decimals, such as 440.00 (which would be tuning pitch A4). The list must be 128 entries (one MIDI channel), 512 entries (4 MIDI channels), or 2048 entries (16 MIDI channels) long. The first option is for basic MIDI work, the second is the default for working with layers in CSE for tunings loaded onto a TBX1 Tuning Box, and latter is standard format for Tonal Plexus keyboards.
The Overtone Waveform Builder still allows creating harmonic or inharmonic timbres by specifying multiples of a fundamental frequency, with amplitude and phase shift for each component of the waveform, with an optional written description of and preset name for your creation.
I hope you'll notice an improvement in the aesthetics of the user interface; the widgets have been given a makeover, and the added features in the layout make the thing more interesting to look at. But, a software synthesizer stands or falls on its sound, not its looks. So what does HPLF2 sound like? Well, soon you'll get to try it out for yourself, but for now, here's a little sample improv mp3.
December 14, 2010
Dolores Catherino is a multi-instrumentalist based in Anchorage, Alaska. She has owned a TPX6 Tonal Plexus keyboard since July, 2008, and dedicates significant time to the study of the instrument. I recently posed the following interview questions to Dolores by email.
Q: Your work combines interests in music and medicine. Can you say a bit about that and how you've come to be doing what you're doing?
Almost as early as I can remember, I was aware of a sense that all 'new' musical ideas seemed reminiscent of something else. During my undergraduate training in music, it intuitively felt like everything truly original had already been done in the 12 pitch musical language and that the space for creative exploration was too narrow. The study of the fretless bass initially keyed me into the compromises and limitations of 12ET and the paradox of simultaneous in-tune intervals in a harmonic configuration (meter stick vs yardstick analogy: 4 stacked 'pure' fifths yield a sharper major 3rd than a 'pure' major 3rd relative to the root).
My approach toward music has always been much more intuitive than analytical. Seneca once said that 'art is the imitation of nature', I feel that great art is the expression/interpretation of an unified and unreified nature, of a deeper qualitative reality.
My initial motivation within microtonal temperament was to strive for a more 'pure' intonation, like the harmonies and physically penetrating intonation of great a-cappella barber shop quartets and vocal jazz groups. However, my conception evolved, with deeper microtonal study, toward discoveries and appreciation of unique harmonic vibrational tendencies and '3-D' aural shapes embedded in harmonic micropitch combinations. Through this learning process, I began to appreciate a gestalt of various pitch combinations; i.e. penetrating, outward/inward movement tendencies beyond the traditional 'in-tune'/'out-of-tune' dualistic reductionism. This lead to a conception of the relatively static (2-D) tendency of 'in tune' harmonies, and its musical application as a tool to be used for contrast, not the rule or goal.
Postgraduate science and medical training has informed me of the importance of ergonomics in musical technique and lead to explorations of complementary TPX pitch layouts which are synergistically applicable to the structure of the hand. Also, it has engaged my interest in the study of hearing and psychoacoustics. As part of my process of exploration in pursuing a deeper understanding of music, hearing and musical perception, I found that our medical/scientific understanding of the world of hearing is very fragmented within diverse specialties each with its own incommensurable language; i.e. music, acoustics, psychoacoustics, otology, audiology, neurology, and cymatics. It is a goal for me to try to expand and unify our conceptual understanding of sound, music and hearing.
Q: How did you find out about the Tonal Plexus, and how has the instrument been useful for you so far?
An internet search for microtonal midi instruments led me to the h-pi website. The TPX has made possible the exploration of 106ET, and the excellent tuning editor, TPXE, enables me to try tuning layout ideas relatively quickly and easily.
How does the Tonal Plexus learning curve compare against other instruments you've studied?
The toughest part for me was designing a pitch layout scheme for the TPX. With an ergonomic pitch layout, the TPX combines the technical challenges of developing piano technique with the geometrical approach of multiple-position fingerings of modern guitar technique. The result is potentially a technical fluency that is beyond the capability of each instrument alone.
I find the technical difficulty to be moderate for a trained musician as a secondary instrument. Theoretically, 106ET is a microtonal expansion that is still able to easily function in 'quasi' 12ET settings. The nomenclature is a easy conceptual evolution utilizing colored noteheads for each micropitch contained within a 12ET metapitch. Most of the difficulty comes in with the TPX's potential comprehensiveness - as least 7 geometrical fingerings for each scale, multiple unique harmonic shapes depending on the key, and seemingly limitless microtonal possibilities.
The more challenging part for me is the fingering/pitch variances in each octave (pitch relativity) of a traditional 7 tone scale configuration. Pitch relativity is a musical adaptation to nonlinear pitch perception characteristics of the human ear: interval pitch space increases as notes proceed sharpward and decreases as they proceed flatward.
Q: You are using your own tuning layouts on the TPX that you've created in TPXE. Can you tell me a bit about those?
The TPX instrument design is potentially able to more fully exploit the ergonomic features of the hand. Specifically, the hand has 2 horizontal planes of motion, the lower plane encompassing the thumb and higher plane the fingers 2-5. In general, older instruments compensated for this by elongating the depth of keys in keyboard instruments and, in other instruments, utilizing grasping function of the thumb to hold a neck, pick, bow or support the weight of the instrument. Marginal application of thumb technique is achieved with special LH thumb position technique for the cello/bass. Guitar and electric bass technique utilizes the RH thumb in a limited fashion on the lower strings.
By tuning the TPX in adjacent modules a fifth apart, the thumb is able to be fully utilized and complex/extended harmonic fingerings are within reach of a hand span. Specifically, the RH fingering layout is optimal for scalar/melodic playing and the LH is optimized for harmonic playing. However, because of the opposing symmetry of the R and L hands the key design would need to be rotated 180 degrees in the horizontal plane, with pitch ascension headed leftward to fully capture the unique symmetrical advantages of both hands. Analogically, it is reminiscent of a double manifold organ, but instead of 2 identical keyboards, there is a left hand symmetrical TPX below (for LH melodic and RH chordal facilitation) and a traditional (RH symmetrical) TPX layout above. With this configuration the TPX would be capable of the development of a comprehensive virtuoso level microtonal technique, as well as an ability to play exceptionally well in backward-compatible 'quasi-12ET' playing situations.
Q: You are also using color as a means to define your pitch layouts?
I use 106 equal temperament which I think of as 53ET 'gross' temperament with each pitch assigned to a colored notehead along with interposed 'fine tuning' pitches (106ET). The colored noteheads are assigned as OYGBI (portion of the visual color spectrum) with OYG fifths below on same shaped key and BI fifths above. Overlapping vertical enharmonic pitches I=V and R=O are utilized for major/minor practicability in all 5 spectral micro-keys. I find it very easy to write ideas in musical notation by just coloring the note heads of each colored 53ET pitch and using ?? modifiers to depict interposed 106ET pitches.
I think of the Yellow colored pitches as 'home' and they are tuned in a 'Quasi' 12ET fashion for easy adaptability to current 12ET playing contexts.
Q: Gear talk: can you describe your hardware / software setup, and how your TPX6 figures into the mix?
The Continuum is a polyphonic continuous controller, so, as with any fretless instrument, development of microtonal intonation is essential. The TPX provides this foundation. Also, I find it too difficult to play anything greater than 4 simultaneous pitches consistently so the TPX will always be a go-to instrument for complex harmonic application. The Continuum's strength is its capability for melodic nuance and expression via its seamless 3 dimensional pitch control (up/down, left/right, and touch pressure).
I use a Microzone u-648 with TBX1 to get retuned output. The u-648 has 60 keys per octave, great touch sensitive key feel, onboard layout configuration for up to 32 overlapping zones, 24 full controller setups (songs) and 30 keymaps. The creation of onboard nonlinear pitch arrays is manually possible, but there is no mac software or software development happening for this instrument, although there is an older PC software editor available. The onboard programming is tedious but rewarding. I find the TBX1 to be an essential component of my Microzone setup. The TBX1 editor (CSE) is excellent and continually being improved/updated. I find it easiest to program the pitch arrays/zone layout within the u-648 and then assign pitches to this layout, by midi note number, via CSE.
I think of the Tonal Plexus, Continuum, and Microzone as unique instruments which are not directly comparable. Similar to selecting the 'best' instrument, keyboard vs. violin vs. guitar, they each have different potential strengths and limitations. I think of the Tonal Plexus as a 'mother' instrument in the same way that the piano is conceived as such currently in music training. The 'mother' instrument concept meaning that overall microtonal musical development is enhanced and informed by the study and understanding of the Tonal Plexus, no matter which instrument a musician/vocalist plays.
Q: What's on the horizon for you?
Ongoing study of technique and micropitch perception with emphasis on microtonal composition.
Development of an intuitively based microtonal ear training system via the website expandingmusicalconsciousness.com with integrated aural/visual instruction for the refinement of pitch and gestalt harmonic micropitch perception.
December 07, 2010
Composer Jesus Lopez recently contacted me from Australia with an interesting request: would it be possible for me to make a Tonal Plexus keyboard without colored keys - only black white and grey? And could the controls also be white? And the body, could that also be white?
A white Tonal Plexus. It would certainly be striking! Of course; yes, I said; I can do that. Since I make every keyboard by hand, I have no problems with these kinds of requests. And there was a good reason to make such a keyboard. You see, Jesus Lopez is color blind.
Most color blind people are known as dichromats, having what is called Red-Green blindness, the ablility to see colors well only in the yellow and blue parts of the spectrum. This is in fact the reason that the default color of the edge keys for Tonal Plexus keyboards was originally blue. Dr. Lopez has wide spectrum color blindness, which is much more rare. I supplied him with some keyboard images, which he used to experiment in Photoshop to find a layout which looked correct to him. The results are quite unique.
The keys themselves protrude through completely white top panels. There are no graphical boxes around key regions, nothing but the key caps themselves to delineate the structure.
The control panel has custom white knobs, with slider knobs of the 'grab' style, contrasting the standard 'push' style slider knobs used on standard TPX keyboards.
Dr. Lopez writes:
"I am going to use the Tonal Plexus to optimally generate microtonal themes and compositional functional blocks for my PhD thesis. Some info in my thesis is as follows: Preliminary ideas on discovering mental-state biased compositional paradigms for microtonal electro acoustic instruments: Introduction: The idea is to explore the mathematics /mental-state/music-perception continuum by using artificial intelligence (AI) techniques applied to music composition. This shall not be a scientific endeavor but rather the generation of a compositional framework that will guide my compositional outcomes during the last stages of my research time at the Conservatorium. Not only musical pieces will be composed, but also, specific electro-acoustic instruments will be designed for these. Therefore, this proposal pretends to be a project on electro-acoustic music composition. Finally, despite this proposal is based on a rigorous and highly systematic approach, the final outcomes will be exceedingly modulated by compositional creativity, previous compositional experience, my cultural background and ultimately my vision of the world. Artificial Intelligence for the generation of a compositional framework: AI or machine learning approaches can be either supervised or unsupervised. As I shall potentially apply them to composition, supervised methodologies attempt to generate compositional paradigms by learning from previous experiences sampled from human or previous compositions' input. Unsupervised techniques use well-known mathematics/biology inspired algorithms, which are universal, or live within their own realm, and attempt to loosely classify a compositional space of themes. Whether we considering supervised or unsupervised approaches, the target - or motivation - would be the listener mental state as induced by short musical passages (or themes). All themes would have to be as de-correlated as possible to western traditional musical forms to rule out trivial compositional/cultural biases, i.e. minor vs major triads, simple vs odd signatures, or traditional jazz forms. Ultimately, a large number of microtonal systems will be considered. Themes will also have to be parameterized in terms of their dynamics, timbers, tempo, and other second order mathematical measures of music, i.e. density of microtonal system, melodic range, counterpoint descriptives, and second order measures like the Laplacian on frequency time series, etc. Also, a rigorous notation system should be adopted to facilitate discussing themes from an aesthetic perspective and to allow interpreters to generate the themes in a way that is minimizes ambiguity. Nonetheless, such notation system should be open-ended to allow for modern interpretation but also with little dichotomies so it could be easily translated into natural language to be interpreted by the AI algorithms. I would preliminary use an adaptation of Schenker diagrams and perhaps lilypond package as a computational framework. Given, such archive of the themes (many issues to solve here - see challenges below), listeners will contribute their mental state by choosing from a set of images while listening to the music. This will annotate set of themes, hopefully, with, at least, pseudo-universal states of mind. If universality of theme and mental-states pairs is not achieved, this should not pose any constrain since the objective of this project is to generate a "guiding" compositional paradigm rather than proving that persons are universally biased in the same way by the same musical forms. After the themes are classified and an annotated archive is generated, a neural network (a supervised AI method) will be used to learn compositional paradigms that are meant to induce mental states - again hopefully with certain level of universality. These neural networks could also be potentially used to augment the themes-set by generating new themes in a generative basis. Concomitantly, Knohonen maps (an unsupervised AI approach) will be generated to discover clusters of compositional parameters - clues - that might also correlate with mental sates and subsequently enrich my compositional framework. If all goes well [nervousness pause] we should end up with an intelligent artificial framework that will allow composers to guide their creative process based on (1) themes annotate by metal states they induce; (2) Neural networks that will generate themes that will potentially generate predetermined mental sates; (3) Kohonen clusters of compositional and improvisational clues that should either induce mental state sequences in the listener or perhaps augment/inform the performance experience of a given his/her current mental-state. With this intelligent framework at certain level of maturity, I intend to achieve the following objectives: (1) Generate a series of compositions based on predetermined mental state sequences. Ideally, the compositions will include a great deal of improvisation guidelines also based on the discovered compositional paradigms that shall be adopted by the interpreter/improviser at he/she leisure as informed by they current mental state. (2) Since the paradigms departed from highly open-ended themes (i.e., micro tonality, and variations of the real-time variations electronics) instruments will be specially designed and constructed for these pieces. These instruments will be based on traditional musical instruments with altered tunings, spatial arrangements, and electro-acoustic modifications. Some challenges to this PhD are: 1. Adopting a usable notation system - preliminary I am thinking on 2. Generating a large enough sample of themes and recruiting candidates. 3. Not finding themes that are universally correlated to mental states. 4. Eliminating cultural music form biases. 5. Cost and time associated with constructing/modifying specialized instruments. 6. Finding sound ways for parametrizing themes in a mathematical that it is still translatable to music notation or improvisation guidelines for interpreters.
