Whynotnot by Carlos Augusto Scalassara Prando

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Why not?

Sorry, but it was a very poor argument.

I'm answering this not to defend the microtonal/xenharmonic music, but to show that his "argument" is wrong and is really childish, and to some extent to show that his “argument” is more an opinion than an argument itself. Nobody needs to defend the microtonal/xenharmonic music in an opinion matter, but if you will defend the microtonal/xenharmonic music, you need to think about philosophical and psycological questions, and not about scientific and mathematical questions. The scientific and mathematical question has to come after, not before.

At the start of the text he shows an argument from authority, I don’t know if that was his intention, but doesn’t matter, even if that first part had been written by Harry Partch, Ivor Darreg, Lou Harrison (or any other composer), still an argument from authority and a terrible way to start an argument, because anybody who is beginning with xenharmonic music will don't give a damn about who wrote that text and what is his experience, this person will only want to know what is his argument and nothing more, probably after reading the text, and see if it makes sense or not, that the person will want to know who wrote it.

1. Tuning doesn’t make as much difference as you’d think

On the first paragraph as you can see he is not trying to do an argument again, he just wrote something personal. I don’t know any of his “fellow musicians”, but I think they are probably 12TET fellow musicians, guys who were molded by the “western” music and tuning. Any of you know that the majority of this people hate the sound of “western” microtonality, they normally accept the microtonality of India, Arab, Persian, and music of others Country, but they always think the “western” microtonality, even a quarter-tone is almost a sacrilege (to them, you can do a quarter-tone music but never in a chromatic way, because it’s “wrong”).

Those who could hear a difference generally found it to be a negative difference. Most of the people who responded favorably at all were those who lacked in musical training and couldn't really hear the difference at all.

What difference he was trying to say? A 12tet to all other microtonality? Or a microtonality to other microtonality? It was a vague statement, and he forgot the people in general (musicians too) sometimes don’t hear a difference of the 12tet scales. But anyway, if those “fellow musicians” didn’t like because of the tuning, it’s not your fault, almost nobody like new things, especially things that wants to change the entire world of music.

I can rewrite this phrase about Schoenberg’s music in the beginning of 20 Century, but the difference was that even people who couldn’t hear a difference in Schoenberg’s music didn’t like either. And don’t forget that Schoenberg’s music was written in 12tet.

Even within the community of microtonalists, it is exceedingly rare to find someone who can identify a tuning by ear, even after years of exposure.

Agree, but this fault is more about the lack of ear training than a problem with tunings itself.

(I can say for myself that microtonality is helping me a lot, especially with 12tet ear training, and my main instrument isn’t a melodic one (I’m drummer), but now I can hear a really difference on microtones and I started studying the microtonality music about 3 to 4 months).

And other thing, the argument is flawed, because we can say: “Even within the community of musicians, it is exceedingly rare to find someone who can identify a tone by ear, even after years of exposure.” So if you wanna gain absolute pitch on 12tet, you have to do some specific ear training, and the same for “absolute tuning”, or “absolute EDO”, or “absolute microtones”.

but it seems that only those with absolute pitch can learn, even with extensive training and exposure, to even occasionally distinguish which of the low ETs a piece of music is in.

This is unscientific. You need to prove it, to be trusted for those who want to beginning with microtonal/xenharmonic music, or else they will think that you are lying and you just want blind followers in 12tet music.

If anyone tells you that ETs all have distinct moods and personalities that are totally unlike anything found in 12-TET, this person has drank the kool-aid and is completely out of touch with the experience of all non-specialist listeners.

I think (this is my personal point of view) the moods and personalities are build not to an ET to another ET (of course you can compare them, because there are differences), but within the chosen ET, for example: in 12tet you can play a music in major and minor, or pentatonic, or modal, or dodecaphonic, or serialist, or atonal, or any combination as you can find within 12 tones. The same with all others ET’s and non-ET’s. And for me if I listen a music in 5edo or 7edo is big difference on the mood and personality to a music in 12tet (really big difference), for now, I can’t distinguish an 11edo and 13edo to a 12tet. Everybody will probably agree that there are differences in moods and personalities on the Indian music in relation to a 12tet. So again, the argument is invalid.

