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What was your path to discovering alternate tunings?
My path to microtonal music lead substantially over mathematics, most prominently over Guerino Mazzola's works on mathematical music theory. Mathematical models of musical phenomena often can be extended naturally to microtonal music, thus offering hints on how to make microtonal music (e.g. how a microtonal modulation could be written). And: Microtonal music offers possibilities to test the validity of the mathematical models.
A long time, all this was more a theoretical issue, since I did not have the possibilities to make microtonal music. This changed 1) when I learned about the Csound software and 2) when I found out how my synthesizer can be retuned. The latter point is especially important, since it gave me the possibility to play microtonal music in real time.
Not to neglect is the effect of the yahoo forums on tuning - tuning-math, tuning and MakeMicroMusic, with their possibilities of information exchange on theoretical and practical questions around microtonal music, and - not least - a community of people interested in listening to microtonal music. The concrete possibility of my music being listened to was actually an essential stimulus for me to polish and complete my stuff.
What are your current/past/future particular interests?
One thing I like about alternative tunings is the possibility to make new, interesting music, along paths that are not so much trodden out yet. Another thing, always somewhere in the background, is a scientific interest: the above-mentioned possibility to apply and test models of mathematical music theory. My first two microtonal pieces were written in a meter that matches the tuning (5TET, 5/8 meter and 17TET, 17/8 meter) because of a hypothesis of Guerino Mazzola stating that there might be a dependency between tuning and meter. Other interesting fields to test include are mathematical models for modulations and, currently, counterpoint. Quick and definitive answers to these questions are not likely - but you can get hints.
I am working mostly with equal temperaments - from the musical side, because the free modulation possibilities suit my musical thinking (which was essentially shaped on the piano), and from the mathematical side, because the mathematical structures of equal temperaments are relatively easy and familiar to me. Finished pieces exist for 5-TET, 17-TET and 19TET, and I have experimented with 22TET and 10TET. But I have also experimented with just intonation, such as scales derived from the overtone series. Once you started with one tuning, others sort of come naturally...
What instruments or means have you had/do you have now/do you want for the making of microtonal music?
The best results I have obtained/still obtain with my retuned synthesizer (in my case, it's a Roland JV1010 - but nowadays, many synthesizers have this possibility). It took some effort to learn how to retune it - but now this is done, I can play on the familiar keyboard and can hear the sounds immediately. That way, I can write microtonal music feeling like a musician (doing it feeling like an engineer is fun, too, but not always...).
Sometimes I also use Csound. This software has some great features - nearly absolute freedom not only in tuning, but in every aspect of the sound; the score format is well-suited for import from algorithmic composition, too (for the moments to feel like an engineer...). On the other hand, the efforts to get familiar with it are considerable, and it is not really well-suited for realtime performance (the current versions support realtime playing - but again, it takes some effort, and there is quite some latency - on my present computer at least).
I also play harmonica (blues harp) - an instrument that is microtonal by nature. There are no finished compositions yet, but I hope there will be soon.
Hans Straub's profiles