So there you have it! The white "Moby Plexus" will be put to good use in some rather interesting research.
It's a great pleasure for me to come into contact with so many interesting personalities in the music world through my business. In future blog posts, I will be featuring other musicians and their stories. Stay tuned!
November 25, 2010
Well, it's time to be thankful in America, and I would like to thank you all for your continued support and encouragement. Before you fall asleep from the tryptophan, I hope you'll take a moment to download and try out the new Custom Scale Editor.
For the uninitiated, CSE is a full-featured tuning editor for Mac OSX and Windows which allows you to create any tuning you can imagine. Tune any MIDI key to any pitch using ratios, Hz values, decimals, constants and functions, code snippets, user definable algorithms, and more.
Import Scala and .tun files, tune quick temperaments in a snap, quickly edit and and export tunings in a variety of popular tuning formats. CSE now has a "Pro" license which allows you to route MIDI through the software to retune output from sequencers and notation programs, as well as retune hardware and software synthesizers in real time.
A new horizontal floating mouse-click keyboard has been added to the latest version of CSE at customer request, and several bugs found by customers have been fixed, proving once again that CSE keeps getting better, as it is updated and improved in response to user input. You can check out the CSE reports page which shows this process in action.
Lastly, if you're in the USA, I hope you're having a Happy Thanksgiving!
October 04, 2010
Today marks the release of new software updates for all major H-Pi software, including bug fixes, improved features, and new features. Autoupdating of all applications is now routed to the new server space inhabited by the H-Pi website.
Custom Scale Editor 2.5.0 features a number of improvements concerning the ScratchPad and Units windows, and now allows unlocking the Live Input window via direct purchase of a license, whereas previous versions required purchase of TBX1 to unlock the Live Input feature.
ScalaVista scale browser 1.0.4, includes the latest Scala archive from July 2010 from the Huygens-Fokker website, featuring over 3800 scales for your perusal. This software for Mac and Windows is a very popular download, and continues to be absolutely free.
Lo-Fi Microsynth (HPLF) 1.0.6 Mac stand-alone Hz-based, multi-channel additive software synthesizer addresses a few MIDI input issues for some USB-MIDI controllers, as well as older active sensing controllers, if you happen to have a MIDI interface that does not filter out active sensing messages.
Plexus Synth Control (PXSC) 1.0.2, a free Roland GS-based editor for Tonal Plexus synthesizers, addresses a Windows startup crash that was occurring for some new users who had not previously installed any other H-Pi software.
Scordatura 1.0.9 notation retuner and control surface design tool for Mac also addresses USB-MIDI input issues, as well as minor project import and export bugs. A 16-tone keyboard project is also included as an additional example of the control surface design feature.
Xentone 1.1.5 microtonal ear trainer includes a new feature: microtonal melodies. You can create your own melodies as XML files and hear and see them notated in Xentone. As a basic feature at this release, any rhythms can be input, but rhythmic notation is not yet implemented.
Tonal Plexus Editor (TPXE) 1.6.1 fixes some bugs associated with the Shapes window, and now allows user shapes files to include negative values, a feature recently requested by a new Tonal Plexus owner.
As you may already know, H-Pi software is updated on a regular basis in response to user input. Thanks to those of you who use my software and help me make it better by reporting issues and requesting new features.
August 19, 2010
I was recently invited to be part of an article on electronic instruments and microtonality in the German language publication Virtuos, released by GEMA, a European society for music performance and mechanical reproduction rights similar to ASCAP or BMI. With a circulation of 60,000, GEMA reaches a wide audience of composers, songwrites, and music publishers around the world.
Editor Kristina Balbach interviewed me by email, giving me an opportunity to talk a bit about the importance of expanded pitch resources and the inspiration behind Tonal Plexus keyboards. I was excited and pleased to see the final article begin with some paraphrases of things I had submitted. References to the h-pi website and a photo of a TPX2 also appear further into the article.
Technical director of GEMA, composer, and TPX owner Markus Dieck is featured in the article, discussing his many years of experience working with microtones and the inspiration that the latest musical technology is bringing to his work.
I'm struck once again by what a small world we live in, and yet how colorful and full of possibilities it is. Interconnected individuals bring about fortuitous developments like this. Thanks to Markus Dieck, Kristina Balbach, the team at Virtuos, and GEMA.
July 29, 2010
In case you didn't catch the latest from WikiLeaks, the H-Pi software web pages have been updated with new layouts and graphics, and the software purchase pages have been consolidated into one new software uber-page.
Also, if you tried to view the H-Pi website between about 7:30 PM EST July 27 and 5:30 PM EST July 28, you would have been greeted with a 404 Error. The website was unavailable during that time interval, about 22 hours down. Any emails sent to @h-pi.com addresses during that time should be sent again. My apologies for the outage and any inconvenience this may have caused.
July 17, 2010
I get a lot of questions by email. Sometimes for tech support I've used Yahoo Messenger chat. A problem with that is, people who don't already use Messenger have to download the software, set up an account, etc., and not everyone wants to do that. So, I decided it would be useful to have a custom web-based chat that would be easy to use for anyone who is online. The result is H-Pi Live Chat, a reasonably robust chat client I developed from a bare-bones open source chat project aptly named microchat.
At the login screen, you'll find one of three greetings:
Live Chat allows any number of people to login, so it's actually a chat room that can be used for conferencing. As the owner, I can lock out new logins at any time. Also, logins are announced, so there's no a danger of a lurker listening in covertly. So, for example, if you are in a band of four members called The Four Tuning Geeks, and you all want to chat, we can all login, I can lock it, and we can have a semi-private conversation.
I say "semi-private", because the chat connection is unencrypted, open and public. If someone really wanted to eavesdrop, they could find a way to do it. Since I imagine you are probably not in the habit of shouting out your credit card numbers when discussing tuning issues, I think we're all pretty safe.
July 13, 2010
It was recently brought to my attention that the H-Pi website had some serious navigation and display issues when viewed on Windows machines running Internet Explorer 8, and I'm happy to hereby proclaim that those issues have been resolved … unless you find more problems.
Even though IE works (again) now as far as I can tell, I recommend PC users switch to Safari for Windows. It looks better and works better than IE. If you don't want to install an Apple product, please try switching to Firefox. Both Safari and Firefox are superior to IE in both display and overall performance.
Website feedback is appreciated. Recently I took some time to improve the site in some general ways. Please remember that I code everything on the website, and if you see a problem, I want to know about it as soon as possible. Thanks!
June 18, 2010
Taken at a Board of Trustees presentation at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, June 14, and sent to me from renowned experimental guitarist and head of the Berklee microtonal music club, David Fiuczynski, we see in the above photo, pictured from left, David Fiuczynski (a.k.a. Fuze), Berklee President Roger Brown and keyboard student Takeru Yamazaki.
The green TPX4s keyboard belongs to Takeru. On top of the keyboard is what looks like a Korg mini-KP (KAOSS Pad). I'm told the event included a performance involving Tonal Plexus keyboards, and I hope to have some more details to share soon. Thanks for the photo, Fuze!
June 12, 2010
I was pleased recently when Tonal Plexus owner Aaron Wolf alerted me to Automat, a free Audio Unit synthesizer for Mac OSX which has implemented full dynamic retuning support for Tonal Plexus TPX keyboards, as well as .tun 1.0 support for compatibility with CSE and conventional keyboards.
Tonal Plexus owners can open Automat as a plugin in any AU host application (GarageBand, Logic, DP, Reaper, etc.) and tune it up dynamically with the Plexus on-the-fly, without loading any tuning tables at all. This is the same GM microtuning functionality implemented in the commercial software Pianoteq which I've been raving about lately.
The same is true for TBX1 owners. You can send MIDI out from your controller to TBX1, and send that TUNED output to Automat (or Pianoteq), for dynamic retuning without tuning tables.
Or, you can retune your conventional keyboard in Automat using tuning tables; just use CSE to create your tunings and export them as .tun files to the following location:
(where ~ means YourHardDrive/Users/YourUserName)
Then just select your tuning in Automat, and you're good to go.
Note for U-PLEX users: you need to have a serious AU host such as Logic, DP, or Reaper in order to use Automat or Pianoteq as AU plugin synths for dynamic retuning. Apple's entry-level sequencer, GarageBand, does not allow you to select the MIDI input; instead, all MIDI inputs are active. As a result, U-PLEX won't produce tuned output in GB; however, TPX keyboards can be used with GB just fine.
It would be great if the .tun 2.0 standard were implemented in Automat, so that .msf would be supported, allowing U-PLEX to be used with Automat in GarageBand. Until then, Mac U-PLEX users should invest a little more in a professional AU host.
June 11, 2010
Fast on the heels of completing full tuning support for Tonal Plexus keyboards, Modartt has just announced a new, more affordable version of Pianoteq called Pianoteq Play, selling for 99 Euros, or about 120 USD (about one third the price of the full version of Pianoteq).
This version does come with some limitations, so the first question to answer is: does it support all the tuning functions of the full version? The answer is: YES! You get full Tonal Plexus compatibility - on the fly retuning with no tuning tables necessary,
as well as Scala .scl and .kbm compatibility with CSE (Custom Scale Editor) software for retuning conventional keyboards. UPDATE: As of September 2011, I've been informed that Pianoteq Play doesn't include .scl and .kbm support; however, it is still fully compatible with CSE and TPXE using the Live MIDI Input feature (available to license holders only).
What you don't get are advanced controls over the sound of the instrument, but if you are simply after the sound of a piano, absence of those controls should not bother you in the least. I highly recommended this new version of Pianoteq for its tuning capabilities and its affordability. Great work, again, Modartt!
May 20, 2010
I am very pleased to announce that today Pianoteq from Modartt, with update 3.6.1, becomes the first true-modelling softsynth to be fully compatible with Tonal Plexus keyboards and H-Pi tuning software. I consider this a milestone for my business.
I received notice of the update this morning from Dr. Julien Pommier, developer in charge of Pianoteq tuning functions with whom I have been happy to be in correspondence with for some time now, assisting with beta testing of Pianoteq tuning functions. Previous versions of Pianoteq were compatible with multi-channel GM microtonal output from Tonal Plexus keybaords, but a MIDI note-off issue in Pianoteq caused some pitches to cut out while playing live on a TPX or U-PLEX keyboard. That issue has been resolved in this update, thanks to Julien's responsiveness, conscientious programming, and his knowledge of and and willingness to dig in to the often quite tricky matters of tuning, for nothing more than the fun and challenge in it; you see, this milestone as I'm calling it was accomplished without any kind of commercial agreement whatsoever, solely a result of mutual interest and enthusiasm. I am really glad to see that Modartt places due importance on this aspect of its software. Please join me in thanking Julien and Modartt for their support.
Plug in a TPX keyboard to your MIDI interface, set Pianoteq to receive TPX TUNED MIDI output, with pitch bend range set to + / - 100 cents, and there you have it - microtonal polyphony, with no tuning tables necessary in Pianoteq! That is the advantage of the GM microtuning method used in TPX keyboards; as long as the receiver knows what to expect, all the tuning tables reside only in the keyboard, so you just plug and play. U-PLEX keyboards work the same way through TPXE or other software; just plug in U-PLEX straight to a USB port, run the tuning software, set Pianoteq to received the TUNED MIDI output from the software, and there it is - microtonal polyphony without any tuning tables whatsoever in Pianoteq. This frees up retuning to be as easy as plugging in, and also allows dynamic retuning on the fly. And the retuning information is General MIDI, so you can route it elsewhere and it will also retune other destinations correctly. Pianoteq also has a MIDI file recorder which means you can make microtonal MIDI files directly, which can go directly in email and on the web, something that is simply impossible to do with other microtuning methods. Pianoteq is the first mainstream commercial softsynth to fully implement GM microtuning compatibility.
For those of you unfamiliar with Pianoteq, let me tell you a bit about it. It not only physically models acoustic grand pianos, but also electronic pianos, rhodes, period fortepianos, harpsichords, clavichords, and others. It has tremendous and mind-boggling customizability, flexibility and control of timbre, and other rather obvious practical advantages over sampled instruments (which hog disk space and slow down your system); Pianoteq exerts an incredibly small draw on your computer's resources. Find out more, try out Pianoteq for yourself, or just go ahead and buy it - it is more than worth its price!
Please also join me in encouraging other developers to follow Modartt's example. If there is another softsynth or other software you would like to be compatible with Tonal Plexus keyboards and H-Pi software, please contact those developers and give them a link to this PDF compatibility document which has everything that's needed to get the ball rolling:
The more voices express a need for tuning control, the more developers will listen. We need to work together! Thanks again, Modartt!
