On Tuning and Temperament no. 1

by FUJIEDA Mamoru (composer)

In the Just Forum series, a variety of issues concerning tunings and temperaments will be presented. In this series of articles, the composer FUJIEDA Mamoru, who has organized the series, looks back on the last two years of Just Forum events. On March 8, the third installment in the series, "Fortepiano and Traditional Tuning and Temperament" was held at Xebec.

FortepianoI began organizing the Just Forum series at Xebec about two years ago. I was motivated to do so because I wanted to introduce people to the theory and use of tunings and temperaments and give them a chance to hear the diversity of tunings and temperaments that exist as well as investigate the directions that music might be headed in the future. During my study of composition on the American West Coast, discovering the music of Harry PARTCH and Lou HARRISON was of the greatest value to me. Through the radical use they had made of tunings and temperaments, I was led to re-examine my own composing, and this in turn led to Just Forum, which was designed to consider tuning- and temperament-related issues with a large number of people in the context of Japan.

This year on March 8 the third installment in the series was held. In the first installment, I used CDs and videos to introduce the tuning- and temperament-related ideas and practices of American experimental composers such as Partch and Harrison. In this way, I wanted to show that despite the large number of experimental composers using these methods, tunings and temperaments have been used in all sorts of different ways. For example, besides Partch and Harrison, there are composers such as Terry RILEY and La Monte YOUNG, who give improvisational performances with pianos in just intonation, and David HYKES who leads the Harmonic Choir, for which he has created a choral method using harmonic overtones. Glenn BRANCA and Arnold DREYBLATT, like Partch, have created their own instruments, and through the use of ensembles have tried to apply the power of harmonic overtones to music through new tunings with just intonation. There are also people like Larry POLANSKY, who by invoking the power of computers is trying to pursue new directions in just intonation. There are also John Luther ADAMS and Sasha MATSON, who make music by focusing on Pythagorean temperament, Ben JOHNSTON and James TENNEY, who have developed a unique theory of just intonation, and so many other composers, whose names could be mentioned in this context. As part of the heightened interest in tuning and temperament in the U.S., there is a certain kind of pioneering spirit to redefine the basic standards of sound and carve out a new context that differs from Western modernism. Besides being influenced by this attitude, what can we in Japan do? I began to think of this as my personal mission. Not long after I encountered the koto, the traditional Japanese instrument, and started experimenting with new tunings and temperaments by using just intonation and Pythagorean tuning together with some koto players. In doing so, fresh kinds of sound began to emerge from the koto. To continue on with these experiments, I formed Monophony Consort, an ensemble that features the koto and continues to perform concerts with the theme of tunings and temperaments. In the second Just Forum event, the ensemble performed works by me, Partch, Harrison, and Riley among others, and the audience was able to actually experience the sound of new tunings and temperaments.

Talk SessionDeveloping an awareness about tuning and temperament has also had a great influence on my own composing. In particular, in a series of composition called "Patterns of Plants", I wrote this from the viewpoint of a plant that was given to me by DOGANE Yuji, and combined my interest in the computer programming language MAX and traditional instruments like the koto and sho (mouth organ) to make use of a variety of tunings and temperaments. My interest in tunings and temperaments has also expanded to include the piano. In the mid-19th century, when mass production of pianos with steel frames (the same way they are made today) began, equal temperament was also introduced. From that time on, the equally tempered piano became an essential instrument in modern music. However, before that time the most common type of piano was the fortepiano, which had a wooden frame. At that point, many tunings and temperaments co-existed, including meantone and well temperament. The third part of the Just Forum series was concerned with the pre-modern piano, and tunings and temperaments. The instrument-builder, SATO Yuichi brought a fortepiano, and a Yamaha piano that belongs to Xebec was retuned to the Werckmeister-style of well temperament. A concert was performed by the fortepianist IWABUCHI Mieko and the pianist SHIBANO Satsuki using these instruments. To many people, whose ears are accustomed to the modern piano and equal temperament, the sounds that arise from the fortepiano and the Werckmeister seemed very fresh. In addition, the faint sounds gave rise to new issues such as changes in our awareness, and the sensual relation between mechanisms in the instruments and the human body. In this way the Just Forum series and others like it with a focus on tunings and temperaments provide a place to experience concrete sounds concerning important issues that many people have not given much attention to in the past. By becoming familiar with a variety of tunings and temperaments, a listener becomes more perceptive about a variety of sounds, and this in turn can work as an impetus to pursue new directions in a variety of musics. I'm looking forward to having another chance to widen your ears again in the future with Just Forum.

Fujieda Mamoru (composer) can be reached via email at KFD00016@niftyserve.or.jp

He completed a doctorate in music at the University of California, San Diego. After being influenced by Harry Partch and Lou Harrison during his stay in the U.S., Fujieda began pursuing new types of tunings and temperaments based on just intonation. As a result, he began a series of compositions called "Patterns of Plants," and formed the ensemble Monophony Consort. In April of this year, he will hold a collaborative exhibition with the potter ITO Kosho at the Bunpodo Gallery, and again in November with the artist SHIIHARA Tamotsu at Sagacho Exhibition Space. A recording of "Patterns of Plants" has been released on CD.


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