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Posted by on Mar 14, 2014 in Equal Temperament, Just Intonation, The Lattice | 3 comments

A Harmonic Journey: ET and JI Compared

The Harmonic Lattice can be viewed as a map of harmonic space. Music moves in harmonic space, just as it moves in melodic space (the world of scales and keyboards). The two spaces are very different from each other.

In melodic space, such as a piano keyboard, when two notes are close together, it means they are close in pitch.

In a harmonic space, such as the lattice, when two notes are close together, it means they are harmonically related.

“Harmonically related” means that one note can be converted into the other note by multiplying and dividing by small whole numbers. A note vibrating at 100 cycles per second is closely related to a note at 300 cycles per second. In melodic space, these two notes are far apart, but in harmonic terms they are right next door to each other — they harmonize.

In my video, Flying Dream, I animated the movement of one of my songs on the lattice. Now I’ve animated a composition of W. A. Mathieu’s.

Mathieu is the author of Harmonic Experience, an astonishing book that takes music back to its origins in resonance and pure harmony, and then uses the lattice concept to bring that harmonic understanding forward into the world of equal temperament. For me, the book opened the study of music like a flower.

The lattice, and my stop-motion animations, have given me a sort of musical oscilloscope. Instead of the music being some sort of black box, I can see inside it, get a visual image of what is going on harmonically. The new tool has made songwriting, improvising and arranging much easier.

I’ve animated Example 22.10 from the book. It’s intended to be an illustration of unambiguous harmony — the chord progression moves by short distances on the lattice, so it is clear to the eye and ear where you are. I think it’s a beautiful piece of music in its own right, a one-minute tour of a huge area of the lattice. It uses 28 different notes!

There are two versions of the video. The first one, in ET, has a soundtrack of Allaudin Mathieu playing the piece on his beautifully tuned piano. This is perfect equal temperament. It uses twelve notes to approximate the twenty-eight notes that the piece visits.

For the second one, in JI, I retuned the piano to the actual pitches of the lattice notes. Now, magically, the piano has all 28 notes. There is a whole new dimension to the music. In the JI version, I feel:

  • Slight vertigo when the music moves quickly
  • Satisfaction when a spread-out (tense) pattern collapses to a compact (resolved) one
  • A great sense of homecoming at the end
  • Stronger consonance and dissonance than in the ET version.

The four voices, from lowest to highest, are red, green, orange and yellow. It’s fun to follow one voice at a time.

This lattice is notated differently. It’s my usual system, but with letters instead of numbers. C is the tonic.


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Posted by on Oct 27, 2013 in Consonance, Just Intonation, The Lattice, Tonal Gravity | 2 comments

Tonal Gravity and the Major Scale

In my last post, I proposed a simple way to graph tonal gravity against the octave.

Overtonal notes, generated by multiplying, are restful, stable — they have positive polarity, pulling toward the center. Reciprocal notes, generated by division, are restless, unstable — they push. I call this negative polarity. Mixed-polarity notes have both, and I’ve chosen to simply add their overtonal and reciprocal components together to get the total polarity.

Here again is the graph of the 13 most central notes of the lattice.

Tonal Gravity 13-01

The stable notes are gravity wells, and the unstable ones are peaks. Melodies and harmonies dance in this gravity field. Higher points represent tension, lower ones resolution, and the lower they are, the more resolved and stable. The tonic major triad, most stable of all, occupies the lowest spots — 1, 3 and 5.

The polarity map of the major scale looks like this:

Tonal Gravity Major Scale-01The notes are all overtonal except the 4, which is strongly reciprocal, and the 6, which is mixed and slightly unstable.

Here’s a split screen video showing the major scale, against a tonic drone, on both the lattice and the octave. This is an example of how the lattice serves as a Rosetta Stone, a translator between harmonic and melodic space.

Can you hear the push/pull quality of the notes? Each note has its own feeling against the steady 1.



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Posted by on Aug 15, 2013 in Consonance, The Lattice, The Notes, Tonal Gravity | 0 comments

One More Mirror Pair

I’m almost done with the next full-song video. In the meantime, here’s one more pair of mirror twins for consideration.

The 2- is a common melody note in my songs, and in the blues. It goes well with the blue note 7b3 — there is an extremely common melody that goes 7b3, 2-, 1. It’s a darker, more dissonant note than its comma sibling, the 2.

The b7 is dissonant and gorgeous — check out the sequence at the end of this post.

Each note is a compound of three legs on the lattice — two fifths, or a factor of 9, and a major third, a factor of 5. By the logic of the last post, the short leg should predominate, which would make the 2- slightly overtonal and stable, and the b7 slightly reciprocal and unstable.

This proves out when I listen to the video. Even though the 2- is distant from the center, and quite dissonant, it still feels stable. The tonal gravity field is “pulling” rather than “pushing.”