May 07, 2010
Formerly known as MidwestMicrofest, the concert organization now called untwelve is a kindred spirit, devoted to music which goes beyond the standard 12 tones. Untwelve was founded in 2007 by Aaron Krister Johnson and Christopher Bailey. Its concert activities are primarily in the Chicago area, with some affiliated events in Champaign-Urbana through composer Jacob Barton (of udderbot and 17-tone piano project fame) and composer/guitarist Andrew Heathwaite, who have established OddMusic, an entity now thriving at the UIUC Independent Media Center. [Devoted readers of this blog (both of you) may recall a previous entry about my lending some prototypes to Oddmusic.]
During my years in Illinois since the inception of my business, I had traveled to Chicago for several untwelve events, one of which included a performance of my Invention in 7ET. At the end of 2009, I was invited by Aaron Johnson to serve as a board member with untwelve. Because the organization is seeking non-profit status, I suggested that I serve on the board only in advisory capacity, considering my commercial interests in microtonality, and this was agreed upon as the best relationship to establish. I received word today that my bio has been added to the untwelve board members page. Thanks, guys; it's good to be working with you!
April 21, 2010
One of the first shipping Tonal Plexus keyboards I built was purchased by the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA, where it is now used by guitarist David Fiuczynski and his students. I recently made some upgrades and improvements to this instrument. The upgrades included new firmware for the chips, new red front and back pieces for the body, countersinking the screws on the finishing strips, and new top panels for the keys.
New instruments come with all these improvements and refinements. The early keyboards like the one purchased by Berklee had some issues with the top panels, around the keys themselves, because the material was thin and flexible, and on some instruments this caused some warping of the surface; this was one of those instruments that had a problem. I show the former panel in the video, and you can see how flexible it is. Panels on currently shipping keyboards are thick and rigid, so warping is not a problem anymore. The firmware upgrade improves fader response and adds some useful options for how MIDI banks and patches are handled in presets. The other improvements are basically cosmetic, although the countersunk screws do change a minor tactile element of the design.If you own one of the early Tonal Plexus keyboards and you would like to have these upgrades and improvements, please contact me to discuss it; I would be happy to give your instrument an overhaul and I know you would appreciate the difference.
After doing the work on Berklee's keyboard, before shipping it back, I recorded this little video in which I point out the improvements, and then demonstrate something interesting about dominant 7th chords in Just Intonation.
Dominant 7th chords contain a diminished 5th between the 3rd and 7th, often called a tritone, although tritones are, strictly speaking, always augmented 4ths, not diminished 5ths (tritone = 3 tones = 3 whole tones in a row e.g. C to D to E to F# = C : F# = augmented 4th). The misnomer is indicative of the way pitches are named enharmonically in 12ET, where for example F# and Gb are the same pitch. In 12ET, two dominant chords can share the same pitches between their 3rds and 7ths, swapping roles of those pitches between the chords, because an augmented 4th and a diminished 5th use the same exact pitches. This can't happen in Just Intonation. In Just Intonation, a diminished 5th will never be an augmented 4th. This video shows how in JI either the 3rd or 7th can be used as a common tone, but not both. One or the other common tones can be kept in a dominant 7th chord whose root is either an augmented fourth or a diminished fifth away, since those intervals are not the same in Just Intonation. Make sense?
Note: the captions in this video introduced blips into the audio for some reason and I couldn't fix it; sorry about that!
April 13, 2010
A new work entitled the wayward, by composer Tim Mariën, based on transcriptions of four Harry Partch's hobo-inspired compositions from the early 1940's, will be premiered by the Ictus ensemble with Mike Schmid at the Kaaitheater in Brussles, Belgium on April 20th, 2010.
This event is noteworthy for many reasons, not the least of which is the relatively little exposure Partch's music has received in Europe. The project itself is quite unique, as it involves the translation of music from one set of custom designed microtonal instruments to another, thus giving a fresh, contemporary perspective on Partch's compositions.
Mariën writes, "Partch's music demands from the listener either to accept it or to walk away from it. I never walked away from it." Instead, he took on a considerable challenge, delving deeply into Partch's works in order to bring them to life in a new form. I encourage you to visit the Ictus website and read the rest of what Mariën has to say there.
The concert will also feature a premiere of Mariën's composition Toeënwâs for flute, trombone, 12-string fretless guitar, retuned reed organ, microtonal piano and percussion (guiro, retuned marimba, 3 tomtoms & bass drum). Mariën writes, "The title refers to a local flemish dialect: Toeën= toon (meaning tone) and wâs= wijs (meaning melody), the whole word refers to a situation where someone has achieved a little experience in an activity."
I should mention the reason I know about all this; Tim Mariën owns a Tonal Plexus TPX6s, of which he says, "I use it mainly as a tool for composition. Anything which comes close to microtonality makes it worth switching it on." So, I am pleased to have such a connection.
In general, I feel fortunate to be able to be in touch with so many interesting musicians from around the world who contact me because of the instruments and software I am creating. It's exciting for me to be involved that way in the extraordinary musical activity going on around our world. What are you doing with your music? Whenever you can, attend events like this one to keep up your inspiration. Be creative!UPDATE 04/26/2010: A review of the concert (very favorable!) has been posted online at MusicalCriticism.com
April 01, 2010
From the San Francisco Chronicle to the New York Times, email in-boxes and voicemail lines have been flooded with reports of flying saucers mounted on microtonal keyboards invading the peaceful airspace of the United States of America. The invasion began shortly after dawn on the East coast, and swept across the nation, causing inexplicable disruption of all upright, baby grand, and grand piano actions, as well as discombobulation of all standard twelve tone keyboard synthesizers. The flying instruments emitted strange and amazing sounds that boggled onlookers. Due to the acoustic disturbances, several early observers had been calling the crafts UFO's (Unconventional Fantastic Omniphones) and they have since been identified as Tonal Plexus keyboards equipped with elegant built-in coffee cups and saucers.
H-Pi Instruments director Aaron Andrew Hunt has since claimed responsibility for the invasion, calling it an experimental Spring product release, combining microtonality with a refreshing beverage. Hunt apologized for all the hubub, saying "Ice coffee is really more appropriate now that the temperature has gone up and the sun is out … or maybe cold beer - I don't really drink beer, so I didn't think of that … maybe a nice lemonade, or sparkling grape juice? It's totally your choice; reporters have been calling them 'coffee cups' I guess because they do look like coffee cups, but - and this is an important point! - that cup there was designed to be compatible with all fluids, not just coffee!"
March 21, 2010
Moving isn't fun, but it does give the opportunity to take material and spiritual inventory, to decide what to keep and what to throw away, to see what needs fixing or improving, what's missing or needed.
Two years ago yesterday (which happened to be the Vernal Equinox), this blog was born. I wouldn't have known that, had I not decided to peruse my writings so far in order to help plan where I'll go from here.
So, happy birthday, blog.
Oh yes, and happy birthday today to J.S. Bach!
March 15, 2010
I've returned home (my house still half in disarray from the recent move) from the weekend colloquium at Wright State University honoring composer Ben Johnston. It's difficult to write about a conference without going on and on at length, considering the variety of participants, presentations and performances, each stirring up the atmosphere, catching interest and provoking questions in different ways, worthy not just of mention but deserving thoughtful response and commentary. To do the whole thing justice would take all day, so I'll just give my impressions of the main focus of the event, and say a few words about my part in the festivities.
At age 84 (his birthday is today!), Ben Johnston is one fearlessly honest and uncompromising human being. Speaking mostly from his wheelchair, there were moments when he rose with effort to speak. At one such instance, in response to Kyle Gann's keynote address, he hobbled over to the presenter and among other things, he said, "Music is supposed to make people better. Otherwise, what are we here for?" as well as, "Make use of the terrible things that happen to you; make use of the good things that happen to you; the result is maturity." These are insights given from the perspective of a man whose career has had among its successes also its serious crises.
I have the sense that Johnston has never written music to please anybody, not even himself. Rather, he does what he does simply in order to honestly respond to existence. That response has been and continues to be deeply felt and intensely personal to the point of requiring an extension of the existing language of music composition. His expressions have often been so uniquely crafted as to be beyond the comprehension of classically trained performers, and as a result many of his works have never been played. Some of his string quartets, for example, baffled performers for over twenty years for their complex microtonal construction, until the Kepler quartet had the courage to record them. Kepler violinist Eric Segnitz, who was in attendance, told me that he sees these recordings as only a first step.
Johnston later spoke, when asked, of his student experiences with Harry Partch, John Cage, and Darius Milhaud, and he retold several offhand anecdotes, such as when he spliced the tape for Cage's Williams Mix (1953). His sincerity and self effacing manner were disarming; ego clearly has no place in his way of being. That Johnston has been doing his pioneering microtonal work for so long almost entirely in the realm of the abstract, in his head, using a pencil and paper, without the aid of computers, just completely boggles my mind. The man is an inspiration.
I was pleased to learn of a website dedicated to Johnston at A New Dissonance, where can be found mp3s and videos of Ben's music, as well as blog posts by the composer himself. More information about Ben Johnston is here.
For my part, as one of the invited speakers, I spent the last week and a half preparing my presentation. I was grateful for this opportunity to gather up some of my work which had been languishing on my shelf for over ten years and put it into a presentable form. My plan is to add pages to the website on the topic in the near future (a placeholder has existed for several years now). After my presentation, Johnston approached and kindly told me that he was interested in what I was doing, which of course pleased me. He also added with a smile, "but it's not easy." The photo above was taken by Kyle Gann after the final concert.
The event was organized by cellist and composer Franklin Cox, who also gave stunning performances of music by Johnston and Bach on the final concert. I learned also that Dr. Cox held a colloquim on Elliot Carter last year and plans to hold future events annually. Bravo and thanks to Franklin; more people should be keeping an eye on what's going on in contemporary music at Wright State!
January 31, 2010
The month of February will be one of transition for me and my business, as I'll be returning to my home state of Indiana to be nearer my family. Orders taken for Tonal Plexus keyboards during the month of February will be held until March, while Tuning Boxes and software will be available as usual, with interruption only at the end of the month.
Moving day is Saturday, February 27, 2010.
Thanks to all my Illinois friends I've come to know over the almost half of my life spent in the state of Illinois, some of whom will be helping with the move. Starting March 1, the little tag at the bottom of the about page will read: H-Pi Instruments is a legally registered business in the state of Indiana. The headquarters will get an upgrade in the Hoosier state, and I'm looking forward to the opportunities ahead. Thanks as always for your support.
December 26, 2009
I was happily surprised to see this new video by Jonathan Glasier, demonstrating 19-tone equal temperament (19ET) on a synth keyboard using a TBX1 Tuning Box. He shows the box briefly at the beginning of the video.
Many tuning enthusiasts know about Jonathan's career, but since biographical facts are not listed in the video comments (Jonathan is not one to draw attention to himself) it might be useful to know that here we have someone who has done an awful lot in this field, and who is also a direct link to one of the most influential people in the history of tuning! Jonathan worked with Harry Partch in the 60's, as his personal assistant, and a member of his ensemble. He also founded the Interval journal in the 70's, and Sonic Arts Gallery in the 80's. He lives in San Diego where he performs microtonal music with his own ensemble.
He says early on if you're interested in the mathematics, that's not what his videos are about; he is showing practical keyboard related issues. This type of instruction is sorely needed, and it's great to see this kind of video being made, using an overhead camera so you can see what he's doing.
(0) 1.0000000… 0.00¢ = 0Ç+0J = P.P1 (1) 1.0371550… 63.16 2¢ = 2Ç+1J = P.Sm2 (2) 1.0756905… 126.32¢ = 4Ç+2J = aa.Lm2 (3) 1.1156579… 189.47¢ = 6Ç+2J = a.SM2 (4) 1.1571102… 252.63¢ = 9Ç-2J = m.Sm3 (5) 1.2001027… 315.79¢ = 11Ç-1J = P.Lm3 (6) 1.2446925… 378.95¢ = 13Ç+0J = m.SM3 (7) 1.2909391… 442.11¢ = 15Ç+1J = a.LM3 (8) 1.3389041… 505.26¢ = 17Ç+1J = M.P4 (9) 1.3886511… 568.42¢ = 19Ç+2J = M.Na4 (10) 1.4402465… 631.58¢ = 22Ç-2J = m.La4 (11) 1.4937589… 694.74¢ = 24Ç-1J = m.P5 (12) 1.5492596… 757.89¢ = 26Ç-1J = d.Sm6 (13) 1.6068224… 821.05¢ = 28Ç+0J = M.Lm6 (14) 1.6665240… 884.21¢ = 30Ç+1J = P.SM6 (15) 1.7284437… 947.37¢ = 32Ç+2J = M.LM6 (16) 1.7926641… 1010.53¢ = 35Ç-2J = d.Lm7 (17) 1.8592707… 1073.68¢ = 37Ç-2J = dd.SM7 (18) 1.9283519… 1136.84¢ = 39Ç-1J = P.LM7 (19) 2.0000000… 1200.00¢ = 41Ç+0J = P.P8
Notice we have a Perfect Large Minor 3rd and its inversion a Perfect Small Major 6th. Thirds and sixths aren't normally thought of as intervals that can be Perfect, because they aren't called Perfect in 12ET. In the H-System, the term "Perfect", when it is placed at the start of the interval name (in abbreviation as a letter to the left of a dot), is referring to a "virtually beatless" sound produced by an interval in voices of harmonic timbre. Jonathan demonstrates these intervals in the video and calls them the "Perfect Minor 3rd" and "Perfect Major 6th". The H-System basically supports these names, further qualifying them with Large and Small, respectively, to clearly differentiate them from their 3-Limit siblings.
