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People working with musical scales have found various ways to categorise them. Recently I’ve heard of a new way of sorting scales depending on how big the difference is between the large and small step. This idea, the “step ratio spectrum” applies to moment of symmetry scales.
Reminder about moment of symmetry (MOS) scales: MOS scales have have exactly two step sizes: large and small, usually notated as L and s. One example is the major scale (LLsLLLs).
On the “soft” end of the spectrum, the large and small steps are almost equal in size. The melodic quality of these scales seems smoother to me.
As for the “hard” end, large steps are very exaggerated in how large they are in comparison to the razor-thin small steps. Melodically this sounds quite dramatic to me because of the obvious difference in the step sizes.
In the below video, you’ll hear one piece of music which explores various points on the hard side of this spectrum. The scale used is LsLsLsLsL, tuned to various equal temperaments:
|EDO||L:s ratio||L (cents)||s (cents)||TAMNAMS name|
It’s because I only recently heard about scale hardness and found it an interesting perspective that I’m posting about the topic here. Maybe this could be a jumping off point for further reading and study about interesting tuning thingies.
The Xenharmonic Wiki is an online knowledge base relating to microtonal music and tuning theory. For a few years a bunch of us from the community have used the Xen Wiki to maintain a list of software plugins that you can use to make microtonal music in the DAW.
This week the list has been updated because of wonderful developments happening in the music technology world that will allow composers to more easily make microtonal music with a wide variety of synths and virtual instruments. That development is the widespread adoption of MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE). Widespread MPE support means that new tuning tools can be developed which systematically manage the tunings of various instruments at the same time. And indeed, such tools are already coming out this year, for example Oddsound MTS-ESP Suite and Infinitone DMT. A new section of the list has been added to catalogue these tools. An additional section about MPE synths in general was also added.
Next Saturday (March 13th, 5pm UTC) I’ll stream from my home studio via Twitch. It’s a chance for me to demonstrate electronic music production and working with microtonal scales. If there’s something in particular you’d like to see then send your requests in Twitch chat – it’s an unscripted event where we hang out and nerd out over music.
From time to time I’ll also live stream impromptu sessions of me just working on tracks. These will be unscheduled as I make music whenever I feel like it. Those sessions will be less interactive but potentially of interest to folks who are following my music and want to see how I work.
Until then, check the below vod of last Saturday’s stream. It starts out with me refining a work in progress and then viewers suggest topics for the rest of the session:
I learned a few things from chat last Saturday, for example x.iso encouraged me to try MPE polyphonic pitch bend in Bitwig on VST instruments that already have microtunings active. Turns out that it works! If you’re working in any equal tuning, you can set the pitch bend amount so that everything lines up perfectly. My mind was blown. I’ll definitely use that trick in the future.
Two new tools have just appeared that will interest folks working with microtonal scales and tunings: Leimma and Apotome. These tools were launched as part of CTM Festival 2021 and were created by Khyam Allami and Counterpoint.
Leimma is a browser-based tool for exploring, creating, hearing, and playing microtonal tuning systems.
Apotome is a browser-based generative music environment based on octave-repeating microtonal tuning systems and their subsets (scales/modes).
Eight mostly loop-based compositions for a Yamaha DX7ii FD synthesizer that was re-tuned to a microtonal scale. Released February 5, 2021.
Marcus Satellite’s new album uses tunings based on Erv Wilson’s work.
Terra Octava is a collaboration album from the collective at STAFFcirc.
Sounds of digital fusion, chiptune, jazz and electronic music in a variety of equal tempered tunings.
Featuring Cryptovolans, Reuben Gingrich, Jaq, Chimeratio, petet, manfish, STC_1001, STC_1002, STC_1003, STC_1004, Vince Kaichan, Hunter Van Brocklin, Tancla, Emelia K., Abd al-Mahdi, Themnotyou, Sintel, 0x70457465, limeboiler, clown core, b-knox, amimifafa, ordinate and Sevish.
The microtonal tunings include 34edo, 22edo, 19edo, 16edo, 10edo and others – but also the tiny ones like 6edo, 4edo, 3edo, 2edo, 1edo, 0edo!
My track Fuschiamarine in 7edo is on there.
I’m actually blown away by what everybody was able to achieve here. They’re all deep into their musical craft – and some of them are pros at tuning already – some are trying microtones for the first time. Hope you’ll enjoy the listen!
Here is some new microtonal music I heard recently.
I’ve added some presets you can use to make microtonal music in Bitwig Studio. The zip includes all edo tunings up to 55edo and a selection of other microtonal scales that might inspire your next melody.
Instructions: unzip the files in your
"~/Bitwig Studio/Library/Presets/" directory. Launch Bitwig. Load a preset into the Micro-Pitch device.
For Bitwig Studio 3.1 and up