Wednesday, November 17, 2010

AAI333 - Blogging Assignment 2

For my second listening journal, I've decided to do something a little off from what we are doing, the use of quarter tones in music. Firstly, what are quarter tones? Using logical deduction, semi tones = half of a tone, and hence, a quarter tone will be half of a semitone, which is not on our conventional pitch that we know off using the piano as our reference to pitches.

So, first up, i'd like to start off with this short clip by Diesel Bodine where he talks and introduces us to quarter tones and the showcase of one of his compositions that he incorporates the use of a quarter tone.

For this listening review, I have listened to three movements of the piece titled 'Three Quarter Tone pieces' by Charles Ives. I. Largo, II. Allegro & III. Chorale

Three Quarter tone Pieces - I. Largo

Three Quarter tone Pieces - II. Allegro

Three Quarter tone Pieces - III. Chorale

In my very honest opinion, I would say that my ears and brain are not very much in-tuned to quarter-tones which hence, caused me a little headache and disturbance when I was listening to them. The music itself was not too much of an issue, but with the use of quarter-tones, the aural stability had been disrupted due to the alterations of the intervals between tones. This also led me to thinking that it was quite a paradox to still call the movement a chorale!

However, after coming to 'terms' with quarter-tones produced, I also realised that this could be a way to keep listeners intrigued, to not only the musical aspect of a piece such as the melodic contours and harmonies, but the fundamental that caused music to happen - SOUND. This perhaps also allow us to 'appreciate' what is 'IN-TUNE' and 'OUT OF TUNE' in our usual context. However, in this case, it also brings us to relook at what 'out of tune' is, because we are now in a different context, and the use of quarter-tones are in fact the key factor that holds this piece together. The work above is played by two pianist, with the piano on the left (the smaller piano) tuned a quarter tone sharper. Juxtaposed against the other piano that is tuned to standard pitch, it thus effectively brings out the audio effects of quarter tones.

Besides the use of quarter tones, I realised that this piece is not held by a single key, which I would view it as the use of pitch centres instead. There are instances of chromatic scalic passage as well as recurring intervals in the second movement while in others, sustained harmonies create intensed vibrations, bringing out the quarter-tone effects once again.

II. What I Found Out:
The growth of this piece was credited to a large extend to Charles Ives' father, who started experimenting with pitches. His father had perfect pitch, yet it disturbed him as he constantly played around on the piano and exploring dissonances created. When questioned the reason why, he said "I may have absolute pitch, but thank God, that piano hasn't". This led him the the continuation and exploration of this from father to child, leaving Ives's curiosity to participate in this as well. Theories of quarter-tones were looked into and he studied the different numerical relations, which contributed to the earlier sketches of this work. An essay, 'Some Quarter-Tone Impressions' was also written by Ives as he wrote the piece in proper as well.

About this piece:
Both first and third movements ('Largo' and 'Chorale')  were initially written for one piano, with two keyboards tuned a quarter-tone apart, which however, having the two-piano approached adopted eventually. The two movements focuses on harmony and has a characteristic of hymn-like music, so as to allow time for the ears to 'absorb the complexities of the strange quarter-tone hybrid chords'. Besides having the chordal accompaniment, there exists a melodic line that is passed from one piano to another, both of different tunings. 

The second movement is somewhat a bridge that holds the previous movement 1 and the third movement later. This movement is a contrast of the previous two, as it is high-spirited and splits rhythmically the two pianos. 'The quarter-tone interplay bends the ear and tickles the mind'. 

All in all, Ives classified the three movements as "an homage to his inventive father: 'The quarter-tone family, like most other families, has a sense of humor. But that's a rather dangerous thing to refer to; it depends as much on where the catcher's mitt is as on the pitcher's curves.' (Ives)"

Some Resources:

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