_______ 3. Oh, the Injustice PDF Print E-mail
Written by D. Bond   
Saturday, 31 October 2009 10:41

3.  Oh, the Injustice!


This thing began with truth, and truth does exist. For some hundreds of years, the truth of Just Intonation, which is defined in any good music dictionary, has been hidden. One could almost say maliciously.


- Harry Partch


At this point one may be tempted to place value judgments on the two systems, hailing Just Intonation as superior to Equal Temperament [ET], or go in the direction of the mystic and claim one as more soothing to the nervous system, having healing properties etc. [as I admit, I am inclined to do], but for now we just observe the difference. 


Timbral considerations aside, there is a special color and quality present within each of the two chords. Composers and musicians should understand these as not equivalent and can make decisions regarding the quality of sound they hope to achieve using whichever intonational approach best suits their goal.


Clearly, there must be good reasons for sacrificing the intrinsic beauty of the harmonic series and its logical extension into just intonational systems. We will consider these reasons as we continue the argument and review the historical development of intonation practice in the West.


Given the preceding examples, we are approaching an understanding of consonance and dissonance that enable us to form a provisional definition of harmony. What has often been evaluated as a subjective perception we now in a position to describe in terms of fundamental acoustic phenomena and harmonic relationships appearing as properties of the harmonic series and its transpositions.


Most textbooks simply list commonly regarded intervals as consonant and others as dissonant, pointing at the harmonic relations of the tones in terms of their interval relations [and oddly, almost always from the basis of ET].  Rarely do they mention that these subjective opinions have changed over history, tending towards the acceptance of more complex relationships as consonant. For example, in the Medieval period, octave and perfect fifths alone were considered consonant and all others as dissonant, later fashion admitted thirds and sixths as secondary consonances, and in the modern era we permit the ET Maj 7th, 9th, 13th, #11, etc. as completely acceptable. It is worth asking why this has happened, and particularly in this order: moving from 5ths to chords; from diatonic to chromatic saturation.


One may argue that the epitome of what is considered ‘in tune’ as heard in ET, would be considered as horrifyingly dissonant to a Medieval composer [or musician]. Yet somehow this sound has come to be accepted in the West as the only consonance. I recall, prior to my own personal investigations into intonation, I heard the pipe organ at the Trapiste Monastery[1] in Holland Manitoba during a short retreat there. The organ, which I now assume to be tuned to just or mean tone relationships, I found strange-sounding and out of tune to my ears – yet oddly appealing, mysterious. I put it down to old age: that the instrument had simply gone off. It only occurred to me later that the instrument is intended to sound that way!


            He restoreth my soul.

            His mercy lasts forever.

            World without end. Amen.


next 4. Ring the Bells

[1] Silent Order. Exquisite cheeses, jam and honey.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 25 May 2010 22:16