Boomkat Product Review:
Treat thy ear to the lushly abundant possibilities of just intonation tunings with Duane Pitre’s 2nd volume of ‘The Harmonic Series’, starring spellbinding turns by Kali Malone, Caterina Barbieri, Catherine Lamb, Tashi Wada, Byron Westbrook, and himself
Returning to one of the most fascinating, ancient aspects of musical composition, Duane Pitre curates an unmissable follow-up to the 2009 compilation ‘The Harmonic Series’, inviting a new wave of microtonal explorers to fill the boots of Ellen Fullman & Theresa Wong, Pauline Oliveros, Charles Curtis and others who starred on the first set. For the uninitiated, and open-eared, listeners; just intonation is a method of creating tuning systems that existed millennia before Western music contracted to the 12 notes of equal temperament.
It is a system that has lain at the roots of myriad Indian, Persian, and East Asian musical traditions for over 2500 years, and offers the user practically limitless possibilities to work in the spaces between the notes that Western music has become often painfully locked into since the c.17th, and would only begin to emerge from with thanks to the likes of Harry Partch, Terry Riley and La Monte Young who made concerted efforts to reintroduce its sense of wonder to experimental music during the mid c.20th.
As a non musician, this set of ears might never fully grasp the maths at its root, but over the years we’ve come to realise many of the most affective pieces of music we’ve encountered are written in and explore just intonation. The six artists on ‘The Harmonic Series Volume 2’ are patently aware of the system’s potential to express and induce the uncanniest sensations and do so with life-affirming beauty in their diverse results here, ranging from the incredible subtlety of a rare synthesiser work by violinist Catherine Lamb, to the head-melting tang of Bryon Westbrook and the air-rippling bliss of Kali Malone.
Once experienced, it’s hard to shake the feeling of one’s head being naturally reprogrammed by the ostensibly unusual harmonic relationships of these tunings, and by extension it’s maybe easier to understand why the church wouldn’t allow it in their music, and why even contemporary religious fundamentalists from regions it originated in are also scared of its potential to make one aware of some presence or feeling beyond explanation. All credit to Duane Pitre, the artists involved, and the ever reliable Important Records for a timely, humbling reminder of music’s mystifying power at its sublime and transcendent best.