He also says in 19ET we don't have a Perfect 4th or Perfect 5th, and in terms of evaluating harmonic-timbre intervals for beatlessness, this is indeed true. In 19ET, the 4th and 5th both beat noticeably, the 4th being noticeably sharp and the 5th noticeably flat. The H-System names for these 19ET intervals are Major Perfect Fourth and Minor Perfect Fifth, indicating that they are 1 JND (Just Noticeable Difference) out of tune from their Perfect (beatless) harmonic versions.
Just to be clear, I had no idea that Jonathan was going to make these videos, I didn't ask him to point out TBX1 or talk about it at all, and I certainly didn't pay him to advertise for me! The fact he mentioned TBX1 was a really nice surprise. Thanks, Jonathan! He says that this is part 1 of 3, so I look forward to the next videos.
December 06, 2009
Well, in case you didn't catch it on C-SPAN, or you didn't notice just now, the H-Pi website has been updated to display correctly on those smaller netbook screens (resolution: 800x600) as well as overhead projectors, and navigation has been changed from a sidebar to a drop-down system. Navigation categories have been rearranged a bit, and I think this is overall an improvement.
Content updates will follow for the new year; for the time being, the content is essentially the same. I'm not crazy about limiting the website to an 800 pixel width, leaving those big unused swaths on either side of the screen for a lot of users, but for now its what the industry demands.
Any pages loading weird or looking funny, let me know; there are bound to be a few. Also, note that the music theory pages have not been updated to the new format. For now they will remain full page width.
November 27, 2009
Here I show one of the new U-PLEX keyboards, first just playing through the editor (TPXE) and then routing out from there to Native Instruments KONTAKT, using the one-of-a-kind, super-cool H-Pi Universal Microtuning Script, which you get free when you download TPXE or CSE.
This video shows a PC running Windows XP, which can't create virtual MIDI ports, so MIDI-Yoke is used. On Mac, TPXE creates the virtual ports for you, called External App to TPXE and TPXE to External App. These ports are used to communicate with other software like KONTAKT as shown in this video.
U-PLEX are the new more affordable USB-only line of Tonal Plexus keyboards. Buy one! You'll love it.
November 23, 2009
I just received notice that UPS shipping rates are increasing (again) by 4.9% across the board. See the official UPS notice here. Order before the end of the year to get current shipping rates. UPS starts the rate hike on Jan. 4, 2010. The increase will take effect for all orders at this website beginning January 1, 2010.
November 11, 2009
Update 11/24/2009: The Guardian UK posted a new video showing the instrument in action.
Some of you may recall this news blurb from 2003 about a UK-based self-tuning piano by Geoff Smith:
This update just issued from RiotSqaud publicity:
The invention of the Fluid Piano enables musicians to alter each note individually and separately by precise microtonal intervals per note before or during performance. This is made possible by Geoff Smith's patented Fluid Tuning mechanism, which liberates the instrument from the restrictions of 'western' tuning.This enables the musician to explore and experiment with an immense diversity of 'bespoke' tuning layouts and 'indigenous' scales and modes from around the world (for example, from middle eastern cultures). Furthermore, if the musician chooses not to make use of the 'Fluid Piano's' tuning mechanisms then the instrument can also remain in the standard 'western' tuning. Features and capabilities of THE FLUID PIANO
- Fluid Tuning is available on each note of the Fluid Piano .
- The Fluid Piano is a totally Acoustic instrument.
- The Fluid Piano is a grand piano.
- The maximum interval change that can be achieved by the use of each Fluid Tuning mechanism per note is a whole tone.
- The Fluid Tuning 'mechanisms operate separately and independently per note.
- The initial 'default' or central position of each Fluid Tuning mechanism, in order to provide equal temperament, will provide a semitone interval change in either direction (flat or sharp) or any desired microtonal interval of less than a semi tone in either direction (flat or sharp).
- The musician can slide each mechanism, individually and separately, to new positions in order to change the tuning during performance or in between compositions.
- The sliding action can also be used as an effect.
- The range of the instrument is five octaves plus a third (i.e. minus the highest and lowest octaves present on an eighty-eight-note piano).
- The Fluid Piano also incorporates an additional instrument comprising totally separate strings to those of the Fluid Piano . This is a horizontal harp hybrid. It can be reached by the pianist whilst sitting at the keyboard, or by a harpist from the right hand curved side of the Fluid Piano .
- The harp hybrid also incorporates Fluid Tuning mechanisms per note and separate pedals that can be accessed on the right hand curved side of the Fluid Piano .
- An additional 'stop' is included to enable the harp to be dampened from the pianist's playing position.
An unveiling event is scheduled in England later this month:
WHEN: Saturday, the 28th of November, 7 PM
WHERE: PATS Studio One, Surrey University, Guildford GU2 7XH
October 27, 2009
I promised more pictures of the new HotRod Tonal Plexus keyboards. Here's a 6 octave blue baby.
October 20, 2009
As some of you know, the expansion of the .TUN tuning/scale file format started as a response on the Tuning List to my proposal for a new format (language) for scale files called TuningXML, which I left in draft form at the end of last year.
Development of the advanced .TUN format took place in discussion on the KVR forum between Anamark programmer and inventor of .TUN Mark Henning, and myself. As far as I know, no other developers took part in the discussion.
The threads on KVR which lead to the new .TUN standard are here:Topic: [TUN] Database usage Topic: [TUN] TUN Information content Topic: [TUN] Proposal for revising .TUN-Format (Micro-Tuning)
The discussion led to .TUN V2.0 and the new .MSF (multiple scale file) format, both creations of Mark Henning, which incorporate many new advanced features for tuning files. Now that these new advanced features have been implemented in Anamark 2.25, and since .TUN is a widely supported format for retunable softsynths, softsynth developers should follow the leader and get their products up to speed with the new features. In addition to getting back to TuningXML development, I'll be supporting the new formats as exporting options in CSE and TPXE (the previous version of .TUN is already supported by both programs).
September 28, 2009
I promised to post pictures of new keyboards with the hot-rod color option. So here's one. Check out this bad boy.
It now resides in Florida. Before leaving H-Pi headquarters it appeared in the video posted here a few days ago. Next up will be a sleek blue TPX6. Check back soon.
September 26, 2009
Letter names for key regions are shown, followed by diatonic and chromatic halfsteps subdividing the fifth. More interval shapes will be shown in upcoming videos, with clarification on what's actually going on in the master tuning.
September 20, 2009
This is actually old news. Back in June, fellow microtonalist Jacob Barton came to visit the H-Pi headquarters and pick up several prototype instruments to take back with him to Champaign-Urbana, for use in the recently formed Oddmusic 'compositional co-op' which resides at the Independent Media Center on the U of I campus. Andrew Heathwaite is also involved in the Oddmusic enterprise. I later made a trip to see the environs and add some additional equipment to the arsenal there. Although their focus appears to be acoustic inventions, they are obviously not averse to electronic inventions. Good things happening there; check it out if you are in the area!
August 28, 2009
The forbidden narrow wavy line - whether you spell it Do Re Me Re or La Ti Do Ti, in my experience it's some kind of archetype, and I use it here as a ground bass. There is a little otherwise diatonic melody which features a falling microtonal glissando, and then I'm obviously improvising the rest, for admittedly too long, and it might be boring, so I added some visual effects for interest. The sound is coming from the TPX2s internal synth. The title "Zbogom dome" means "Goodbye, my home" in Serbo-Croatian.
August 24, 2009
Tonal Plexus keyboards have so far been built with one color option for the body of the instrument: black. A few months ago, I started feeling a bit bored by the monotony of the black body and I looked into the possibility of building the sides of the body in the color of the key color option - in blue, red, yellow, or green, to make the keyboard look brighter, more daring and lively. I started unofficially offering this option to customers last month. A TPX4s in green with the green body-color option is shown here. The option will be added to the order page soon. For the time being, if the colored body appeals to you, just mention it when you contact me before placing your order.
I personally prefer the colored body. I may also experiment with the controls panel to further highlight the color. I'm also experimenting with white as a body color, using white plastic instead of black for the finishing strips on the top and the right side of the instrument. At any rate, I'll post pictures of more colored keyboards when I get a chance to build them.
You may also notice that the screws on the finishing strips are now flush, giving the instrument a sleeker look. I'm now building all the keyboards this way.
August 08, 2009
Here's a rendition of Bach's C Major Prelude and Fugue (opening) played in Just Intonation on a TPX4s Tonal Plexus keyboard. Obviously, Bach did not write this music to be played in Just Intonation (the "Well Tempered" part of "Well Tempered Clavier" has a specific meaning for tuning), so this is an experimental performance which uses pure 3rds and 5ths, natural 7ths in dominant chords, and harmonics reaching the 17-Limit in diminished chords. In several places, a common tone can be heard to 'bend' from one chord to the next (usually in ii-V progressions) where a pitch has to move by a septimal comma; the pitch is changing in real time by JND steps. This is a single take. I played only the opening of the fugue, very slowly ; ) This is for two reasons. First, so my fingers will behave and play the right keys, and second, so the sounds of Just Intonation can be savored a bit. Enjoy!
June 17, 2009
This is my rendition of Glósóli by Sigur Rós, from the 2005 album Takk. It really doesn't take 211 keys in an octave to play this, but it's nice to be able to play it in Just Intonation, with different pitches depending on the voice leading. This is a single take. I tried to capture some of the grandeur of the original, though that is really impossible, and I hope you won't think my effort is too lame … get the real thing here (IMHO possibly the best music video ever made).
The keyboard is a TPX6s with custom color scheme which I built for SYZYGYS keyboardist and composer Hitomi Shimizu. How do you like the colors?
June 14, 2009
This video shows a custom tuning table built in TPXE, with 4 octaves of 31ET, 2 octaves of the Bohlen-Pierce 13th root of 3 scale (in two different patterns), and Harry Partch's 43 tone JI scale (also in two different patterns). You can get the .tpx tuning file by right clicking this link to download the file.
June 13, 2009
Previous videos have demonstrated the TPX master tuning using the TPXs internal synthesizer as the sound source. This series of five short videos demonstrates a TPX controller connected to a higher-end sound module, using alternate keyboard layouts via custom designed .tpx tuning tables (more info below).
The above 4 videos use a tuning where columns are harmonics in series with 1/1 at the center, so there are undertones and overtones on each column, and horizontally the columns are related by another JI harmonic series chromatic scale. You can get the TPXE .tpx tuning file by right clicking this link to download the file.
This last video uses a harmonic lattice tuning where rows are consecutive 5ths and columns are consecutive 3rds. Get the .tpx file by right clicking this link to download the file.
May 12, 2009
I know this is old news, but still it gives the tuning enthusiast pause. If 12ET fifths were US stamps, standard tuning could have become Pythagorean yesterday. Yes, I'm speaking of the 2 cent US stamp rate hike. It is further regrettable that the old stamp rate, 42, has now been surpassed, for this number signifies H-System nominal octave completion. But, all is not lost. 44 cents bespeaks a double meantone era, half of the 88 cent non-octave temperament, which receives much interest from fellow tuning geeks. But ah, old 42, to you who gave your level best, to you the answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything - fare thee well; you will be missed.
April 30, 2009
To celebrate this week of holidays in Japan called Golden Week, allow me to share with you some new pictures of the Kyoto 205 Bus, which runs from Kyoto station to Kinkakuji, which means Golden Pavilion.
If this seems a bit random, let me explain that this number 205 is the number of pitches in the Tonal Plexus master tuning, the number of average JNDs in an octave, and the number of pitches which is central to my work. So, I always get a kick out of seeing things having this number emblazoned upon them.
Recently I found buses numbered 205 in both London and Helsinki, to which I have traveled and also have some personal connections. Searching just for fun online, I also happened across this bus in Kyoto, Japan …
and now I am pleased to have an actual connection there, as I will be building the next Tonal Plexus for the lovely person who sent me these rainy-day photos, composer and pianist Hitomi Shimizu, who lives in Kyoto, writes music for films and video games, and plays a one-of-a-kind 43-Tone reed organ tuned to the Harry Partch scale on C in a microtonal Japanese pop duo called SYZYGYS — check out her recordings on the Tzadik label!
Thanks Hitomi, and Happy Golden Week!
April 12, 2009
A bit of fun …
I was amused to find that there are major buses in both Helsinki and London with the route number 205, this being the number of pitches in the Tonal Plexus master tuning (the number of average JNDs in an octave, the number of pitches central to my work), and these two places being recent travel destinations of mine (although I was not in central London, but on the outskirts, in Walton in fact). Anyway, here they are for your enjoyment: the famous 205 bus of London, England and the perhaps lesser known but no less fantastic 205 bus of Helsinki, Finland!
Perhaps my next travel destination should be to Bangkok, Thailand, where (despite the current political turmoil) another couple of 205 buses are doing their daily rounds:
Or maybe Kyoto, Japan is the place to go, since according to this page in wikipedia, "many travellers stop at Saiin Station in order to take a the #205 city bus to Kinkakuji".
Furthermore, perhaps I should try my luck in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where there are apparently exactly 205 buses in operation, a curious coincidence shared in France by the 205 RATP buses of the Paris suburbs!
At any rate, someday I do hope to find myself nearer to I-205, which connects Oregon and Washington, and the other I-205 which traverses a small part of northern California leading to the San Francisco Bay area.
Special thanks to composer and friend Juhani Nuorvala for the Helsinki photo and the kick which subsequently inspired this little burst of whimsy. It's all in the numbers, folks!
March 26, 2009
… a demonstration of how to use Tonal Plexus Editor (TPXE) software (Mac and Windows) to create Region Maps on the keyboard.
March 25, 2009
… a little demonstration of how to use Tonal Plexus Editor (TPXE) software (Mac and Windows) to import scales and create Areas on the keyboard.
