The Microtonal Thread

An artist who I think really has honed in on this technique is Acriel, who works primarily in Pd making generative microtonal patches. I find that when I am hearing the chord as a cluster it is not so dissimilar from a heavily detuned subtractive synth patch, but with more nuance.

That puredata experiment is fascinating! Really wanna play around with this concept now!

To be unnecessarily specific, 8EDT is 5.04743802858EDO, 16EDT is 10.0948760571099EDO, and 25ED5 is 10.76691090999999EDO. Just a side fact. :slight_smile:

Yeah, a lot of people claim 8 EDT is basically equivalent to 5 EDO, but there is a definite audible difference in my ears, especially with wider leaps - plus, 8 EDT has those lovely “false octaves” which are slightly flat :slight_smile:

Hypothesis: hip-hop’s popularity is due in part to the inherent microtonality of rap melodies.

That’s an interesting project. I’m not sure rap is inherently microtonal, anymore than natural speech is - I doubt anybody would consider the speech patterns of the average rapper to be part of the “melody”, and the same rap would be recognizable even if you spoke with different inflection/emphasis, even though you’d be technically “changing the melody”. There have been some very interesting explorations of the musicality of speech, however, my favorite being the classic “John Somebody” by Scott Johnson:

They end up converting the piece into a mostly 12-EDO framework, but it’s a very intriguing concept which is lots of fun to listen to!

Harry Partch also spent a lot of his career exploring the rhythms of natural human speech - it’s interesting how we are creating and learning these kinds of “songs” all the time and almost never notice it!

This thread inspired me to write a little toy tool to easily explore scales created from arbitrary frequencies …

This is a really cool tool! You should definitely expand on this, it’s a fun way to play around with different divisions of intervals and could definitely become a handy tool, especially if you made it so you could export your tunings in .scl files! :smiley:

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its still up, somehow


A wealth of microtonal music can be found in Indian Ragas. Though Ragas have 7 tones, and there are 300 ragas IIRC, Raga may use microtonal inflections. Just as in Western microtonal studies, Indian Raga can be studied as well. There is a musical tradition that is well understood.

The thing that has always drawn me toward Raga and away from the ‘heady’ Western microtonal is Ragas are used in specific settings for specific purposes to invoke specific mood/thought/desire. Music invoking feeling vs music invoking math.

Floating boats…




I have this record on vinyl! Several years ago I saw a performance of Harry Partch’s music at Montclair State University in New Jersey. It was one the most incredible music experiences of my life being able to hear it in person. After the performance the audience was invited on the stage and allowed to see the instruments up close. “Daphe of the Dunes” was one of the pieces they played.

I was introduced to the concept of micro-tonal music and the music of Harry Partch in the mid-2000s by a friend of mine. We started building instruments, many similar to hammered dulcimer, in addition to a variety of commercial and homemade percussion instruments along with my best friend from high school.

The friend who introduced me to Harry Partch had played piano since he was two years and came from a family of classical piano teachers. He was a bit of provocateur and, while he had a genuine interest, I think he also enjoyed rebelling against the musical conservatism of his parents. I was self-taught and got my start making noise and drone music with Fruity Loops.

The idea of using tones outside of the commonly 12 made sense to me; 12 TET had always seemed a bit arbitrary, though until then I didn’t have the conceptual framework. In the process of making instruments and music I learned a lot about music theory, not in the sense of classical formality, but how tuning systems are constructed and the harmonic series. Also, I learned how to play poly-meters.

We recorded all of our jams on my Tascam portastudio. At one point we made an attempt to digitize the archive, but it never happened and these recordings are lost to time. Our music was probably not fun to listen to (no one outside of our group enjoyed listening to us), but it was really really fun to play.


This makes me think - is micro-tonal really an apt description for music that uses tuning systems outside of 12TET? In a way it could cover anything from an equal-tempered quarter-tone scale to pentatonic scale calculated with just intonation. Also, there is music made with instruments tuned to 12TET that has micro-tonal elements, the most prominent example being the blue notes of blues and jazz.


Just realised MPC is great for simple microtonal work, fluffed around this afternoon making non-12tet chords out of a recording of my voice by detuning to find good sounding scale with a few nice voicings.

But would be good to produce some JT -> semitone-cent charts for when I am feeling more formal/mathematical

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Madrona Labs’ Aalto has a module that allows setting various ‘keys’. There are a number of Just Intonation scales, as well as Indian, African, Gamelan, and others. They are mapped to convert MIDI note to specific frequency values of those scales. Interesting tool.


I highly recommend Dolores Catherino’s “polychromatic” work. She has developed an interesting method to score her compositions by using colors and other signifiers.

3 Likes - I added the scala export and tested it using Sevish and seems to work fine. I guess Sevish is still better for someone that wants to be really precise when selecting scale steps, but my aim was to allow user to select by ear/visually so that is why I didn’t add a text box to enter the frequencies/cents manually. Nonetheless this is a great topic and thanks for inspiration to code something cool :wink:

While I agree that the specificity or Ragas is really interesting I wouldn’t dismiss other practices as merely a math. There is math involved but I think it is a part of vocabulary that makes things easier to discuss with other people. Such naming system removes ambiguity. For example when talking with someone about 22-edo we both know how it is built even if for example for me it sounds like something to play at the morning on a rainy day and for someone else it sounds like something that sounds good at night time.


This is so, so cool!!! Thank you for sharing it!

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Rap may be modeled on natural speech, but they are not at all the same thing. The pitch content of rap is quite specific. This is easy to demonstrate for yourself, because if you do it wrong, it sounds wrong. If you do the pitches and emphases wrong, the rap might still be recognizable, the same way that a melody can be recognizable if you sing the wrong notes and rhythms, but it will still be wrong.

John Lee Hooker constantly uses the “neutral third”, the pitch in between the major and minor third, by bending his guitar strings a little. It isn’t just an ornamental thing, he’ll do it in riffs that repeat under the entire duration of a song.


While I’m skeptical of the pseudo-scientific and mystical aspects of Colundi, I have been listening to Aleksi Perälä’s music a lot lately. Very much in the Warp/Reflex vein.

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Seems like someone should mention the Turkish/Arabic Maqam tonal/musical system. it’s a source of lots of really gorgeous scales that are harmonically derived but end up outside the western 12-tone framework. I’m actually pretty ignorant about Maqam, but I’ve been finding a lot of good reading online lately.

For me, what makes this kind of “microtonal” so listenable is that any given composition is still restricted to a memorable, harmonically-related set of tones. They’re just really different tones. =)


love all his string quartets! the kepler quartet did an amazing amazing job in playing and recording these!

‘microtonal’ is a funny descriptor.

but yea on the contemprary/experimental/JI side, worth emphasizing:
cat lamb is brilliant. some very memorable investigations of JI sawtooth stacks in large concrete rooms
calarts mid-aughts had a lovely confluence of work with michale pisaro, james tenney, mark menzies all being there (later mandfred werder ‘replacing’ jim -oops no), cat and other remarkable students in the performance programs really pushing things forward -
(cultivating performance chops for this stuff is a pretty big deal, respect)

(and omg super bummed now i missed being in LA for a johanna beyer program. dangit)


I’m sorry, I had a total brain-flap thinking of wandelweiser, I meant to say wolfgang von schweinitz

Some of my released music is microtonal and was made with various prototype quantizers I built.

This is an Indian “Sa-Grama” scale played live with an analog sequencer:

The lazy mariachi “trumpets” here are 24TET:


On the Just Intonation front, you can buy a dvd of a 6.5 hr performance of La Monte Young’s “The Well Tuned Piano” straight from his website: