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Saturday, May 27, 2006

LaripS: Temperament and Tuning

Standardisation has brought many evils into the world, and the exchange we make for interoperability is blandness and mundanity. That unique individuality and style that makes human beings so lovable is ground into the dust of normality. Celebrate the quirks!

And so a most insidious process has slipped its way into modern instrumentation. This great Debilitator is Equal Temperament, or Equal Tuning, where all the notes on a keyboard are spaced equally apart in terms of frequency ratios. This is the ultimate sellout - the basis of our tonal system is the third and the fifth, and these ratios do not match those frequencies given by Equal Tuning. To corrupt Pure Harmony in pursuit of easy access to all keys is Blandness personified.

Bach, of course, and the Baroque and later Eras, had to confront this problem as they moved away from the simple keys (the "white" keys), into the more complex and multifaceted "black" keys, with their large numbers of sharps and flats. Each musician had their own preferred tunings, which best reflected their music's intent and emotionality. Bach faced an even more challenging puzzle in that the Well-Tempered ranged over all available 24 tonalities, and retuning every 5 minutes is not a real option.

Bradley Lehman has investigated these issues over a 20 year period, and has made his results available online. His training in maths, musicology, and the keyboard are impeccable, and now his findings are taking public form with the release of CDs that exemplify his approach. He has been so kind as to make a selection of tracks fully accessible. Here.