I’m setting up here for a map of the tonal gravity field. I think I can put some numbers on this stuff. Coming soon. I’ll use that new song animation as a basis — it’s full of fleeting dissonances and polarity flips.

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Posted by on Aug 14, 2013 in Consonance, The Lattice, The Notes, Tonal Gravity | 0 comments

A Mirror Quad

In the last few posts, I’ve been exploring mirror twins — notes at the same harmonic distance from the center, but of opposite polarity.

The notes explored so far are 3/1, 5/1, 7/1, 9/1, and their reciprocals, 1/3, 1/5, 1/7 and 1/9. The 9/1 and 1/9 are made up of two legs on the lattice, x3 and x3.

The next overtonal note out from the center is the major seventh, or 7. Its ratio is 15/1, or x3, x5.

The 7 has its mirror twin too, the b2-, at 112 cents. Its ratio is 1/15.

Here is how they sound:

For me, the pattern continues. The 7 is stable, but less so than the notes we’ve heard so far, and it’s getting dissonant as well, because it’s farther from the center. The b2- is both dissonant and unstable.

These notes each traverse two legs of the lattice, a 3 and a 5. The 7 is two legs “up,” or multiplying, and the b2- is two “down,” or dividing.

What if one stick goes up and the other one down?

These notes are the minor third, 3/5, and the major sixth, 5/3. They are compounds of overtonal and reciprocal energy.

How will this affect stability and instability? I’ll guess that since 3 is a shorter distance than 5 is, and closer to the center means stronger gravity, the factor of 3 will dominate the blend.

So 3/5, the minor third, should lean toward the overtonal, and 5/3, the major sixth, should lean toward the reciprocal.

This hypothesis is supported by the long tradition that the minor third is a stable note, less so than the major third but OK to end a song with.

That is indeed what I hear, although it’s less clear than it is with earlier intervals.

All four of these intervals use the same prime factors, and cover the same harmonic distance. The difference between them is polarity.


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Posted by on Aug 7, 2013 in Consonance, Equal Temperament, Just Intonation, Septimal Harmony, The Lattice, The Notes | 0 comments

More Mirror Twins

Mirror twins are pairs of intervals, exactly opposite each other on the lattice.

The two intervals are reciprocals of each other, which means their ratios are flipped — if one is 5/3, the other is 3/5.

Harmonic distance is the same for each interval — the only difference is polarity. Listening to mirror twin pairs gives a good idea of what polarity sounds like.

The clearest example is the fifth/fourth pair, multiplying and dividing the tonic by 3.

Beautiful, consonant notes, one with overtonal energy, and the other with reciprocal energy.

The next closest pair is the major third / minor sixth. This has a different flavor. Now the tonic is multiplied and divided by 5.

The overtonal third feels stable and restful, though not quite as much so as the fifth. These notes are a bit farther from the center than the 5 and 4. The reciprocal sixth sounds more dissonant than the 4.

The next closest note to the center is the septimal flatted seventh, or harmonic seventh. The ratio of this note is 7/1, and its mirror twin is 1/7. I have not yet consciously used the mirror-seventh, and it’s not on my drawing of the lattice. The note is the septimal major second, at 231 cents, a dissonant interval indeed. The yellow lens shows where I would put it on the lattice.

Oy! That should put to rest the idea that just intonation is all about consonance! The septimal major second is nastier than anything equal temperament has to offer. I like the word “untempered” for this music because it better captures the wild and wooly nature of JI. “Just Intonation” sounds a bit stuffy to me, and the natural intervals of whole number ratios are anything but academic, they are burned in at a very basic level. Equal temperament is brilliant, but it’s actually the headier and less visceral of the two. IMO.

The next pair is a little further out — each note requires two moves on the lattice.

The ratios are 9/1 and 1/9. I still hear the 2 as stable, though it is less consonant than the previous notes. The b7- is suitably dissonant. It cranks up the tension in dominant-seventh-type chords, the workhorse tension-resolution chords of classical music.

I hear the effect of both tension and resolution diminishing somewhat, as tonal gravity gets weaker farther from the tonic.

These last two videos each contain a minor seventh. One is overtonal, the other reciprocal. The septimal flatted seventh, or harmonic seventh, is a stable, resolved note, the signature of barbershop harmony.

Septimal sevenths abound in this music, and they are sweet and consonant and stable.

The b7-, on the other hand, is dissonant and tense. It makes the ear want to change.

In equal temperament, these two notes are played exactly the same. ET weakens and obscures the difference, but it still can come through because of context.

The common “… and many more” tag, sung at the end of Happy Birthday, is a great example. That last note, “more,” is a harmonic seventh, 7/1, the stable, beautiful barbershop note at 969 cents. If you play “and many more” on a piano, the ear will hear the last note as a septimal seventh, only with less impact, because it is very sharp, at 1000 cents.


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