Thursday, January 26, 2006

Ezra Sims

I have recently been listening to 'The Microtonal Music of Ezra Sims' alot! I have also been fortunate enough to be in correspondence with the composer, and i've just waded through a packet of articles on his music that he sent me. In my opinion, Sims clearly represents a very strong step forward in the evolution of our Western tone system. He has emerged from the creative crises that was responsible for serialism with a wholly intact understanding of the asymmetrical beauty of a tonality-grounded musical system. He has arrived at his scale of choice in a very natural way - led intuitively by the creative process of composition and listening. He uses intervals from higher up along the overtone series to create an 18 or 24 note scale as a subset of the 72-tone ET octave division he employs. The harmonic structures found in his music are largely generated by the 'combination tones' of seconds(the interval).
This brings up a very important aspect of Sims' music, and the microtonal movement in general. What are combination tones? Combination tones are created (often as much a physchological impression as a sonic phenomenon) by the interaction of two tones. From each generating pair of tones, there are two combination tones: one above(the summation), and one below(the difference). When we say 'summation' and 'difference', we are talking about the harmonic number produced by the harmonic numbers of the two generating tones added to each other or one subtracted from the other. (Example: say we are in the key of C and our generating tones are G and C'. The G comes from the third harmonic of C and the C' comes from the fourth. The summation tone, then, is 3+4=7. The difference tone is 4-3=1. We now have a four note chord as 1/1, 2/3, 4/1, 7/4.) You will notice that we are propelled into the septimal(7-based) region and beyond the range of equal temperament from only the tonic and fifth. When we use more complex generating tones, like seconds, they create more complex(and smaller intervallicaly) resultant chords. This is how microtonal 'space' is created, which allows for further development of melodic and harmonic movement in smaller intervals.
This process of finding the resultant tones is essentially the same as getting a harmonic mean of an interval, a pattern of growth found in the golden ratio/fibonacci sequence phenomenon. To find the harmonic mean of 3/2, for example, we multiply both digits by 2 to get 6 and 4. We then fill in the middle number, 5, and get 4:5:6, or 5/4(major third) and 6/5(minor third). In this way, the next step up the overtone series is generated. From the 3rd harmonic to the 5th. Now, the fifth is taking us to the 7th, we're finding 11 and 13.
Sims is the best example i've heard of all of this, and it's really beautiful music. Do check him out.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Reasons for Change

I have made a couple of comments on this blog suggesting that the tuning system of 12 tone equal temperment that we use almost exclusively is ill-equipped to express new music. Following are some reasons behind these statements.

The first step is to realize how in- and out-of tune 12-ET is. The idea behind temperament is that by compromising the in-tuneness of some of the intervals, we gain a great amount of flexibility in modulation, or moving tonal centers. By making all of the 12 intervals the same size we get 12 keys of equal relationships and the possibility to move freely from one to the next. The problem with this is that musical intervals are not all the same size and cannot be reduced to a common denominator of the equal tempered semi-tone. The purest picture of harmonic structure comes from the overtone series generated by a single fundamental tone. In this form we see the natural musical intervals in all their shapes and sizes well expressed in the whole-number ratios so largely dealt with by the Pythagoreans. The series begins like this:

Fundamental 1/1(C)
Octave 2/1(C)
Fifth 3/2(G)
Octave 4/1(C)
Maj. Third 5/4(E)
Fifth (3/2)(G)
Nat. Seventh 8/7(Bb)
Octave 8/1(C)
Ninth 9/8(D)
...and so on.
These are pure intervals, meaning maximally in tune.
The descrepency of 12-ET in tuning can be great. The first interval we become aware of is the major third, one of the most important intervals in contemporary and classical music. The 12-ET third is approx. 15 cents sharper than 5/4(100 cents being one ET semi-tone). This is quite apparent to the ear, especially with direct comparison. The next is the Seventh. The interval 8/7 is 30 cents low of the ET flat seventh, untouchable on a piano. Along with this specific interval comes other intervals related to and generated by it such as the septimal minor third(the interval of the fifth to the seventh) and a large whole-tone(seventh to octave). As these finer regions of harmony develop, our over-stressed system of 12 equal intervals is quickly left behind.
The question that naturally arises is of course, 'if it is such a flawed system, what about the great works that came out of it?'. One must realize first that this system without question served a purpose and was, in one way or another, completely neccesary. It played it's part in the development of many cultures and thoughts and feelings around the world when those thoughts needed to be thought and the feelings needed to be felt. At this time, however, it's usefullnes is fading, and new musical images are seeking expression. The 12-ET system is deeply connected to the phase of human development that brought about the current world situation, and is in parallel, deeply unbalanced. It really is impossible to seperate a mindset such as capitalistic greed and waste from the tone system of the culture.
Another thing that must be understood is that orchestras don't really play in equal temperament, as it is actually impossible. The musicians naturally tune the chords they are creating through many small ear-based adjustments. The only time a violinist is going to be playing ET intervals is when he/she is paired with a piano to keep them in(or out of) line. These intervals are not distinct enough to be heard truly, but only as shadowy references to real harmonic structure. It is time we came to a system based on experiential truth and expansion, and move away from ignorance and confinement.

More on this topic to come!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Upcoming Shows

Hey Portland residents! Check out the Chris Mosley Trio this Friday night at the Bitter End Pub and next Wednesday(18th) at Mississippi Pizza Pub. Listen to the trio at

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Check out the new and official Chris Mosley homepage at www.ChrisMosley.Com! You can hear and download full recordings of original tunes played with the trio (Damian Erskine and Drew Shoals) and see the full schedule of upcoming dates. If you are into it, be sure to join the mailing list for updates and showtimes.

I also have a Myspace page at where you can listen to a few tracks without having to download anything. Feedback is always appreciated, and if you know someone that might like the music, please let them know! That is how things happen.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Portland Scene

The city of Portland has been treating me well. I've been very busy building something of a niche here and i do believe it's happening. I have been enjoying meeting and playing with alot of really great players and people and getting involved with different projects. I have been playing alot or original stuff with my trio, which constists of Drew Shoals on drums(on of the baddest portland has to offer) and a either Damian Erskine or Jeff Picker on bass. Damian is an absolute pro on his six string electric and Jeff is an absolute prodigy(17 yrs) on his upright. And they both catch when I fall(obviously the most important part, right?).
I am also in a project called The Through Line with a great percussionist, Clif Koufman. Usually with a couple other players added in, we improvise a film score to movies projected onto the wall. The last show we did was Jeckyl and Hyde. Very fun stuff.
I've been playing alot of fretless, which brought me into the realm of Indian and microtonal music. Very soon I will also be building a 31-tone equal tempered guitar. I will definately be posting the progress of that project. While in Boston, I was able to study some with microtonal godfather and saxophonist Joe Maneri, who really opened my eyes to alot of things. Someone who I feel might be a little further along with the composition with the 72-tone scale(the division Maneri uses) is Ezra Sims. Also in the Boston area, he is in my opinion hugely important to the development of microtonal music, as he has developed a system of harmony and composition that does not rely on the triad. This in itself is a pretty huge deal, and something that is really not possible in the 12-tone ET system that dominates now. He represents a strong movement forward in the natural evolution of the musical tone system of which are steadily closing in on.

More to come on that!