Pretty Pictures

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Connections between sound and vision

  • Pictures can facilitate understanding a particular concept of tuning, especially for visual learners.
  • Cross-pollinating aims: thinking visually or spatially may lead you to ideas for new tunings, and thinking about tunings may lead you to new ways to see.
  • Some listeners report having visionswhen in the presence of a particular tuning or piece of music.
    • Moreover, a small percent of people experience synaesthesia (seeing certain colors when they hear certain sounds, for example)

Aids to composing

Microtonal Notation

Usually, a ghastly extension of the five-line sharps-n-flats Western tradition, sometimes with more and/or differently-spaced lines, or fancy new squiggles for accidentals. See dedicated page on notation.


A two dimensional representation of music: pitch on one axis, time on the other. Player pianos used rolls of paper punched with holes. Now we have micro-friendly computerized things like Steven Yi's Csound frontend "blue". Piano roll notation tends to constrain each note/event to a single, static pitch, like keys on a piano.

Audio sculpture

If you have a visual environment whose contents can translate directly into the audio domain in some way, this is one way of doing audio sculpture. Unlike the quantized grids of piano rolls, there usually is no grid (or the grid is so fine as to be invisible). Iannis Xenakis developed an interface called UPIC, which recently inspired the program HighC. In three-dimensional space, Andy Fillebrown has done some work, as well as...well, gosh, he's surely not the only one!= =

Aids to understanding

The rulers metaphor for microtonality

Imagine a ruler with 12 inches on it. Now imagine one where, in the space of 12 inches, 13 equally spaced lines are drawn. Although these new lines are each only a little less than an inch apart from each other, they are clearly not "inches" and it would be silly to use them as such. If you used these 13ths of a foot to measure and estimate lengths frequently, you would soon find yourself rounding to this new set of lengths which before you would have rounded to inches. You might soon find yourself rounding something exactly 7 inches long to 7.6 of these. My, what a crazy you must be!

The colors metaphor for microtonality

Imagine you're a painter. All your life, you have been told that there are only n 'real' colors, that any shade between two of the colors is just a to-some-degree-out-of-tune version of each of these colors...

Equal divisions burst


This is a polar graph of the values of all the fractions between 0 and 1 with denominator less than 32. The top represents both 0 and 1 (modulo 1); the fractions' values sweep clockwise; the closer to the center, the smaller the denominator. This graph accompanies the chart Anatomy of an Equally Divided Octave.

Another (older?) version may be found here:


JI, temperament Lattices

Tonalsoft's Tonescape makes it possible to compose with scales that are represented by two- or three-dimensional lattices. Tempering a comma out of a lattice turns it into a closed structure...