March 23, 2009
My friend Peter Hesterman asked me today how he would play Harry Partch's 43-Tone scale on the Tonal Plexus. I've been asked this question a number of times by email from people interested in Partch's scale. Usually I have answered that there are any number of ways to play it, because you can program the keys to whatever pitches you want, but the main idea behind the Tonal Plexus 205ET JND master tuning is that you can play anything you want on the keyboard without ever having to retune it or relearn fingering patterns. So, this morning I decided to make this diagram showing how Partch's scale can be played in the master tuning. Since Partch always used G as his tonic, the scale is shown here in one octave from G to G.
The harmonic structure the scale is made clearer by applying H-chroma to each pitch according to highest prime harmonics. Partch used primes 2, 3, 5, 7, and 11, and the H-chroma values for those primes are 2 = red, 3 = blue, 5 = yellow, 7 = violet, 11 = green.
For example, the blue dots show the most basic pitches of the 3-Limit in the scale. They are A, B-flat, C, D, E and F. The yellow dots show those pitches based on the 5-Limit, and so on. If you look at the dots grouped by color (which you will do automatically unless you are color-blind), focusing on the C#/Db column as the center, the symmetry of the scale becomes apparent.
The scale is given below as a list of ratios, with H-System pitch and interval names. H-System pitch names follow the form JND inflection, comma shift, letter, accidental. Inflections on the keyboard correspond to the size and shape of the key as shown below, where the large natural key is always 3-Limit:
Partch's scale maps very easily to the 41-tone circle of fifths with JND inflections, and in only two cases are double inflections used.
H-System interval names follow the form JND intonation quality, comma shift type, quality, ordinal size. The JND intonation quality is measured from the lowest limit interval within each zone. In almost every case, Partch's intervals have Perfect JND qualities; note that where it is not called Perfect, the intonation is being measured against a lower limit interval which falls in that zone. There are 51 basic 13-Limit intervals in 41 zones which have implied Perfect JND qualities in the H-System.
An example reading from the table below: scale degree 8 has a tone ratio of 10/9, the pitch is called "sharp sub-A" and the interval is called a "Perfect Small Major Second".
degree .. tone ratio .. pitch name .. interval name 1 ………. 1/1 ………. G ………. P1 2 ………. 81/80 ………. b+G ………. P.L1 3 ………. 33/32 ………. b~Ab ………. d.Sm2 4 ………. 21/20 ………. bAb ………. m.m2 5 ………. 16/15 ………. b+Ab ………. P.Lm2 6 ………. 12/11 ………. #≈A ………. P.NM2 7 ………. 11/10 ………. bb~A ………. dd.SM2 8 ………. 10/9 ………. #~A ………. P.SM2 9 ………. 9/8 ………. A ………. P.M2 10 ………. 8/7 ………. b+A ………. P.LM2 11 ………. 7/6 ………. #~Bb ………. P.Sm3 12 ………. 32/27 ………. Bb ………. P.m3 13 ………. 6/5 ………. b+Bb ………. P.Lm3 14 ………. 11/9 ………. b‡Bb ………. P.Wm3 15 ………. 5/4 ………. #~B ………. P.SM3 16 ………. 14/11 ………. #B ………. M.M3 17 ………. 9/7 ………. b+B ………. P.LM3 18 ………. 21/16 ………. ~C ………. P.S4 19 ………. 4/3 ………. C ………. P4 20 ………. 27/20 ………. b+C ………. P.L4 21 ………. 11/8 ………. b~Db ………. P.Sd5 22 ………. 7/5 ………. Db ………. P.d5 23 ………. 10/7 ………. C# ………. P.a4 24 ………. 16/11 ………. #+C# ………. P.La4 25 ………. 40/27 ………. #~D ………. P.S5 26 ………. 3/2 ………. D ………. P5 27 ………. 32/21 ………. +D ………. P.L5 28 ………. 14/9 ………. #~Eb ………. P.Sm6 29 ………. 11/7 ………. bEb ………. m.m6 30 ………. 8/5 ………. b+Eb ………. P.Lm6 31 ………. 18/11 ………. #≈E ………. P.NM6 32 ………. 5/3 ………. #~E ………. P.SM6 33 ………. 27/16 ………. E ………. P.M6 34 ………. 12/7 ………. #+E ………. P.LM6 35 ………. 7/4 ………. #~F ………. P.Sm7 36 ………. 16/9 ………. F ………. P.m7 37 ………. 9/5 ………. b+F ………. P.Lm7 38 ………. 20/11 ………. x+F ………. aa.Lm7 39 ………. 11/6 ………. b‡F ………. P.Wm7 40 ………. 15/8 ………. #~F# ………. P.SM7 41 ………. 40/21 ………. #F# ………. M.M7 42 ………. 64/33 ………. #+F# ………. a.LM7 43 ………. 160/81 ………. #~G ………. P.S8 1 ………. 2/1 ………. G ………. P8
I'm working on a feature for TPXE which will create images like those above, mapping pitches to keys using dots. It would be nice to have a version of this pitches-to-dots mapping to add to the website, but I think it would require Flash or something similar, which I don't have. The feature in TPXE will allow a library of shapes to be created, which you will be able to move around on the keyboard to see how shapes wrap around at top and bottom, which should be useful for anyone learning to play the instrument.
March 21, 2009
This excerpt by Lassus presents a puzzle for tuning with pure intervals, where the closing chord should be the same as the opening chord, but if strict theoretical rules are followed the closing chord will fall about a quartertone lower than the opening chord. The passage is played twice here on a 2 octave Tonal Plexus keyboard, showing how this pitch shifting occurs.
In the first performance, only pure intervals are used, which lead to the quartertone lower closing chord. The drop in pitch at 2 junctures should be clearly audible.
The second time the quartertone distance between the opening and closing chord is distributed throughout the passage at almost every change in harmony, so that the final chord ends up being the same as the opening chord instead of lower. This means that common tones and pitches normally held as suspensions (which should not change) actually do change in the second example, shifting up by 1 JND at almost every change of harmony. This is usually called 'adaptive' tuning. I limited the adaptive shifts to 1 JND, which is the distance between 1 key vertically and the next in the default tuning of 205ET which is used here. The adapting could be done in slightly different ways to end up with the desired outcome.
I personally like the small lift in pitch which is felt with every change in harmony in the adaptive version. This lifting of pitch gives a feeling that the piece is constantly rising when in fact it is just compensating for the naturally falling pitch. I like the subtle changes. A different example could show the opposite, where small lowing of pitch over time could compensate for rising pitch, and a longer passage could mix both things.
Just a note here - I have changed some registers of pitches in this example because the bass notes would not all fit on a 2 octave keyboard. Also, I admit that I did not consult a score for this; I only listened to a tuning example made by Kalle Aho and figured out the passage by ear at the keyboard. The basic voice leading is correct (compare with this vocal performance - the opening phrase; note that in some other performances a B-flat is used in the first chord of the final elaborated cadence instead of a B, which also sounds nice). Thanks to Kalle for posting the adaptive tuning example which gave me the idea to do this. And, thank you for watching and listening (and reading).
March 18, 2009
TPXE Tonal Plexus Editor software, free for download (Mac and Windows) at http://hpi.zentral.zone/tpxe
In this video, I show some basic things about the interface and demonstrate how to tune a key as well as how to link one key to another to build relative tunings.
This is the first in a series of tutorial videos, which I hope will also get better as we go : )
March 13, 2009
I've returned from my travels, and will be spending the next few days in Chicago to relax with friends and recover from the time change before going home to resume normal work on Monday.
The UK conference was exciting and a lot of fun, with spring-like weather in Walton adding to the optimism and energy of the event. Performances were all highest caliber, and there was a particularly nice variety of music in terms of compositional style, ensemble and instrumentation. I enjoyed seeing friends and meeting new people working in the field. The conference provided a rare opportunity for spirited conversation and enthusiastic exchange of ideas for everyone involved.
My part went reasonably well, despite some technical difficulties. My macbook did not interface well with the overhead projection system, so that about 3/4 of the screen was not only out of visual scope, but was also inaccessible in terms of scrolling and mouse clicking - a bit short of ideal for a presentation focusing on software demonstration, and this weird problem also caused some programs to crash. Nonetheless my short presentation of less than 30 minutes was well received.
At the Sibelius Academy I was honored to have two hours to present, so I was able to cover quite a bit of ground, and the response from students seemed very positive. The macbook exhibited the same weird video problems, but anticipating them I was able to avoid some awkwardness. I had a couple of Tonal Plexus keyboards there to demonstrate with, belonging to Finnish composer Juhani Nuorvala, who also provided a Korg M3 synthesizer as an alternative sound source for the TPX6s. I was glad to see some of the students in attendance express a keen interest in my theories, instruments and software.
Berg's opera Lulu was playing for four nights in Helsinki, and I was able to attend a performance on Tuesday, the night before my presentation at the academy. It was an unusual but well conceived production, which was remarkably well done. The orchestra played flawlessly; every section shone with beautifully expressive coherence. In all I was quite impressed.
I had my camera with me but I really had no time for sight seeing, so I failed to take many photos; in fact, I have no pictures at all from London and only a few from Helsinki. Above is a street near the center of Helsinki, just a few minutes walk from the Sibelius Academy (taken March 9, 2009).
March 03, 2009
In just a few days I'll be in the UK for the third biannual microtonal festival (UK microfest 3) curated by Donald Bousted. I've been a participant at the previous UK microfests, and although as usual I will mostly be a concertgoer, I'll also be part of the opening panel discussion Friday evening and will give a presentation on Sunday morning. I've been writing some new music and working on new software as well as new CSE and TPXE updates (which will be available soon - I promise!) to show at the event. Don posted this promotional video today:
After the festival, I'm off to Finland for four days, during which time I'll be giving another (different) presentation to students and faculty of the Sibelius Academy.
I hope I'll be able to get some photos and maybe videos from both events which I can post here.
… to be continued!
February 03, 2009
A new opera by composer Juhani Nuorvala called Flash Flash will be partially premiered by the Finnish National Opera at The Studio Theatre Almi Hall in Helsinki, Finland at 7 PM Saturday February 7, 2009. According to the composer, the performance of this part of the opera (a portion called Intermission) will employ 4-6 synths, 2 TBX1's (controlling Waldorf's Blofeld and Dave Smith's Mopho synthesizers), Max/MSP, 2 88-note Midi keyboards, and 2 smaller keyboards.
January 01, 2009
2008 was a good year for H-Pi Instruments, and I want to thank everyone for their support and encouragement. There is a lot that could be said about this coming year and all that it may promise. For myself, at the start of a new year, I think of how incredibly lucky I am, and how grateful I am to be able to make my living doing the things that I love. Those who know me know that I don't log the hours I spend on my work; it is a way of life for me, and I hardly feel I am working, because for me it's all fun! Well, almost all : ) The variety of things to do which are necessary for anyone running a business can sometimes be overwhelming, but for me it continues to be quite a positive experience — an interesting adventure, which not only broadens my personal knowledge and skills, but most importantly brings me into contact with so many interesting people — meaning you! The idea that something I am doing can make some difference in your musical life humbles me and continues to be a very worthy aspiration for me. In the new year I will continue to strive for excellence. I continue to hold my hopes high for a brighter future for everyone. For myself, there truly is nothing else I would rather be doing! I wish you all the best days in 2009, filled with happiness, success, and good health!
Thank you everyone!
Aaron Andrew Hunt
December 25, 2008
As I was tidying up some disk space here at the end of 2008, I found some TPX video clips I had never gotten around to editing. Here are a few of them - there is more footage in the vault which I'll have to get to another time. Enjoy!
December 22, 2008
There are several file formats currently used for microtuning, which have been around for decades now. These are the scala format .scl and the VAZ Plus / AnaMark .tun format. Both of these are text files which are relatively easy to create using only a text editor, and are relatively easy to implement by any software developer who wants to support microtuning. A related Scala format is .kbm, which maps a .scl scale to MIDI notes.
So if these formats work fine and are being supported, why does the title of this post suggest a new format? Why fix what ain't broken? I started this thread on the Tuning List beginning to address that question as the start of a dialog with the creators of the file formats cited above. I decided to go ahead and sketch out my idea of a new XML, which I am tentatively calling TuningXML (.tunxml extension?) and here I will outline what I have so far.
At this point I could provide an excruciatingly boring list of entities and attributes, but I'll save that for later. Let's start with some examples:
An example file here shows a 12ET scale, in "terse form", using a minimum or required tags to do the job:
<!— Default Scale Given in Cents, Terse Version —> <Scale Units='Cents'> <Tone> 100 </Tone> <Tone> 200 </Tone> <Tone> 300 </Tone> <Tone> 400 </Tone> <Tone> 500 </Tone> <Tone> 600 </Tone> <Tone> 700 </Tone> <Tone> 800 </Tone> <Tone> 900 </Tone> <Tone> 1000 </Tone> <Tone> 1100 </Tone> <Tone> 1200 </Tone> </Scale>
The same scale could be written including a tonic rather than an octave, as follows:
<!— Default Scale Given in Cents, Terse Version —> <Scale HasTonic='True' Format='Cents'> <Tone> 0 </Tone> <Tone> 100 </Tone> <Tone> 200 </Tone> <Tone> 300 </Tone> <Tone> 400 </Tone> <Tone> 500 </Tone> <Tone> 600 </Tone> <Tone> 700 </Tone> <Tone> 800 </Tone> <Tone> 900 </Tone> <Tone> 1000 </Tone> <Tone> 1100 </Tone> </Scale>
Notice in the first example there is an attribute Units='Cents' and in the second it is Format='Cents'; the idea is that these attributes are interchangeable, and I am allowing for many variations on names for different attributes; e.g. Units, Format, ToneUnits, and ToneFormat all mean the same thing. The Units or Format doesn't have to be Cents; other formats are allowed (see below).