2. Changing tunings will not change who you are

On this part he was trying to say that if you were shaped by something, you can't change that anymore, so why try to change? I can replace the 12-TET for anything and this “argument” will work.

You can take the composer out of 12-TET, but you can't really take the 12-TET out of the composer.

Almost all the western music that we hear is in 4/4 time signature, so I can say:

You can take the composer out of 4/4 time signature, but you can't really take the 4/4 time signature out of the composer.

Almost all the western and non-western music has a tonal center, so:

You can take the composer out of the tonal center, but you can't really take the tonal center out of the composer.

My point is: yes, you can change who you are, sometimes will be hard and difficult, but if you think is worth try, why not try? For example: I’m a drummer with a not so good ear that never had heard overtone singing about one year and a half, and in that time I really try to hear more than one tone, because I knew they were singing more than one tone, but nothing, so I start to practice all day of the week about 7 months ago, and now I can sing overtones and I can hear overtones in any acoustic instrument. So I was shaped by the almost all music for not listening overtones, and change that, I change my perception of music and sound in general.

Other thing, you don’t need to find a different approach to compose with different tunings, you have to remember that the way you compose is probably your characteristic, your personality, and of course any tuning will change that if you don’t want to change.

I’m an atonal and experimentalist composer, so I want to be a microtonal atonal and experimentalist composer.

3. The "community"

"Microtonality" is not a genre of music, but unfortunately it gets treated like one.

This happens for obvious reasons. (I think I don’t need to explain why).

Don’t forget that normally who treat microtonality like a genre of music are those who not compose with microtones or any other tunings beyond the 12tet.

We can say that microtonality is like a genre of “compositional technical approach”, something like this, “you’re” adding more colors and more possibilities to “your” music.

Flame-wars are woefully common, and don't think you can avoid them by being reasonable. It is often the most intelligent and rational people who get dragged into them. I've seen myself and many of my colleagues reduced to spiteful vitriolic tantrums thanks to what in another community would have been a perfectly civil debate.

This happens in any place, especially in the internet. This is not a “microtonality” fault.

perfectly civil debate”? Oh please. I hope there is a community like this, I never saw, but doesn’t mean that there is not.

The microtonal community can really bring out the worst in people.

Interesting point of view. But he needs to show this “worst in people” for others agree with him.

But perhaps the worst aspect of the community is the way it can come to eclipse your relationship to the community of "regular" musicians.

He can say this for himself.

The endless rabbit-holes of theory, the constant debates, the endless stream of new information to keep up with--the more energy you put into the microtonal community, the more it sucks you in.

I don’t see any problem with this. This is normal with any other issue.

My experience has been that the longer I stay in the community and the deeper I delve into it, the less I'm able to just "play music" with regular musicians. Microtonality can become a wall between you and the rest of the musical world. And that is a terrible loss.

He let this happen, so again, this is not a microtonality fault! This was his fault.

I didn’t stop to play with regular 12tet musicians, even with musicians that play just tonal music.

4. The music

The bar is set pretty low, qualitatively speaking, for microtonal music. Not that there aren't great composers and performers! There certainly are, but the fact of the matter is the microtonal community is desperate for music, and will laud output of any quality.

Microtonal music”? Interesting... But he said...

I always thought about the music itself and not about the quality, because I know that a lot of us are not musical producers, and the music is recorded in our own home, usually without good microphones and rooms suitable for recordings. A lot of the xenharmonic music that I have listened so far it was amateur but good quality.

The worst music I've ever written is my microtonal music, yet it is also the most acclaimed. This has led, over the years, to a laziness on my part, [...]”

Maybe he is right about his worst music was the microtonal music; I don’t have knowledge about that, because I never listen his non-microtonal music.

People like his music and he became lazier? This happens a lot with any musician and composer, and the blame is on the musician and composer and not of the music.

