Stained Melodies (2000) was originally conceived as a sequel to Unstained Melodies (1998-99), a set of 70 miniatures for piano. Both series of works take existing keyboard music and strip it of much of its continuity, recontextualising the material yet still preserving a faint shadow of its original sense. Stained Melodies differs primarily from its predecessor by drawing its material from several sources at once, and integrating it simultaneously rather than sequentially.
The material for Stained Melodies was selected through the use of chance operations on a large array of MIDI keyboard works freely available on the internet. Each melody was created by asking the questions: (a) how many pitch classes (C, C#, D, D# etc) will be in the piece, (b) what those pitch classes will be, and (c) from which available piece of music will each pitch class be extracted. These questions were all answered by using chance operations generated by Andrew Culver's program ic. The resulting selections (all the Cs from one piece, all the C#s from another, etc.) were adjusted to the length of the longest sampled work, preserving rhythmic relationships within each pitch class, while allowing multiple simultaneous tempi to emerge between voices.
In effect, each melody is a collaboration between numerous ghost pianists, none of whom can hear each other; the majority of their music erased.
Unlike Unstained Melodies, this set of pieces is quite likely impossible for a human pianist to play. To put it beyond any doubt, several additional adjustments were made to take advantage of a MIDI realization. Dynamics for each note were randomised, and the sustain pedal was deployed for only the least occurring notes within each piece.
Finally, the tuning was modified for each piece. Instead of the standard equal temperament used on modern pianos, Stained Melodies uses a 'hard' Ptolemaic just intonation, which has the simplest, purest harmonic relationships available to the Western musical scale. For each piece, the scale is retuned so that the most frequently occurring pitch becomes the base frequency to which all the others are tuned.
A small run of CDs of Stained Melodies was pressed in 2004 and is now sold out. The entire disc is now available as mp3 files.
Stained Melodies, © Ben.Harper 2000. Recorded in Your Dad’s Den, Fitzroy. A Cooky La Moo production, edition number 5.