Here is a possible "verbose" version of the first version of the same scale, using a lot of optional tags:
<?xml version= "1.0"?> <!— Default Keyboard Scale Given in Cents, Verbose Version —> <Scale Author='John Q. Public' Geography='United States' History='Known very early in Western history, used in inaccurate forms for lutes and other fixed pitch instruments since the 15th century, was advocated by some theorists but was almost always rejected by musicians because of its bad sounding thirds, but finally reached widespread adoption in the late 19th century, although other fixed tunings persisted well into the 20th century.' Description='Twelve Tone Equal Temperament is a close approximation of 13-Tone Pythagorean tuning where the a4 and d5 collapse into one tone and the Pythagorean Comma of 23.4 cents is distributed equally over 12 fifths, so that they are all about 2 cents flat from their pure form 3/2.' IsEqual='True' NonOctave='False' Period='2' Generator='2^(1/12)' Type='Equal Division of the Octave' HasTonic='False' TonicIsFixed='False' ToneFormat='Cents'> <!— Tones below are defined as Intervals —> <Tone Index='0' Name='Minor Second' ID='m2' Description='Also called HalfStep or Semitone, one cent more than 18/17 and 5 cents less than 17/16.'> 100 </Tone> <Tone Index='1' Name='Major Second' ID='M2' Description='Also called Wholestep or Whole Tone, 4 cents less then 9/8.'> 200 </Tone> <Tone Index='2' Name='Minor Third' ID='m3' Description='Not far from 19/16, this is a consonant sounding interval of 12ET.'> 300 </Tone> <Tone Index='3' Name='Major Third' ID='M3' Description='Close to the Pythagorean Ditone 81/64, this interval is the bane of 12ET, or its most audible feature, sometimes called "active thirds" because they cause rapid beats.'> 400 </Tone> <Tone Index='4' Name='Perfect Fourth' ID='P4' Description='Two cents more than 4/3, the slow beating is almost imperceptible in most cases.'> 500 </Tone> <Tone Index='5' Name='Tritone' ID='TT' Description='Known as "Diabolis en musicus", literally "The Devil In Music" this interval has a long history of being thought of as "defective", as it is in between the two most stable intervals after the Unison and the Octave, namely the Fourth and the Fifth. In 12ET it is either an Augmented Fourth or a Dimishied Fifth, though those intervals are not the same in the Pythagorean Intonation from which 12ET is derived.'> 600 </Tone> <Tone Index='6' Name='Perfect Fifth' ID='P5' Description='Two cents less than 3/2, the slow beating is almost imperceptible in most cases.'> 700 </Tone> <Tone Index='7' Name='Minor Sixth' ID='m6' Description='The inversion of the Major Third, this interval does not beat as actively as its inversion, so voicings using minor sixths usually sound more consonant than those using Major Thirds. This interval has been determined by research to be the interval most commonly identified by musicians and non-musicians alike as the most expressive interval in music.'> 800 </Tone> <Tone Index='8' Name='Major Sixth' ID='M6' Description='The inversion of the Minor Third, this interval also usually has an "active" quality. For centuries it was recommended that composers avoid this interval in vocal music, because it immediately invokes the problem of the Syntonic Comma and makes the tuning of the Major Second ambiguous (10/9 or 9/8 or in between?) in a diatonic scale.'> 900 </Tone> <Tone Index='9' Name='Minor Seventh' ID='m7' Description='This is a highly controversial interval in Western harmonic theory, when it is included in addition to a third and fifth from a root, many theorists assert that the harmonic interval implied is 7/4, which is a full 31 cents below the 12ET tone.'> 1000 </Tone> <Tone Index='10' Name='Major Seventh' ID='M7' Description='As the inversion of the Minor Second, This interval is also relatively close to a low harmonic interval, namely 17/9 minus one cent.'> 1100 </Tone> <Tone Index='11' Name='Perfect Octave' ID='P8' Description='The octave, which has been indentified in virtually all cultures around the world as the interval of maximal similarity after the unison, but the Octave is usually not tuned exactly as a doubling, but for any number of reasons is rather usually tuned just a bit sharp.'> 1200 </Tone> </Scale>
To map this scale to the keys of a MIDI keyboard (which is also the way a softsynth usually understands music data), I supply the NoteMap entity, which is based on Manuel Op de Coul's .kbm format. First, a "super-terse" form:
<!— Default Scale Note Mapping, Super-Terse Version —> <NoteMap NoteCount='12' MapIndexZeroToNote='60'/>
… which could also be a bit more explicit, but still terse:
<!— Default Scale Note Mapping, Terse Version —> <NoteMap MapIndexZeroToNote='60'> <Map/> <Map/> <Map/> <Map/> <Map/> <Map/> <Map/> <Map/> <Map/> <Map/> <Map/> <Map/> </NoteMap>
And here is a "verbose" version:
<!— Default Scale Note Mapping, Verbose Version —> <ReferenceTone Note='69' Frequency='440.0'/> <NoteMap BottomNote='0' NoteSpan='12' Period='12' MapIndexZeroToNote='60' TopNote='127'> <Map Index='0' ToneIndex='0'/> <Map Index='1' ToneIndex='1'/> <Map Index='2' ToneIndex='2'/> <Map Index='3' ToneIndex='3'/> <Map Index='4' ToneIndex='4'/> <Map Index='5' ToneIndex='5'/> <Map Index='6' ToneIndex='6'/> <Map Index='7' ToneIndex='7'/> <Map Index='8' ToneIndex='8'/> <Map Index='9' ToneIndex='9'/> <Map Index='10' ToneIndex='10'/> <Map Index='11' ToneIndex='11'/> </NoteMap>
So maybe you can see some the possibilities (and advantages, I hope) already. Now for the boring but necessary list of elements (tags) and attributes (parameters within tags), starting with a simple list of elements and attributes which are common to all elements: (descriptions follow below).
<ReferenceTone> <Scale> <Tone> <NoteMap> <Map> Attributes: Name ID Description Comment: Common To All Elements Values: any text Required: no
And here are the elements with their additional attributes.
Element: <ReferenceTone/> Usage: Define global reference frequency for all tones Comment: Can be overridden by ReferenceTone <Scale> attribute Syntax: <ReferenceTone attributes/> Content: empty Default: <ReferenceTone Note="69" Frequency="440.0"/> Required: no Embedding: forbidden Attribute: Note Comment: negative values or values > 127 are ignored Values: numeric (0 … 127) Default: 69 Required: no Attribute: Hz or Hertz or Frequency or CPS or CyclesPerSecond Comment: zero or negative values are replaced by default Values: a positive number, integer or floating point, using comma or decimal point Default: 440.0 Required: no Element: <Scale> … </Scale> Usage: Define global attributes for a group of pitches Comment: Based on the .scl and .tun file formats, by Manuel Op de Coul and Mark Henning, respectively. http://www.huygens-fokker.org/scala/ http://www.mark-henning.de/ Syntax: <Scale attributes>content</Scale> Content: one or more <Tone> elements Required: no Embedding: forbidden Attributes: Author, Geography, History, CreationDate or Date. Comment: no impact on tuning; for database only Values: any text Required: no Attributes: IsNonOctave or NonOctave Comment: no impact on tuning; for database only Values: True or Yes, False or No Default: False Required: no Attributes: IsEqual or Equal Comment: no impact on tuning; for database only Values: True or Yes, False or No Default: False Required: no Attributes: Period Comment: no impact on tuning; for database only Values: same as <Tone> element content Default: Empty Required: no Attributes: Generator Comment: no impact on tuning; for database only Values: same as <Tone> element content Default: Empty Required: no Attributes: Class or Type Comment: no impact on tuning; for database only Values: any text Default: Empty Required: no Attribute: HasTonic Comment: Tells whether the scale contains the tone 1/1 or not Values: True or Yes, False or No Default: False Required: No Attribute: TonicIsFixed Comment: Tells whether the scale is giving fixed frequencies or not. Values: True or Yes, False or No Default: False Required: No Attribute: ToneFormat or Format or ToneUnits or Units Comment: Gives a blanket for all tones in the scale, which can be overridden by individual tones. Values: Hz or Hertz or Frequencies or Frequency or cps or CyclesPerSecond, Cents or Cent, FloatingPoint or Floating or Floats or Float or Decimals or Decimal, Ratio or Slash or Interval or Colon Default: Cents Required: No Element: <Tone> … </Tone> Usage: Define a tone of a scale Syntax: <Tone attributes>content</Tone> Content: numeric, allowing decimal-point(.) comma-as-decimal-point(,) slash(/) colon(:) Required: no, but no tones results in no scale Embedding: allowed within <Scale> element Attribute: Index Comment: Tones can be given in the file in any order; this gives its ordinal position in the scale array. Not every tone has to be given. The highest index tells how many tones are in the scale. Values: integers Default: If no index is provided, an index is given based on the location of the element within the <Scale> element. Required: No Attribute: Format or Units Comment: overrides ToneFormat or Format or ToneUnits or Units <Scale> attribute. Values: Hz or Hertz or Frequencies or Frequency or cps or CyclesPerSecond, Cents or Cent, FloatingPoint or Floating or Floats or Float or Decimals or Decimal, Ratio or Slash or Interval or Colon Default: Cents Required: No Attribute: Note Comment: maps the tone to a particular MIDI Note; Can be overridden by <NoteMap> contents. Values: numeric (0 … 127) Default: none Required: No Element: <NoteMap> … </NoteMap> Usage: Define how tones are mapped to MIDI Notes independent of the scale. Comment: Based on the Scala .kbm format by Manuel Op de Coul, http://www.huygens-fokker.org/scala/help.htm#mappings Syntax: <NoteMap attributes>content</NoteMap> Content: one or more <Map> elements Required: no Embedding: forbidden Attribute: NoteCount Comment: used for super-terse mapping when the contents are empty, this number of notes are mapped by automatic indexing Values: numeric (0 … 127) Default: none Required: No Attribute: BottomNote or Bottom or LowestNote or Lowest or LowNote or Low or StartNote or Start or FirstNote or First Comment: the bottom MIDI note to be mapped Values: numeric (0 … 127) Default: 0 Required: No Attribute: Size or Span or NoteSpan Comment: the pattern repeats after this many Notes (greater than or equal to the number of tones in the scale) Values: numeric (0 … 127) Default: the number of embedded <Map> elements Required: No Attribute: PeriodNote or Period Comment: the bottom MIDI note to be mapped Values: numeric (0 … 127) Default: the number of embedded <Map> elements Required: No Attribute: TonicNote or Tonic or Do or Ut or MapIndexZeroToNote or MapIndexZeroTo Comment: <Map Index='0'> gets mapped to this MIDI Note. Values: numeric (0 … 127) Default: 0 Required: No Attribute: TopNote or Top or HighestNote or Highest or EndNote or End or LastNote or Last Comment: the top MIDI note to be mapped Values: numeric (0 … 127) Default: 127 Required: No Element: <Map/> Usage: content of <NoteMap> referring to a Tone of a Scale. Comment: When left empty, the element is indexed and refers to a tone of its index. Syntax: <Map attributes/> Content: empty Required: No, but <NoteMap> should then use the NoteCount attribute Embedding: allowed within <NoteMap> Attribute: Index Comment: Map elements can be given within a <NoteMap> in any order; the Index attribute gives an ordinal position in the NoteMap array. Not every Map has to be given. The highest index tells how many Tones of a Scale are referred to by the NoteMap. Values: numeric (0 … n) Default: 0 Required: No Attribute: Tone or ToneIndex Comment: the Index of a Tone of a Scale. If omitted, the value is the same as the index of the Map element. Values: numeric (0 … n) Default: 0 Required: No
Well, that's my first draft. Let me know what you think; if it seems obvious to you that I am making some mistakes and you would like to correct me, or if you have any suggestions or comments, please let me know.
December 11, 2008
For some reason this green TPX4s was speaking to me in various flavors of Gm7 chords. So I was messing around with them and came up with this. The sounds are coming from the TPX internal synth, except for the drums. It's basically just four chords repeating with an otherwise unoriginal diatonic melody. The interesting thing about it to me is that the motion from the last chord back to the first is a modulation between two versions of a Gm7 chord which are two commas apart, so it's a weird example of what is usually called an enharmonic modulation in music theory. I hope you like it.
September 22, 2008
The vast throngs of devoted readers of this blog may recall sometime back in mid-April when I waxed poetic over the TI-34 Explorer II calculator as a must-have tuning tool for on-the-go Tuning Geeks (you know who you are … both of you). As fate would have it, shortly after posting that effusive little review, my TI-34EII started to behave erratically. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that sadly, after just a few years of use, my precious friend was laid to rest and tagged for the great recycle bin in the sky.
But the story doesn't end there, my friends. As the title of this blog entry suggests, I decided not to let this little setback destroy my penchant for typing little keys and viewing answers to everyday tuning problems on a hand-held device costing around twenty bucks. It occurred to me that in the several years that had passed since I had bought my first TI-34, probably something better had become available. I did some research online at the Texas Instruments website. It took a bit longer than I would have liked to find out if any other TI calculators featured the op1 op2 buttons of the 34IIE, these being the main reason the device is useful as a tuning calculator, but after downloading and searching through a few PDF documents, I found at last that my hunch was correct.
