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  Quarter Tones  lawes at 22:02 on 07 November 2007

does anyone here know if british ensembles like LCMG and BCMG have wind players that can play quarter tones? (and/or string players)

im writing a piece primarily for flutes and clarinets (using a mod24 type system) and im wondering if there are any british ensembles that play this sort of thing? (if so i might add some string parts and offer the score to a chamber/contemporary ensemble)

am i being unrealistic? or is playing quarter tones quite common amongst advanced/contemporary players these days?

the piece is mainly harmonic and quite slow so there wont be any difficult figurations or ornaments etc, but it is important to hit the notes properly (or the harmonies wont work very well).

thanks in advance for any info/advice.

  Re: Quarter Tones  mary at 02:20 on 08 November 2007

Rarescale is a UK group that fits the bill.
There's an interview with them on this site somewhere.

  Re: Quarter Tones  timbowman at 06:51 on 09 November 2007

check out ensemble expose - not sure of spelling, London based. wicked quartertoners all. there's a specialist trumpet player too, uses bizzare 19 note scales and others. can't recall his name but if you google microtones and trumpets should come up.
good luck, quartertones are addictive - it's hard to go back!
Tim Bowman (australia currently).

  Re: Quarter Tones  lawes at 10:06 on 09 November 2007

thanks very much for the info, i`ll look up both of those groups.

re quartertones being addictive, i would say they are unavoidable for me at this stage (as i write i keep hearing the notes inbetween the notes etc, 12 tones dont seem to be enough)

  Re: Quarter Tones  James McFadyen at 08:59 on 10 November 2007

12 notes were enough for Mozart.

  Re: Quarter Tones  lawes at 17:39 on 10 November 2007

12 notes were enough for Mozart.


  Re: Quarter Tones  udderbot at 20:53 on 10 November 2007

The microtonal trumpeter is Stephen Altoft.

12 notes might not have been enough for Mozart. see

Myself, I've been using 17 and 31 equal tones per octave. Different games, fun games, impractical games. Gotta build instruments, create pedagogy. Quartertones slightly easier to conceptualize but less fun for me.

  Re: Quarter Tones  James McFadyen at 22:18 on 10 November 2007

Interesting article.

I have to say that I am certainly not in a place where I have exhausted all 12 notes of the standard western scale. Perhaps I'm just slower than other's, but after 12 years of composing I believe I'm only really discovering the true power that beholds these simple 12 notes of our equal temered scale.

In these modern times, some composers can be more concerned with creating sounds rather than music.

  Re: Quarter Tones  lawes at 00:29 on 11 November 2007

In these modern times, some composers can be more concerned with creating sounds rather than music.

Who gets to decide where music ends and sound begins?, and what would such a system/taxonomy achieve?.

" the instinctive or conscious reaction of art to ideas which have sunk to the level of ideology........Abstract art is not art without content, but art which protests, by withdrawing itself, against content which has sunk to the level of ideology. It performs its socio-critical function, whether or not the individual artist creating abstract works of art is aware of this, or whether he feels himself to be solely an artist"

Alfred Andersch...quoted by Carl Dahlhaus in "Schoenberg and the New Music"

Quartertones slightly easier to conceptualize but less fun for me.

Agreed, easier to work with etc, it seems the most practical way to achieve a blurring or an extension of the current system (for my purposes). The current system is culturally understood, its currency with a purchasing power, it could be an arbitrary signifier from that point of view (rather than something grounded in the overtone series/acoustics or requiring any "natural" justification). It can be a point of departure, I say it can be, if you like (or not).

"For example, it is known fact that a violinist going from C to C sharp and then to D, involuntarily makes the C sharp higher. The small deviations result in this involuntary manner are here a constructive element in the composition. I haven`t used any quarter-tones; of course, there may be some, but it was of no importance to me exactly how much the pitches deviate."

Gyorgy Ligeti, An Interview With Josef Hausler: Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music (expanded edition)

  Re: Quarter Tones  MartinY at 11:13 on 13 November 2008

Can I mention two common misunderstandings about the pitch of tones. "Mozart did not write quarter tones". No he did not, but Mozart, Schumann and Brahms certainly wrote microtones because they exploited the capabilities of the natural horn, using the "out of tune" notes.