The community rewards all musical output equally, it really does, and NO ONE will tell you that you suck. It just doesn't happen. As brutal as the debates can be, no one in the community is willing to be brutally HONEST about the quality of your music.

I’m one of the guys who always “like” all music that I listen on facebook group. First, because I really like the music that I listened; second, I know that a lot of people who are in xenharmonic music have a different background and a different taste of music, so I’m not expecting anything in particular, and this allows me to be more open minded; third, anybody was asking to be a critic about their music, anybody can say that don’t like some music, anybody can say that don’t like the way the composer treat the harmony or the melody, but why, if the reason of the group is to share knowledge and music, and anybody can say about the quality of the music (and this happened), or someone can be the defender of the 31edo and starting a battle against all non 31edo music (like the defenders of the 12tet). I think xenharmonic group on facebook has to work more like an informal group.

Most of MY music sucked, compared to what I wrote in 12-TET, and people loved it. And I became a worse composer because of it.

It’s easy to blame others. He became a worst composer because he didn't control himself. I didn’t listen his 12tet music, but I listen his last microtonal album, and I personally loved, almost of the music was not my kind of music, some of the music was too simplistic, but anyway, I liked...

5. The costs and limitations

You hear a lot of enthusiastic jibber-jabber about how microtonality can "liberate" you from the tyranny of 12-TET. Well, part of that liberation is being "liberated" from access to a wide variety of instruments and other musical equipment. Once you go micro, you are consigning yourself to using only custom-made or retunable instruments, which represent only a small fraction of what's available at your average music store.

Microtonality can liberate “you” on the way “you” listen or think about music. And yeah, there is a tyranny of 12tet. There is no problem with variety of instruments, especially invented, custom-made and retunable instruments. I think the musician will be more creative if he starts to build his own instruments, the problem (problem in some ways) is that “you” will need to spend a lot of “your” time on this, time that “you” can spend with playing music for example.

You may find that most of the instruments you already own are suddenly completely useless to you as a microtonalist. Get ready to $pend $pend $pend!

“You” don’t need to find that most of the instruments are useless to “you” as a microtonalist, unless “you” don’t have any creativity to use the instrument in other ways possible.

I agree with him that “you” will spend a lot depending on the instrument “you” play and what do “you” wanna play with that instrument.

6. 12-TET is actually and objectively the best ET (for many musical circumstances)

I can say the same about Just Intonation:

Just Intonation is actually and objectively the best tuning (for many musical circumstances).

His goal was to have a music that has beatless harmony, so why he didn’t just bought a fretless guitar for play Just Intonation?

I can’t say too much about this part, because I’m too new on the xenharmonic/microtonal music, so I don’t have an argument, I know that he is right about the almost accuracy of the 12tet, but he has to remember that people who grew up listen 12tet will find the pure intervals in 19, 22 and 31 out-of-tune. Months ago I listened to Just Intonation music about three weeks straight, and on these three weeks and some weeks after that every time that I heard some 12tet music, the 12tet sounded to me terrible out-of-tune.

Thus, if your goal is to write music that the majority of listeners find pleasing, you simply cannot do better than 12-TET.

If your goal is to write music that the majority of listeners find pleasing, you simply cannot do better than Pop-industry bands. Or you can be a trained monkey that plays always the same kind melody and harmony.

Only those who don't give a damn about what most people think of their music might expect to find anything worthwhile in microtonality.

I’m one of those kinds of composer who don’t give a damn about what people think, because if I think about this, I stop to compose. It’s nice when people understand my music.

Xenakis didn’t stop to compose his authentic and original music when everybody else was composing Serialist/Dodecaphonic music. Stockhausen is hated for the majority of “regular” musicians just because he composed the Helicopter String Quartet. There are a lot of others examples throughout 20 Century music.


All his “argument” is based on the fact that we live in a world that most of the music is play in just one tuning, the 12tet.

His point of view is just a conformist thinking, nothing more than that.