23 November 2003: I decide to make some music as quickly as possible. I open Scala, a program which generates and analyses musical scales, and ic, an I Ching simulator Andrew Culver wrote for John Cage.
In imitation of Warren Burt's 39 Dissonant Etudes, I decide to make eight one-minute pieces, each using different microtonal equal temperament scales. Equal temperament scales, including today's standard Western 12-tone scale, have a sort of left-side-of-the-brain organisational logic to them, but otherwise have no harmonic sense. I like the idea of using the sophisticated algorithms of Scala to make obtuse, inelegant scales.
Scala has an on-screen virtual keyboard, which lets you play directly with the scale you've just created. Rather than impose any compositional system, I go against my usual musical tendencies and improvise on the virtual keyboard, using the computer keyboard and mouse. The unfamiliar user interface, tuning, and piano keyboard layouts mitigate any musical facility I may have acquired over the years.
I record 24 improvisations, each one exactly one minute long. Each improvisation is recorded in a single take, without rehearsal or revision. Each improvisation is played in a different scale, ranging from 6 tones per octave to 29 tones per octave.
For my instruments, I use Gort's Midget, a bank of synthesiser patches which take up a total of just 2 kilobytes of memory. Midget has 12 patches, so I can use each one for two different scales. The choice of which patch to play which sale is decided by ic.
I also use ic to select which improvisations should be overdubbed, to create composite pieces. The result is a suite of eight one-minute pieces for one to six instruments, in various clashing tonalities…
A short run of CDs of Magnificent Bastards was quickly burnt at the end of 2003, mostly to hand around to friends. All eight pieces can now be downloaded as MP3s - each track is about 1.5 megabytes.
Lento (22 & 17 tones)
2. Semplice (31, 30, & 24 tones)
3. Allegro giocoso (10 tones)
4. Andante mystico (9, 11, 16, & 26 tones)
5. Grave, mesto (27, 23, 6, 19, 18, & 29 tones)
6. Leggiero (21, 20, 7, & 25 tones)
7. Tranquillo (8 & 14 tones)
8. Intensivo (28 & 13 tones)
Magnificent Bastards © Ben.Harper 2003. Recorded in Your Dad’s Den, Fitzroy or Brunswick. A Cooky La Moo production, edition number 17.