Category Archives: Microtonal

music with notes, but outside of equal temperament

Shorts #42: Lacewing


This piece was commissioned and titled by Tim Walters.

This piece has two instruments – one uses the Ringz Ugen in SuperCollider and the other is a Sine wave which is phase modulated by another sine wave where both are tuned to the same frequency. It is in harmonic minor, tuned with the default just tuning.

Harmonic minor is known as “Mogen Ovos” to klezmer musicians. Rather than apply western harmony practice (except for the final cadence), every player is picking notes independently. The just tuning helps hold the notes in a key centre.


Auld Lag Sine

[play] Auld Lag Sine (2016)

If you enjoyed this piece of music, please consider donating to the Hackney Night Shelter. This shelter takes no government funding and thus is able to provide shelter to people ineligible for government benefits, including refugees and asylum seekers who do not have the correct status to receive taxpayer funded aid. It is one of few secular organisations in this funding situation. This is especially helpful for asylum seekers that feel uncomfortable with religious organisation (especially those fleeing religiously-motivated violence, such as members of minority religions or LGBT people).

My friend Dan, who volunteers with the Night Shelter suggested last night that I do a version of Auld Lang Syne. Our attempts to sing it at a party were, as always, somewhat shambolic. For this version, I thought of the puns before I started working on the music, but this is an attempt to create the idea of drunken, sentimental sine waves toasting the new year.

Each voice is three sine waves, all up to an 8th tone out of tune, which have some portamento from one note to the next. The target pitch in the slide gets closer to the correct pitch as each note goes on. The highest sine wave pauses between notes, but the lower ones carry on. The piece starts with some short bursts of Markov chains as the voices try to agree on the notes and where they are in the song. Eventually, they go through the whole song, each varying tempo as they go, falling behind or catching up with the others. Finally, they all end together.

This track is part of a larger project, ’12 days of Crimbo’, which solicits funds for homeless and/or LGBT charities.


Wacky Kings

[play] Wacky Kings (2015)

If you enjoyed this piece of music, please consider donating to Mermaids. Mermaids is an organisation that provides support to trans children and their families.

The sound generation is based on a synthdef by Rukano (which is based on a meme, which is based on Eurovision). I modified sound to use slightly different envelopes for every partial, to sharpen the attack and to have the sound gradually decrease in amplitude over time. From the sound, I generated a dissonance curve and from that, generated a 12-tone just scale.

For the melody, I generated Markov chains from a MIDI version of We Three Kings. I slowed the result down, added legato and mapped it to my derived scale. The overlapping tails of notes ends up obscuring the brass sound and makes it sound more like a pipe organ or bells.

This track is part of a larger project, ’12 days of Crimbo’, which will raise funds for homeless and/or LGBT charities.


Ask Not for Whom the Bell Carols

[play] Ask Not for Whom the Bell Carols (2015)

If you enjoyed this piece of music, please consider donating to the Albert Kennedy Trust, who work with homeless LGBT young people.

For this piece, I used Risset bells with a long decay. I used a Dissonance-curve style analysis of the partials to generate a tuning based on the timbre. Rather than use the method outlined by Bill Sethares, I compared the partials to look for good just tuning ratios. I then picked the 8 most in-tune partials (using a moving window system, so make sure they weren’t all next to each other). This is part of my TuningLib quark, which is available to SuperCollider users. (See the justScale method for DissonanceCurve)

Then I used an mp3 of the Bell Carol, but very slowly. I also adjusted the tuning of every partial by up to 10Hz and delayed all attacks by up to 60 milliseconds. This creates weird beating effects, as two identical bells are just slightly out of tune with each other. Their attacks are also often just a bit too far apart to be simultaneous.

I have ambitions to generalise harmony in terms of dissonance, so that it’s applicable to bespoke tuning systems, but ended up not applying that to this piece. This track is part of a larger project, ’12 days of Crimbo’, which will raise funds for homeless and/or LGBT charities.


Blakes 9 (2009)

[play]Blakes 9 (2008-9)

I’ve been working on this piece for over a year and it’s time to say it’s done.

The inspiration to start this piece came from two sources. One was that I watched the TV show Blakes 7 and thought it had great incidental music. And the other was that I briefly dated a poet who had a thing for the number 9.

I recorded a loop of synthesized sounds that seemed to go with the sounds on the show, and then I came up with a cutup algorithm that broke it into pieces based on a 9-feeling. But that wasn’t enough, so I added in some glitching. But that wasn’t enough, so I added in another section, and so it grew in an ungainly way, until it filled 80 speakers and was premiered as an N-channel piece at a BEAST concert at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham in June 2009.