The TI-34 E has a big brother, the TI-34 MultiView, as shown here. It took only a moments deliberation for me to take the plunge and shell out $23.79 for this little gem at Staples. Don't let its vaguely-reminiscient-of-Fisher-Price exterior fool you; this is a serious ratio-computing powerhouse, fundamentally similar to the TI-34EII, but with more memory, a larger display, and some useful additional features.
To begin with, as the image here shows, the MultiView is capable of displaying ratios as integers above and below a horizontal line, instead of on the same line with a slash. It has a button dedicated to this purpose, labeled (n over d), allowing ratios to be entered this way. The arrow buttons must be used to navigate in four directions around the display, which has four lines where the TI-34 E only has two. The third row of keys from the top begins with a button dedicated to simplifying fractions, which the MultiView also does automatically unless you choose to turn off that function. I find this quite handy. A simple example; type in the following:
5 (n over d) 4 (right) × 5 (n over d) 4 (enter)
The display reads 25 over 16, as expected. Now, I know what you're thinking. What's the big deal? Well, what I find nice about this is that there is still space on the display to do another ratio calculation below this one, without scrolling this result out of view. And another advantage of this vertical notation is that it allows entering continued fractions, which usually figures into tuning theory as an algorithmic bridge between JI and ETs, but the technique can also be used as a simple trick for entering in ratio calculations such as the one above using only one operator key instead of two; as in:
5 (n over d) 4 (n over d) 5 (n over d) 4 (enter)
The answer again is 25 over 16. The format of the display when using this slick method is not as nice as above, but it's faster. Of course, all this talk about ratios should not distract us from what makes these TI calculators so useful for tuning in the first place — the op1 and op2 function calculating buttons — old friends to those of us familiar with the 34EII. Tuning Geeks may want to enter something such as the following to measure the interval ans in terms of x units, to three decimal places:
Storing 1200 in memory for x gives a cents value calculation. If we take our answer 25 over 16 and press op1 with this function programmed, the MultiView outputs 772.627, the correct cents value. Yes, the 34IIE would have given this answer as well, but the four line display of the MultiView allows both the ratio and the cents value to be shown at once on the display, which I think you will agree is quite handy, especially when ratio calculations get complicated.
Obviously, with these kinds of formulas, you can plug in whatever values you want. The MultiView allows you to use not just five variables as in the 34EII, but a whopping seven variables! Count 'em: x y z t a b c. Add ans to that and you have 8 variables you can use in your op1 and op2 formulas. More math and trig functions are available in comparison to the 34EII as well.
But wait, there's more! One of the best features of the MultiView is its statistics data list view. This mode, entered by pressing the data key, allows entry of three lists of data L1(42), L2(42) and L3(42). The choice of 42 as a data limit per column may have something to do with Douglas Adams, but I like to think that it has something to do with tuning. 42 is a pretty fortuitous number of elements to have in a Tuning Calculator, considering that Harry Partch's famous Chromelodeon tuning was made up of 43 tones, so that if we just omit 1/1 from our list, we've got space for the whole shebang right there in one column!
81/80 33/32 21/20 16/15 12/11 11/10 10/9 9/8 8/7 7/6 32/27 6/5 11/9 5/4 14/11 9/7 21/16 4/3 27/20 11/8 7/5 10/7 16/11 40/27 3/2 32/21 14/9 11/7 8/5 18/11 5/3 27/16 12/7 7/4 16/9 9/5 20/11 11/6 15/8 40/21 64/33 160/81
42 is also rather an appropriate choice for me personally, as my own work revolves around the use of 205ET as an adaptive system of 41ET, where 41 zones define the set of categorical intervals. With 42 elements, columns can contain lists of categorical JI intervals including both 1/1 and 2/1, and having multiple columns allows showing how 11-Limit and 13-Limit intervals overlap in the Wide and Narrow categories, how a pair of commas occupy the same category, and how a couple of 3-Limit intervals can be used in place of a couple of 5-Limit and 7-Limit intervals. In column 1, the list can contain the 11-Limit intervals. I list it below as a simple column without any line numbering or other formatting, showing the 11-Limit intervals in bold:
1/1 64/63 28/27 256/243 16/15 12/11 10/9 9/8 8/7 7/6 32/27 6/5 11/9 5/4 81/64 9/7 21/16 4/3 27/20 11/8 45/32 64/45 16/11 40/27 3/2 32/21 14/9 128/81 8/5 18/11 5/3 27/16 12/7 7/4 16/9 9/5 11/6 15/8 243/128 27/14 63/32 2/1
The second column can replace the 11-Limit intervals with 13-Limit, again shown in bold as follows:
1/1 64/63 28/27 256/243 16/15 13/12 10/9 9/8 8/7 7/6 32/27 6/5 16/13 5/4 81/64 9/7 21/16 4/3 27/20 18/13 45/32 64/45 13/9 40/27 3/2 32/21 14/9 128/81 8/5 13/8 5/3 27/16 12/7 7/4 16/9 9/5 24/13 15/8 243/128 27/14 63/32 2/1
The third column can show the Syntonic Comaa L1 / S8 in place of the 7-Limit comma Nm2 / WM7 of Archytas, and 3-Limit d5 / a4 options in place of the 5-Limit Sa4 / Ld5. Here the 13-Limits are kept in the list:
1/1 81/80 28/27 256/243 16/15 13/12 10/9 9/8 8/7 7/6 32/27 6/5 16/13 5/4 81/64 9/7 21/16 4/3 27/20 18/13 1024/729 729/512 13/9 40/27 3/2 32/21 14/9 128/81 8/5 13/8 5/3 27/16 12/7 7/4 16/9 9/5 24/13 15/8 243/128 27/14 160/81 2/1
Note that the notation here is actually pitch notation using ratios, rather than interval notation using colons — a minor quibble. The table below puts it all together, with added columns naming the intervals:
1 1/1 P1 2 64/63 Nm2 81/80 L1 3 28/27 Sm2 4 256/243 m2 5 16/15 Lm2 6 12/11 NM2 13/12 Wm2 7 10/9 SM2 8 9/8 M2 9 8/7 LM2 10 7/6 Sm3 11 32/27 m3 12 6/5 Lm3 13 11/9 Wm3 16/13 NM3 14 5/4 SM3 15 81/64 M3 16 9/7 LM3 17 21/16 S4 18 4/3 P4 19 27/20 L4 20 11/8 Sd5 18/13 Na4 21 45/32 Sa4 1024/729 d5 22 64/45 Ld5 729/512 a4 23 16/11 La4 13/9 Wd5 24 40/27 S5 25 3/2 P5 26 32/21 L5 27 14/9 Sm6 28 128/81 m6 29 8/5 Lm6 30 18/11 NM6 13/8 Wm6 31 5/3 SM6 32 27/16 M6 33 12/7 LM6 34 7/4 Sm7 35 16/9 m7 36 9/5 Lm7 37 11/6 Wm7 24/13 NM7 38 15/8 SM7 39 243/128 M7 40 27/14 LM7 41 63/32 WM7 160/81 S8 42 2/1 P8
Although the multi-column display mode is intended for statistical conversions which I haven't yet found useful for tuning purposes, possibly some further tuning mischief is yet to be discovered using those functions.
In summary, the MultiView is a considerable upgrade over the 34EII, at just a few dollars more. I leave you now so that you may travel to your nearest Staples and buy one with the money you will save on gasoline by riding there on your bicycle.
July 31, 2008
Aaron Krister Johnson played his interpretation of my little Invention in 7ET as part of a concert fund-raiser event for UnTwelve (formerly MidwestMicrofest) which took place at the SPACE, in Evanston IL. See a partial concert roster at the UnTwelve website here. I was in attendance and had a splendid time.
July 21, 2008
Nothing can match the sound of a real pipe organ. In terms of tuning, the best sounding pipes on an organ will be the mixtures and the Cornet (if it has one), because these pipe combinations are tuned purely. But what if a pipe organ could play all its ranks in totally flexible pure tuning? It would be a truly awesome sound.
The Tonal Plexus is no pipe organ for sure, but it gives me something close to work with. Here is a little sketch for an organ piece using 2 main ideas. The first is a motive including the 11th and 13th harmonics, and the second is a sequence using natural 7ths. Sorry, the camera angle is not the greatest as it hides what my right hand is doing. The sound is 019 ChrchOrgn from the internal synth, with reverb setting on 07 (delay), all max values.
July 09, 2008
It was an ordinary day, not unlike most days in the peaceful environs of H-Pi Instruments headquarters; ordinary, that is, until premature twilight descended, bringing with it an overture of rumbling thunderheads, howling winds, voluminous rain, and scattered broken tree limbs everywhere, wreaking havoc with the power lines for miles around. This marks the third curious natural disaster to strike the vicinity in recent months, coming close on the heels of the attack of the neighbor's tree in June.
After the power had been off for an hour or so, and the rain had subsided, I saw from the back porch, the majestic canopy of the back alley light up with repeated blasts of electric fire, as a power main shorted through contact with a rather unsubstantial looking branch which burned nearly all to ash. Words don't quite do justice to the sound this made…
June 21, 2008
If H-Pi Instruments summer intern Mr. Harrison Cole does not win you over with his remarkable wit and charm, he will yet lift your spirits with a bit of merry music making! Mr. Cole has been tickling the ivories on a daily basis for many years now, and this past week was no exception. Here he plays Invention in 7ET on a keyboard equipped with a TBX1 to change the tuning of the white keys to 7 equal steps per octave. Filmed by Mr. Garrett Schmidt. Nice job, guys!
June 06, 2008
Nearly two months since a mild quaking of the earth shook the foundations of H-Pi, today a storm-induced attack of the neighbor's tree came with a loud fanfare of crashing and booming. Luckily, though the east side eaves were pierced through, overall the structure was not badly damaged. A neutral cable of a power line was severed. Visitors wishing to view the spectacle are advised that the tree is scheduled to be removed within 24 hours. Considering this along with the skyrocketing cost of fuel, perhaps these photos, taken shortly after the event, will be satisfactory.
It may be hard to tell, but that is a tree lying across the roof.
Here is a broken end of the tree, to the left of the photo above.
June 04, 2008
I present to you a photograph of Hπ Instruments summer intern Mr. Garrett Schmidt, here preparing TBX1 units for assembly. I can tell you that Mr. Schmidt is a very fine trumpet player and an excellent student of music theory, and generally speaking, he is in possession of quite the quick wit! All of these skills serve him well for his work here at H-Pi Instruments. From our work-time banter I gathered that his wages on this day allowed him to indulge in a pleasant evening of bowling and barbecued chicken wings. It is a pleasure having Garrett on board!
Photographed by Hπ summer intern Mr. Harrison Cole, pianist and resident Mark Twain historian (interviews welcome).
May 30, 2008
This week I was very pleased to receive this beautiful book in my mailbox, sent to me most generously by its author Gennadiy Kogut (b. 1944), musicologist from Ukraine, who has labored for 45 years in the field of microtonality, the majority of that time working behind the Iron Curtain, in total isolation from all resources in the field outside of the former U.S.S.R., virtually forced (in his words) "to reinvent the bicycle", attacking the fundamental problems of tuning in terms of theory, notation, instruments, composition and performance. Anyone who has undertaken these tasks knows of the tremendously great difficulties involved, and I can only imagine these difficulties compounded with a completely cloistered research environment. It is therefore with great respect and admiration for Mr. Kogut and his work that I now write this. There are also some remarkable parallels between Kogut's work and my own, and although we have never met, I feel a kindred spirit and I hope one day we might meet.
I first became aware of Kogut's work in April of 2001, when I attended the Microfest in Los Angeles, which also featured the presence of composer Lou Harrison (1917 - 2003), and celebrated the centennial of the birth of Harry Partch. The conference was a fantastically exciting experience — an intense mixture of lectures and performances. Of the many memorable presentations, two were given by the brilliant and controversial Brian McLaren. One of McLaren's lectures focused on the work of Alexei Ogolevets, about whom I have just added a new page to the microtonal history section of the H-Pi website, at the suggestion of G. Kogut. Those in attendance at this particular lecture may recall that McLaren's presentation on Ogolevets took an unexpected (or possibly quite expected?) turn, transforming into a polemical diatribe against strict adherence to theories of Just Intonation ("the lecture that was banned and supressed … etc."), but I digress! I mention this lecture, simply because there is an important connection between Alexei Ogolevets and Gennadiy Kogut. During the years just prior to his death, Ogolevets was Kogut's mentor, and Kogut has since carried forth some of Ogolevets's ideas as part of his own original work. Kogut's work was the focus of the second of McLaren's lectures. This second lecture was a straightforward presentation of one of Kogut's papers, translated by McLaren from the original Russian, with the assistance of the author. McLaren's English translation of this paper appears in Kogut's book on pages 214 - 221. Additional excerpted works with some English text are included in the book, by David Finnamore, Kyle Gann, Erv Wilson, Joe Monzo, and Manuel Op de Coul, although these are not articles but useful tables, charts, and lists. The first 167 pages of the book are written entirely in Russian.
The author described the book to me by email, as follows:
"This book is written to acquaint especially musicians of the countries of the East Europe with the basic achievements and directions of development microtonal music all over the world, since this information in our countries (it: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and all other republics of the former USSR), and also Poland, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, the country of Baltic etc. - practically is not present.
Therefore the book will consist of the author's foreword, the introduction in which in particular there is a definition of the term microtonal music is the music using as the basic means of expressiveness intervals of less than 90 cents in diatonic structures (all 'old' diatonic structures before introduction 12-ET contained diatonic semitones in size of 90 cents), and it is less than 100 cents in other structures. The following section book (page 22) results examples of how the acoustic realities surrounding us, our thinking influence formation of those or others microtone structures. Here examples of known composers and the musicians offered those or other structures both with the countries of the West, and in the countries of the East Europe are resulted. At the end of this unit classification of structures on their characteristic properties is resulted.
