Tall Poppies


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 TP (1-901)


39 Dissonant Etudes

Warren Burt (computers)

$23   (Australian dollars)


buy at: AMC - Buywell - iTunes

Each etude lasts for about a minute and a half, and each concerns itself with a different division of the octave, ranging from 5 to 42 notes per octave. It is all produced directly from computers, and makes for fascinating listening.

Warren Burt's Dissonant Etudes are not about different tuning systems, but about going beyond the standard of 12 notes per octave. Burt used a computer to help him slice the octave into 39 different equal-tempered scales (from five to 43 notes per octave), and he realized his work with a nearly perfect synthesized piano sound. Each etude is 90 seconds, ample time to demonstrate the characteristics of each of the 39 scales.

The etudes are ordered randomly, and the best way to listen is to start at the beginning and let them flow by. They are bright little pieces. Some begin and end with the same gesture, some have salvos of brisk arpeggios, and some are punctuated with staccato chords. The synthesized piano sound sets this music in the context of the standard repertoire, though you might need to find a six-handed pianist.

Piano music that can't be played by a pianist calls to mind the essential work of Conlon Nancarrow, who wrote his Studies for Player Piano (Wergo WER 6907-2) by building his own tools to punch holes into the paper rolls that are fed into player pianos. Nancarrow's studies use very complex canons and ratios (two voices might progress in a 17-to-19 ratio), and his music has been immensely influential on composers such as Gyorgy Ligeti and Burt.

If I mention Nancarrow, I must also mention Easley Blackwood's Twelve Microtonal Etudes for Electronic Music Media from 1980, since reissued on CD (Cedille CDR 90000 018). Blackwood explores scales with 13 to 24 notes per octave, and his etudes are longer because he wrote melodies and accompaniments by emphasizing consonances and harmonies that relate the unusual scales to our familiar 12-note scale. Burt's etudes avoid melody and accompaniment, and he writes in a Webernesque style, spiky and angular. The biggest difference is the instrument used to play the etudes: Blackwood employs a sometimes-reedy, sometimes-campy electric-piano sound with lots of vibrato, whereas Burt uses purer piano samples from a Roland SCC1 synthesizer without vibrato. Burt's work is thus more timeless and invites comparison and consideration with the "normal" (equal tempered and 12 notes to the octave) piano repertoire.

Each etude is tantalizingly short, but it's amazing how the "dissonant" tuning system will so easily become familiar. This is a quirky disc, but rewarding and enjoyable. The music will stretch your ears, and if you spend any time listening to music, then your ears and brain could use the exercise. And if Nancarrow is unknown to you, then you're missing some important music, and you should pick up that set, too.

Grant Chu Covell
La Folia

< TP092   TP093   TP094 >
 TP (1-901)



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