This Is The New Music! Real Characters and False Analogues

Monday 29 June 2009

12 mp3s for download or streaming.

John Wilkins’ An Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language, published in 1668, proposed the existence of a universal language, written and spoken, which could communicate experience without mediation. It was believed this language could reconstruct the order of nature that God had revealed to Adam, before confounding man’s language at Babel.

Many people have claimed that music is the true universal language. (The first modern artificial language was Solresol, which can be transmitted musically as well as verbally.) Unforunately, this particular species of musical fundamentalist is most likely to insist that some types of music are more natural than others*, when in reality all music is, essentially, as arbitrary as any language.

Real Characters and False Analogues is a set of twelve pieces for microtonal piano I wrote in 2004, then revised extensively in 2009. It is a sequel to Stained Melodies, adapting the compositional premise of the earlier work, that of simultaneously performing isolated pitches from different, unrelated pieces of music. Real Characters develops this idea by imposing a series of transformations to the sources’ rhythm, tempo, dynamics and pitch, producing a greater variety of harmonies and textures.

In keeping with the ultimately arbitrary nature of supposedly universal languages, all compositional choices were governed by a set of chance operations; and although the piano is tuned to a special 22-note scale, only 15 notes are decided by chance to appear in any given piece. Each of the twelve pieces is named after one of the myriad artificial languages invented over the past century.

The entire set, along with detailed composition notes, can be downloaded from its page on the music website, or heard in streaming audio at The Listening Room.

* According to Nicolas Slonimsky, “The American pedagogue Percy Goetschius used to play the C major scale for his students and ask them a rhetorical question. ‘Who invented this scale?’ and answer it himself. ‘God!’ Then he would play the whole-tone scale and ask again, ‘Who invented this scale?’ And he would announce disdainfully, ‘Monsieur Debussy!'”