On page 95 the section is devoted to problems notation microtonal music and my additional signs allowing notation up to 200 tones in an octave without especial complication of system of musical record are offered. (Today I have a little simplified this system notation and if it will be interesting to you, I can send she to you is one figure on half-pages).
[NOTE: image above is Kogut's latest simplified notation (sent to me by email) which is not in the book. Updated June 2, 2008. A future H-Pi web page is planned which will include this image in a gallery of various notation systems used by microtonal composers]
On page 118 the section in which I have tried begins to reflect features of construction universal microtonal keyboards, and also keyboards with flexible, elastic melodic structure.
On page 130 the section with my examples of the analysis microtonal pieces of music - from folklore samples and fragments from professional compositions - up to H.Lahenmana's small play begins.
Page 161 - the conclusion.
Further appendices follow:
It followed with the list of the literature." — Gennadiy Kogut
Although I did once take a summer course in the Russian language at age 17, I learned very little and now (at more than twice that age) I have only phonetic abilities with the Cyrillic alphabet, which I had to relearn before my first trip to Bulgaria in 2005. So my understanding of the text remains far from clinical, yet I will treasure this book, as each page speaks to me very clearly with a message of tenacity and burning inspiration. Thank you, Gennadiy!
May 13, 2008
The new TPX6s has a matrix-style interface for controlling global synthesizer parameters, and a joystick option for controlling global pitch bend. This is a demonstration of those features, although I forgot to demonstrate one of the parameter sets, and the wide variety of settings options is not really shown here in this one example modification of an organ patch.
On the display from a yellow TPX6s, the four blocks of numbers on the bottom two lines correspond to the four groups of global parameters (a.k.a. Live Control), and all the values are expressed in hexadecimal. The hex notation is used because it is compact, and it is the language of MIDI. This notation may be a little confusing at first to the uninitiated, but getting used to it doesn't take long. Hexadecimal is also useful to know for its own sake.
April 22, 2008
Everything is running on batteries here, outside on my back porch. A Yamaha PSR-310 ($149) plays an arpeggio throughout, sending MIDI notes of a C-Major chord, which you hear at the beginning going through the box in bypass mode (no retuning). That chord then gets retuned in 15 different ways, and I noodle around (not much keyboard skill shown here!) over the arpeggio in each tuning.
April 18, 2008
The H-Pi "factory" (a.k.a. "my home") normally gives the appearance of multiple natural disasters having recently occurred, but early this morning was no mere verisimilitude. An actual earthquake shook the place for about an entire minute. This weird right-angle crack was noticed on the south wall many hours later (it continues for several feet in both directions from the detail shown). Luckily, this was the only calling card left by the 5.2 magnitude quake whose epicenter was about 50 miles away. An interesting, if a bit over the top punctuation for the last day of pre-order discounts on TPX6/8/s keyboards.
April 05, 2008
If you are a microtonal composer, theorist, enthusiast, or just an on-the-go tuning geek (you know who you are), then you need the TI-34 II. This handy little device is, in a word: 'the bomb'. Here's why:
Need I say more? Well, maybe a bit…
So you want to calculate all kinds of ratios and get reduced answers? Piece of cake. You want cent values from ratios? You want to measure intervals in the special unit of your own geeky choice? You want your results accurate to 5 decimal places? You want to round your results to integers? It's all right here, my friend, at the touch of a button.
For example, the following formula gives you the cent value for whatever you throw at it, rounded to three decimal palaces. Program this formula into OP1:
Bam! It's ready to work its magic. Type in whatever you want to see in cents. For example, type
5/4 and press enter. The screen displays
5/4. Press OP1 (that you just programmed). The display will read
386.314, the correct cents value. Now that's cool.
You want some other unit? Of course you can change the formula every time you want a different unit, but changing the formula once to use a variable instead of
1200 all the time is a better idea. Use this for OP1:
= round( A ×(log(Ans)÷log(2)),3)
Then for cents you would type in
1200 and press store and enter to save it in memory location A. Obviously, you just change the value of A to get some other unit. For example, type
53 and store it in memory location A for 53ET. Now let's map 11/8 to 53ET. Type
11/8 and press enter and then OP1. Bingo, you get the answer: 24.350
If you wanted that answer rounded to the nearest step instead of three decimal places, obviously you just change the last number in the formula for OP1 from a 3 to a 0:
= round( A ×(log(Ans)÷log(2)),0)
Then your answer would just be
24. Since there are two OP buttons, you can of course set up two formulas, one rounded to integers, one rounded to some number of figures, and you can use different variables in them, so you see it's all a breeze.
Another obvious use for the two functions is to program one of them for the ET of your choice, and the other to get cent values from the answer obtained from the first function; that is, the rounded step in the ET of your choice. For example, you got the 24th step of 53ET as your answer to mapping 11/8 in 53ET. So what's the cent value? Of course you can waste all day and type in
2^(24/53) and use the cent formuala above on OP2, but who has time for that? Instead, you can program B to
1200 and then program OP2 to this:
= round( B ×(log(2^((Ans)/ A ))÷log(2)),3)
You see that this will give you the cent value to three decimal places. So you can check out any degree of your ET stored in A by entering whatever scale degree and pressing OP2. How cool is that?
There are all kinds of ways to tweak these formulas and make others to do cool stuff with ratios and cents and whatever units you want. I've got plenty of my own formulas for working in 205ET that become pretty involved for doing things in MegaScore notation, but I know by now you are itching to make your way straight to Target and buy one of these little miracles, so I will detain you no longer.
April 01, 2008
This is a little sketch of a tune I came up with this morning. The sound used is from the internal synth and is called 'PluckySynth' with a modified envelope and EQ. Audio LINE OUT from the keyboard is mixed with external audio, along with a drum track made with the Ultrabeat synthesizer on Logic Express. This is a simple tune, which I think might sound a bit boring without the tuning control. The melodic line sings "Goodbye Cold Winter" or "Goodbye to the Winter". Several sizes of minor thirds are used. There are a few edits and some little mistakes I couldn't remove, but there's only so much time in a day. I hope you find it interesting.
March 29, 2008
This is a short improvisation played by yours truly. The sound used is from the internal synth and is the piano patch with a modified envelope and EQ (on-board controls allow ADSR and EQ modification). I used the audio LINE OUT from the keyboard this time, so it should sound cleaner than the first 2 videos. The material here revolves around extended harmonics up to the 13-Limit on Bb, F, #+Eb, and #+Ab. There is some editing to remove most of the musically weak moments, but it's far from perfect. I hope you find it enjoyable.
March 26, 2008
Here is the second video demonstration of the TPX4s. I'm keeping these really short right now because I'm still learning how to do this whole YouTube video thing. The videos will get better and more substantive, I promise. This one should look and sound a little better than part 1. Let me know what you would like to see demonstrated.
-Aaron Andrew Hunt
March 26, 2008
A very modest first offering… this is the first of the long-promised video demonstration series of H-Pi products. It is just a quick look at the Tonal Plexus TPX4s 844 key microtonal keyboard synthesizer, hosted by yours truly, the inventor and builder. I'm testing out the video compression level, etc. I think this video looks and sounds not-so-great, so the next one should look and sound better. Questions? Things you would like to see and hear? Send email and let me know!
- Aaron Andrew Hunt
March 21, 2008
I recently read Margo Schulter's interesting and insightful paper "Regions of the Interval Spectrum: Some Concepts and Names". This topic is very dear to me. Obviously it is also a topic fraught with difficulty, perhaps the greatest being psychoacoustic agreement with theoretical propositions. Anyone doing work in this area relies to some extent on speculation and gut instinct, and my work is no different. Schulter wisely restricted her discussion to the realm of theory, making only a few remarks about perception.
In Schulter's paper, assumptions about where interval ordinal categories come from are not stated; however, the categories used in the text and outlined in the conclusion suggest some assumptions. In other words, nowhere is it explicitly stated why any interval is called a "third" of some kind, or why it is "minor". This is also lacking in the sources cited, such as the Scala web page or Dave Keenan's web page. I have outlined my own approach to this on my theory website but this takes many pages to communicate. The next paragraph summarizes my own point of view on diatonic interval names as succinctly as possible. To get straight to the point, please skip the next paragraph.
(Diatonic intervals are derived from a Pythagorean system, but only after seven letter names of seven core tones corresponding to staff positions reflect the scale order of seven diatonic naturals, such that the ordinals are ascribed to the intervals corresponding to raw staff distance, and the interval qualities correspond to the mathematical relations of the tones when taking each tone as an origin from which to measure distances to the other tones. The spelling of an interval is correlated with its notation and hence its ordinal identity and quality, the Perfects ( 1, 4, 5, 8 ) being so named because they are used to construct the system (and they also sound beatless), major and minor ( 2, 3, 6, 7 ) so named because they are incidental to the system (and they cause beating, although the M2 does not actually beat). The traditional 3-Limit system includes 7 letters times five accidentals equaling 35 tones from double-flats to double-sharps, theoretically allowing such intervals as a quintupally augmented fourth from Fbb to Bx and its inversion from Bx to Fbb, the quintupally diminished fifth, which are never used in practice. Thirteen diatonic intervals are understood as basic building blocks; between seventeen and twenty-one intervals can be considered common, including such less commonly used qualities as augmented 6ths and diminished 3rds.)
Now, back to business… Although assumptions such as those described above are not stated in Schulter's paper, at the outset "Pythagorean", "pental" (which I find a much more useful term than "classic", which is asystematic and has no clear meaning), "septimal", et cetera are very clearly defined; however, pairs of terms which feature prominently in the text, "small" and "narrow", and "large" and "wide" are not clearly defined, and they appear to be used interchangeably. These terms also appear to be mixed in with other terms using prefixes like "sub", "super", and "ultra". I feel all such terms should be clearly defined, and their usage should be both systematic and consistent.
An interval such as a "small minor third" is clearly a modified third; that is, considered grammatically, "small" and "minor" are adjectives, and "third" is a noun. This is perfectly clear. Moreover, the adjective "small" tells us something directly about the size of this interval, which is what we are most interested in when it comes to categorizing intervals. On the other hand, a "subminor third" is also clearly a modified third, but it represents a categorically different structure and has a different meaning than a "small minor third"; in this new construction, "third" is the noun, and "subminor" is the adjective, but it is a variation of the known adjective "minor" with a known prefix "sub" which creates what is called a derivational morphological variant, that is here "subminor". A good taxonomic system should use modifiers consistently and should not mix them with morphological variants, but more importantly, the word "sub" also means "below", so it does not describe size but in fact position. This is confusing, and syntactically incorrect. The use of "sub", "super", etc. for the description of intervals should for this reason be discouraged. These terms describe position and should be reserved for single tones only. So, it makes sense to talk about a distance "from A up to sub-C", but not a "subminor third".
When I write "from A up to sub-C", I am describing a distance from a Pythagorean diatonic A to a Pythagorean diatonic C which has been shifted down (sub = below) by one comma, so this interval is a minor third which has been made smaller by one comma, and so should be properly called a "small minor third". In my system, the terms "small" and "large" are used for intervals made smaller or larger by one comma. This is simple and consistent. The terms "narrow" and "wide" are used for intervals made smaller or larger by two commas, also applied consistently. I feel strongly that use of the term "neutral" to describe intervals should be discouraged, as this word comes across as a qualitative or functional assessment or prescription rather than a description of the size of an interval, kind of like calling a minor third "sad" or "dark". Moreover, the so-called "neutral" intervals are always doubly comma-shifted versions of some interval and so can be called "wide" and "narrow" intervals - terms which directly refer to their size. Where these are versions of major and minor intervals, the NM (Narrow Major) intervals overlap with Wm (Wide minor) intervals, such that a Wm3 and a NM3 are in fact the same interval which can be called by either name. If a qualitative or functional description is needed for such intervals, the prefix "neutral" does not accurately describe them, but the prefix "ambi" does accurately describe them, as they are derived from two qualities of a given interval and can be used to function either as a major or a minor form of that interval in a given context (here, an "ambithird"); however, such a name does not belong in the systematic taxonomy; it is just an additional possibly useful term for theoretical purposes.
In Schulter's paper there are also variant terms using the prefix "inter", such as "interpental" and "interseptimal" which I find meaningfully descriptive and appropriately used. There is however the problem that they bear structural resemblance to the "sub" and "super" etc. constructions used in the paper, so that they appear to be taxonomically ambiguous. This ambiguity would of course not exist if the prefixes "sub", "super" etc. were not used for intervals, but were relegated to individual tones.
The conclusion of the paper presents an outline of intervals. In my opinion, the most interesting things in the list are the names which do not have connections with overall systemic taxonomy but are instead locally descriptive, such as the "inter" intervals. I feel that these kinds of ideas should be explored as fully as possible, and such ways of naming intervals should be available for their descriptive theoretical usefulness, but it would be helpful if they were not mixed in with systematic interval size descriptors like "large" and "small". A "large" or "small" (comma shifted) interval may be in some "inter" category, after all.
I would rather like to see a discussion of such theoretical issues within the context of a systematically codified intervallic continuum, a foolproof intervallic universe, if you will, wherein interval names are taxonomically correct and have an internal consistency which does not interfere with the qualitative or functional taxonomy proposed in the discussion. No previously existing naming system meets this criteria, but I have defined such a system. For the past several years, the disclosure of this system has been the focus of my lectures on microtonality. For lack of a better name, I have called this system the "Hunt System" (H-System for short), and I have outlined it online as Chapter 7 of the Systematic Music Theory pages.
- Aaron Andrew Hunt