Now there seems to be a common idea that sharps are sharper than the same note respelled as a flat and many players unconciously play them that way. However if you define C# as a pure harmonic series third above an arbitary A pitch it will be flatter than an equal tempered C#, not sharper. As a lower auxiliary note it could be sharper, (or not). Similarly a D-flat as the Doh of an F is sharper than C# not flatter, if it is a pure third. So if you want to play in tune in any system other than equal temperament you have a problem defining what your notes are.

This is as we say in England "a real can of worms" and I imagine many musicians have gone near to madness trying sort it out. (Play baroque music and you can just do what the well documented great organists did.)

  Re: Quarter Tones  MartinY at 14:09 on 13 November 2008

The way you can get quarter tones on equal tempered fretted instruments is to use ingenuity and scordatura (non-standard tunings). Everybody has tuning meters now so you can tune some strings a quarter tone flat and write so that the players play normal notes and notes at the right pitch come out. This has the disadvantage that the composer has to understand the instrument but that in itself is not a bad thing.

If you have violin family players who do not do not do quarter tones they can play as normal in scordatura and the right notes come out.

You can immediately see that the disadvantage is the non-linearity of the whole system as notes must move from string to string to get chromatic movement unlike what can be done on the violin. This disadvantage might be exploitable to some advantage in some pieces and you can get campanella effects on fretted instruments.

  Re: Quarter Tones  Team Gaughan at 14:10 on 13 November 2008

A very interesting discussion, and true that perhaps the 12 notes do still have a great deal to say in the hands of a skilled composer yes.
In my experience writing smaller pitches cause untold problems for performers who yes may sharpen a C sharp or flatten a D flat. I remember playing a piece as a harpist where I had to re-tune all the strings to quarter-tones, and my harp went out of tune as fast as I re-tuned, it also took an age to do, dont get me wrong, it was a fasinating piece and I was happy to perform it and work with the composer too. The Viola player also had a great problem being able to hear these small pitch changes.
I find quarter tones and micro intervals very interesting & do use them sometimes in my own work often as an expression of sorrow or at an expressive moment.

  Re: Quarter Tones  MartinY at 14:37 on 13 November 2008

Yes, it is interesting to hear about the problems playing in scordatura. Some players will not do scordatura at all, even in Biber's Harmonia artificioso-ariosa and Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante, both of which have versions in normal tuning. Scordatura is a nightmare on the lute but stable on the modern classical guitar because of the machine heads, (wound strings still jam in the nut though).

I have only just seen the reference to Mozart's 1/6 comma meantone in this forum. Very relevant.

There used to be a statement in computational science applicable here: "God will punish those who approximate a geometric series with an arithmetic series". This is what we are doing with equal temperament.

Andrew Manze said of the scordatura in Biber's Resurrection Sonata, (which also involves swopping two string channels!), "I know from bitter experience that the violin used for the Resurrection Sonata cannot be used to play anything else that day".

  Re: Quarter Tones  scott_good at 15:17 on 13 November 2008

1/4 tones can be good, but i use 3/4 tone intrevals which divide the minor third in 2 - this is very common in middle eastern music, and can have very powerful emotional effect.

scale - C, D1/4b, Eb, Fb, G, Ab, B1/4b, C - maqam saba - very beautiful. and, if one sticks to it for a large musical phrase, it can become "familiar".

i have also played with gamelan which has it's own unique tuning system. very hard!

"There used to be a statement in computational science applicable here: "God will punish those who approximate a geometric series with an arithmetic series". This is what we are doing with equal temperament."

wow, what a great quote! thanks for sharing.

  Re: Quarter Tones  MartinY at 08:23 on 14 November 2008

Thanks for reminding me about middle eastern music. I realise it is pointless thinking about microtones on lutes and viols when we have the oud which is not far from a fretless lute. There are lots of oud players around now too. And why worry about frets when there are violin family instruments so available.

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