xenharmonic music offers very little refuge - it is here that just intonation and "pure" harmonic mathematical dogmatism supplants one tyranny with another. I exaggerate here a bit, but it's fair to say that random/arbitrary musical scales are generally viewed as unsophisticated in microtonal music circles.
A few years ago I tried to establish a historical basis for 'intuitively selected tuning systems' in my Radionics Radio project (on Sub Rosa records), but drawing upon a fringe science - no matter how artistically groundbreaking those acoustic-radionic activities were in the late 1940s - didn't convince many (radionics involves 'psychically' selecting frequencies that correspond to thoughts). Random tunings offer complete freedom, and reveal the idiosyncrasies of the instruments used, as well as the identities of soundmakers. I would go as far to politicise it: arbitrary tuning is perhaps the ultimate musical 'decolonisation' whilst also being a practical and philosophical ideal for microtonal music's LGBTQ+ lineage that embraces such varied personalities as Kathleen Schlesinger, Elsie Hamilton, to Harry Partch and Wendy Carlos - a lineage rarely-discussed, but deeply rooted, I believe, in the opposition to the norms of western equal temperament (and the contra-norms of just intonation and equal divisions of the octave).
|The hollow flint... containing a scale.|
It is possible to connect a small lapel microphone to a loudspeaker amplifier, and place the microphone inside the flint to hear feedback. The feedback pitch is relative to the cavity, and alters according to the fingering of the cavities. I did a brief experiment with this on camera, and posted it to Facebook to advertise the upcoming episode of Wavelength on Resonance FM where I describe these experiments.
On the internet, there's always either a miserable don't-know-who, or a know-it-all nonsenseclown poised to blurt. If they're remotely connected to creative doings, it tends to spur on the mission to legitimise arbitrary scales. On this occasion, one such character (I can't discern which) emerged from the woodwork to advertise their obliviousness to these experiments' contexts: "eh, this is like sticking a piezo transducer in anything. Ok; weird, somewhat regulated noise. 'Man farting in field' has been Lucier'd to death."
|Alfred Graham's feedback flute, 1894.|
With the lowest note registering as 669Hz, the ratios are calculable as 1/1, 737/669, 775/669, 263/223, 269/223 and 828/669 (giving an ascending 167.590, 254.628, 285.622, 324.674, 369.149 in cents).
What can be done with these notes? Well, the scale of this handheld flint encompasses less than four semitones (3.69, to be exact), which is a restrictive set of notes, but frequent exposure to the notes acclimatises the ear to soundmaking/melodic possibilities. This is something noted by the composer Susan Alexjander who derived scales from DNA bases. DNA bases' tunings might as well be arbitrary, such is the inharmonic chaos - they seemed "so strange and alien that one at first despairs of ever creating a beautiful work of art, or making any coherent 'sense' out of them", according to Alexjander. By constant exposure to the new scales "played over and over on the synthesiser, some arrestingly beautiful combinations began to appear"... so when dealing with such disorientating scales, perseverance is key!
More can be heard on Wavelength, broadcast on Resonance 104.4FM on 19th June 2020. "A programme of multiple agendas presented by William English. This week: a tape sync with Oscillatorial Binnage member Daniel Wilson who, prevented from bin-diving during the Covid-19 epidemic, instead turns to "ground-diving" to dig out unusual stones from the earth. The potential for producing 'rock music' is showcased after a lengthy preliminary chat with William on the current state of the second-hand book trade."