Microtonal Music

I was introduced to just intonation by LaMonte Young. Later when I designed the Trine, the idea was to have an instrument that would accommodate custom tuning. I also experimented with various temperaments on my piano since the late 80s. There are two essential aspects to tuning: reference pitch and temperament.

As a microtonalist I am very interested in reference pitch theory. The work of Robert Fludd, Kepler and more recently mathematician Hans Cousto provided us with wonderful studies of the planetary cycles and corresponding pitch. To be in sync with the earth or some of the other celestial bodies makes sense to me.

Planet Frequency (Hertz) Corresponding tuning pitch "A" (Hertz) Color
Mercury 141.27 - D 423.34 Blue
Venus 221.23 - A 442.46 Orange
Earth (Year) 136.10 - C# 432.10 Blue-Green
Mars 144.72 - D 433.67 Blue
Jupiter 183.58 - F# 436.62 Red
Saturn 147.85 - D 443.04 Blue
Uranus 207.36 - G# 439.37 Orange-Red
Neptune 211.44 - A 422.87 Orange-Red
Pluto 140.25 - C# 445.26 Blue
Moon 210.42 - G# 445.86 Orange-Red
Earth (Day) 194.18 - G 435.92 Orange-Red
Earth (Axis) 194.71 - F 433.56 Red-Violet
Source: The Cosmic Octave by Hans Cousto, LifeRhythm Publication

Tronik Involutions is about the earth's yearly cycle, and logically tuned to the the Earth Tone (C# at 136.1 Hz.)

Variations on the Orange Cycle for solo piano is about the experience of time during a day. It revolves around the tonal center G corresponding to the frequency of the earth cycle.

The Deus Ex Machina Cycle is not only tuned to the earth tone but also performed in Vallotti temperament.

The Soundless Sound is tuned in Pythagorean.

Many individual pieces of Tronik Involutions and Inscapes from Exile are polymicrotonal: they use a combination of temperaments, for instance just intonation and Vallotti, and other custom tunings.

If I have a choice, I prefer to use an 18th century temperament (like a Werckmeister III or Vallotti-Young) instead of equal temperament. My piano is currently tuned to the Platonic Year Tone (F at 194.71) or freqency of the axis of the earth, and with Werckmeister III temperament. François Nezwazky does my tunings. I will also work in equal temperament if it is required, if it is not conflicting with the musical ideas of the piece. The tuning effects I use are fairly subtle. They do not sound outrageously out of tune. I use alternative tunings if they make sense within a certain framework, so that they can ultimately affect the consciousness at a higher level by a more harmonious relation with the universe. EL

American Festival of Microtonal Music

Discombobulations is a vocal piece for coloratura, with lyrics by Steven Hall. It is polymicrotonal, combining Vallotti (18th century temperament) and just intonation. The rhythms combine14-beat cycles, 8-beat cycles and random rhythms. The vocal phrases float along the unusual associations prompted by the lyrics, jumping from one plane of reality to another. A new meaning emerges from the deconstruction of the language patterns - in the stream of life, in the midst of chaotic events and constantly changing situations - discovering the hidden joy of simply being. Discombobulations was premiered at the American Festival of Microtonal Music in May 1997, and received a positive review from Anthony Tommasini of the New York Times. The performers were soprano Meredith Borden, Jon Catler on electric guitar, Elodie Lauten on synthesizer, and Andrew Bolotowsky on flute, and electronic percussion on a tape.

Double X, for synthesizer, voice and amplified bass flute, was premiered at the 1999 American Festival of Microtonal Music, performed by Elodie Lauten on synthesizer and voice, tape, and Andrew Bolotowsky on flute. This piece is the first of a series of electro-acoustic pieces integrating non-pitched sounds with pitched sounds, placing the pitch in Pythagorean tuning. The vocalisations were superimposed in quarter tones, so it is actually polymicrotonality tinged with concrete. The inspiration of the piece, which is dark and moody, is an exploration of deep subconscious pulsions so intense they cannot be stated in words, entering the subconcious like going down into a cave with fear and amazement. It was released on the Pitch label in May 2007 on the album ELECTRONICAL along with pieces by Wendy Carlos, Joseph Pehrson, Joel Mandelbaum and others.

Ecocity for woodwind quintet and percussion was premiered on May 2, 2007 as part of the festival. Its first and third movements are in Wekcmeister III while the second movement is in just intonation. This piece is largely based on city sounds translated into musical patterns. The three movements emulate the different phases of a 24-hour cycle: Dawn. Day and Deep Night.

For more information on the festival's activities please visit:

Harmonic Protection Circle
2003 version: Trine/synth/electric guitar
2004 version: synth, electric guitar, contrabass, percussion
Orchestral Version (2004)

The Harmonic Protection Circle was premiered at Music Under Construction on October 4, 2003. It was performed by Elodie Lauten (Trine, synthesizer) and Jonathan Hirschman (electric guitar).

From a technical standpoint, Harmonic Protection Circle (2003) is based on the overtone series with a C fundamental in just intonation. The synthesizer is set with penny-weights to resonate and sustain the first 20 harmonics. The Trine is tuned to similar pitches but the bowing allows glissando between pitches. The correct pitches are produced on the electric guitar by bending the strings and producing clear harmonic tones using the sustain provided by the amplification and effect. The improvisation is based on how the performers experience the resonance of the overtones and hear the various spiraling patterns arising and unfolding. Jonathan and I have explored the nurturing aspect of this piece as we played it many times over the summer, not to 'rehearse' it but because it had this mysterious quality of never being quite the same experience. The sound of the bell is a 'clearing' of the space/mind rather than a musical gesture. From a spiritual standpoint, this piece came as a reaction to the war, as a refuge and spiritual protection exercise for the people of New York. The music is part of a ritual involving talismans (in the form of drawings/collages) and a healing mantra, the Gayatri mantra (short form) as follows: Om Bhuh, Bhuvaha, Svaha, Om Tat Savitur Varenyam Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi Dhiyo Yonaha Prachodayat Translation from Sanskrit: "O self-effulgent light that has given birth to all the spheres of consciousness, who is worthy of worship and appears through the orbit of the sun, illumine our minds.

The Harmonic Protection Circle 2004 with the Elodie Lauten Ensemble (Jonathan Hirschman, guitar, Mustafa Ahmed, percussion, Mathew Fieldes, contrabass and Elodie Lauten, synth) was premiered at the World Out of Tune Festival in October 2004 and broadcast on WNYC. The Harmonic Protection Circle is a 'Be In' the resonance of an E fundamental and its own 20 overtones in just intonation. This is a foray into forbidden territory, as it includes both so-called usable and unusable harmonics. In just intonation the slight dissonance is pleasant to the ear, whereas it may sound harsh in equal temperament. The pure overtone series is the driver of both melody and harmony. Lauten conceived this piece as a bitonal framework, in which the lower frequencies revolve around the fundamental and the fifth, while the upper range is the chromatic texture created by the high overtones. The improvisation is the performers' reaction to the resonance of the overtones and the various spiraling patterns arising and unfolding. In this aural realm, the natural balance of consonance and dissonance is a model of conflict resolution: tolerance for dissidence, peace without repression, a refuge in troubled times.