Then I spent the summer mixing it down to 2 channels, while trying to prevent it from getting muddy. I won’t lie, it sounds better with more channels, but the stereo version is ok. If you have a subwoofer, it’s even better.

If you happen to have a speaker array of 8 channels or, really, any number of channels and you think you might want to present this piece, please contact me.


Blake’s 9 – draft

[play]Blake’s 9 (2008)

This piece has changed significantly since I first posted it and a newer version has since been posted.

I recently watched the entirety of the TV series Blake’s 7. Like all BBC science fiction productions of it’s era, the incidental music and sound effects are outstanding. The background hums, the computer whirrs and the ominous notes create a mood and a sense of place that is alien. After watching several of the episodes, I went home and created a patch on my MOTM synthesizer which seemed to perfectly capture a progression of mood as it might appear in an episode with Avon creeping along with a ray gun, infiltrating a Federation base.

However, as nice as patch was, with it’s 4 minute long loop, it wasn’t a piece. And there wasn’t an obvious way to make it become one. It was too complex and had too much character to mix, but not enough to stand on it’s own. I let it sit for weeks and thought about other things, specifically, a beat generation algorithm that was going nowhere. And then I met a poet who is obsessed with divisions / groups of 9.

I set my beat maker to 9, and then I thought of using it as a an organizational principle for cutting, rather than a way to make cheesy drum loops. I used it to cut my loop to sections and then into grains. Then I played back the grains in groups of 9, to make measures of 9 beats. In order to add some pitch variety, I changed the speed of playback of the grains, with rates of 1, 27/25, 9/7, 7/9, 25/27, a few intervals in a just version of the Bohlen Pierce scale. This scale uses 3’s instead of octaves, so the ratios have multiples of 3 where you would expect powers of two for more traditional scales.

This is a work in progress and may go on to be an installation or gain additional movements or neither or both.


Nice to See You

[play]Nice to See You by No More Twist (2008)

No More Twist is a new duo of Polly Moller and I. We played this improvised set live on KFJC on 17 July 2008. She was on flute(s) and noisemakers and I played a live sampling application (written in SuperCollider). We were featured to promote the Edgetone New Music Summit. We will be playing there on Wednesday (23 July 2008), where we will be premiering a piece called “Inquisition.” It’s going to have Polly hooked up to a lie detector that I built and I’ll be interpreting her biometric data as she answers questions posed by the audience.

This piece here, however, has text from a long spam email and uses the latest iteration of my SC program SimpleSample.



Every other week, I have to give myself an injection of testosterone. I find it really hard to actually pierce my flesh with a needle. It’s like stabbing myself. At the same time, having testosterone in my body is crucial to my identity.

About a month ago, I used a small digital camera and apple’s photobooth software to film myself from either side, trying to do the shot. The pressure was intense. The shot went terribly wrong. It took me forever to work up the nerve to actually push in the needle and when I did, I didn’t push it in far enough. The testosterone leaked back out of my leg through the puncture.

I created a soundtrack to this disaster using SuperCollider. The sound sources are my voice and de-tuned sine wave generators. The left and the right channels differ by 10 Hz. The sine waves move along a tuning lattice but with so much imprecision that the lattice becomes meaningless. Their timing is out of synch. Finally, a clock ticking sound comes in. How long has this been going on? How long have I been sitting here holding my needle? How long is this going to take me? How many more times will I have to go through with this?

Until the end of my life.

The video is created with Every time a new sound starts, the picture updates, but with a a lot of transparency, so time bleeds together and the images become blurry. I’d hoped that through the repetition of images that I experienced in making this piece, that doing the shot would become demystified and I would exorcise my demons. Did it work? I’ll tell you in two weeks.

[play] Shot (2008)


Shorts: #15 Space Corridor

[play] Shorts: #15 Space Corridor (2007)

Commissioned and titled by Graham Coleman.

I made this pieace in the BEA 5 lab at Sonology at the Royal Conservaory in The Hague, Netherlands. This uses MIDI-controlled analog oscillators and the primary sound source. My friend Nick Fox-Gieg set up the MIDI control from his laptop and helped me with a MAX patch. The oscillators went out to the plate reverb – which is an actual 200 kilo plate hanging in the attic someplace. The output of that was ring modulated and sent back to the plate. A lot of the signal also went through the lovely third octave filter in the lab.

The one drawback of the plate is that there’s a lot of hiss in the connection to it. I used the TAP de-Esser and some EQ to lessen the hiss. It also took some of the ‘pop’ out of some of the notes, which makes the whole piece smoother.

Graham is planning on remixing this piece.