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Post new topic Bohlen-Pierce, a new musical system
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Author Topic:  Bohlen-Pierce, a new musical system
Andy Volk


From:
Boston, MA
Post Posted 7 Mar 2010 5:11 am     Reply with quote

The Bohlen-Pierce system is a new 13 tone system of musical organization. According to one YouTube poster: The Bohlen-Pierce scale is an analog to the usual scale, using 3, 5 and 7 as the basic harmonics rather than 2, 3 and 5. The tempered chromatic scale divides the tritave (the 3:1 interval, called a twelfth in the usual scale) into thirteen equal steps. The clarinet is a natural instrument for BP music, since it naturally lacks even-numbered harmonics.

I have to confess that my eyes just glaze over reading about this. I want to hear how it sounds but you have to dig for musical examples. I'm sure that Forumites of a certain bent (paging Ed Packard) will find this stuff fascinating. Maybe this is old news, but this was all completely new to me.

http://www.huygens-fokker.org/bpsite/

Video info (good grief look at this keyboard! And I previously thought a 14-string universal pedal steel was beyond my brain):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luLEthFtxrY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FIuG5lCZWBs&feature=related

The first BP Symposium in being held in Boston this week.

http://bohlen-pierce-conference.org/schedule/
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania
Post Posted 7 Mar 2010 6:53 am     Reply with quote

Here's a link to some live concert snips using BP - a different sound, to be sure, but doesn't sound radical to me if one is thinking in modern atonal terms -

http://www.huygens-fokker.org/bpsite/references2.html#anchor82967

The history is interesting - http://www.huygens-fokker.org/bpsite/references2.html. It appears that a major part of the motivation here is to have something with which one can realize full tonal harmony, but sound different. Clearly, one can construct n^(1/m) based systems all day long to get different sounds and feels - this one is n=3, m=13, as opposed to the standard western 12-tone scale, n=2, m=12. The trouble would be first finding versions whose intervals land close to harmonic ratios, and then implementing - but I don't see why one couldn't build something computer-driven that would let you play with it. In fact, some of this theory was done a long time ago, as the references here to papers by Kees van Prooijen indicate -

http://www.huygens-fokker.org/bpsite/goals.html#anchor67271

That controller shown in the youtube video seems to be going for something configurable, but strikes me as much more complex than it needs to be.

Overall, interesting. Wish I was in Boston this week.
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Andy Volk


From:
Boston, MA
Post Posted 7 Mar 2010 8:04 am     Reply with quote

Certainly after Schoenberg, Alban Berg, Bartok, John Cage, Hendrix, etc. etc. it's not an amazingly radical sound but what's intriguing is how much people are chaffing against the the tempered tuning system which was itself a compromise created to fit a very specific instrument, the piano. Musicians are much more aware and respectful of microtonal systems of musical thought and structure so it seems that there's this yearning to meet somewhere in the middle. I can't hang with the mathematical approach to all this, personally.

Last edited by Andy Volk on 7 Mar 2010 9:27 am; edited 1 time in total
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Dave Mudgett


From:
Central Pennsylvania
Post Posted 7 Mar 2010 8:33 am     Reply with quote

This isn't very difficult mathematics, but I don't think one has to think about the mathematics, except in coming up with the scale system. After that, I would just view it as a new musical system to get used to, and to which one would apply musical aesthetic criteria.

There is some chafing against the compromise of an equal-tempered system in some quarters, but I'm not sure that's such a big deal except when dealing with the 'small-number ratio' harmonics - 3:2, 4:3, and so on, where deviations from the strong harmonic reinforcement are so obvious to the ear.
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Bill Hatcher


From:
Atlanta Ga. USA
Post Posted 7 Mar 2010 10:45 am     Reply with quote

I heard about two notes of the clarinet in this new system...I don't have another life to get used to it.
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David Mason


From:
Cambridge, MD, USA
Post Posted 8 Mar 2010 6:13 am     Reply with quote

At this late of a point in the decline of the human species, I don't think you're going to change the world with a couple of out-of-tune clarinets. Now if MICHAEL JACKSON could've had a hold of this...

However, I looked up that Axis music keyboard controller from C-Thru music and it makes a tremendous amount of sense. They're thinking like a guitarist.

http://www.c-thru-music.com/cgi/?page=axis_vid_manual
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Russ Wever


From:
Kansas City
Post Posted 9 Mar 2010 10:07 pm     Reply with quote

Whoa!
I think I've heard some fiddlers
inadvertently playing this 13-tone
system on some of the bandstands
through the years. Winking
~Russ
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b0b


From:
Northern California
Post Posted 9 Mar 2010 11:14 pm     Reply with quote

I have a percussion instrument, the Roland HandSonic, that has 15 programmable touchpads. Last night I created a patch using a Gendr for all 15 pads, tuning them to the notes of the Bohlen-Pierce scale (as found on Wikipedia). There are some really ugly intervals in that scale, but some pleasant ones too.

So now I'm trying to compose something in B-P that doesn't sound like pure random crap. It's pretty challenging. I'll post a sound file when I'm further along with it. Why do I do things like this? Well, I believe that music is infinite in nature, and I like to explore things that reinforce that notion.

Dave Mudgett wrote:
There is some chafing against the compromise of an equal-tempered system in some quarters, but I'm not sure that's such a big deal except when dealing with the 'small-number ratio' harmonics - 3:2, 4:3, and so on, where deviations from the strong harmonic reinforcement are so obvious to the ear.

It's not necessarily equal-tempered. I'm using the JI version of Bohlen-Pierce - because I can. Mr. Green
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Scott Shipley


From:
The Ozark Mountains
Post Posted 9 Mar 2010 11:40 pm     Reply with quote

I've been using that scale on pedal steel for years.

Oh Well
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b0b


From:
Northern California
Post Posted 10 Mar 2010 5:11 pm     Demonstration of Bohlen-Pierce scale system Reply with quote

Here are the sound files I promised. First the scale:

Bohlen-Pierce_JI_on_HandSonic.mp3

And here's my little composition called "Honey, Would You Get That?":

HoneyWouldYouGetThat.mp3
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Scott Appleton


From:
Half Moon Bay, California, USA
Post Posted 10 Mar 2010 11:07 pm     very niche Reply with quote

I like what you've done with that scale ,, silver apples ..
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Earnest Bovine


From:
Los Angeles CA USA
Post Posted 11 Mar 2010 8:33 am     Re: Demonstration of Bohlen-Pierce scale system Reply with quote

b0b wrote:

And here's my little composition called "Honey, Would You Get That?":

HoneyWouldYouGetThat.mp3

b0b, that is very nice. It's a catchy little tune, using familiar song form and just enough thematic repetition/development to show off the unfamiliar tuning nicely.
The sound you use (vibes/marimba?) is unlike most string/brass instruments in that it doesn't consist of a fundamental plus partials (overtones, harmonics) of nearly integer multiples of the fundamental. In fact, the overtones are not even close to 2,3,4.. times the fundamental. This has a huge effect on our perception of harmony.
So I wonder what this would sound like if you chose a piano sample, or something else.
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b0b


From:
Northern California
Post Posted 11 Mar 2010 10:43 am     Reply with quote

Earnest,

That's an interesting point. The sound used for the patch is an Indonesian instrument called a gendr. There's no MIDI stream associated with this recording, so I can't just call up a different sound.

I don't think that the HandSonic even has a piano sound in it. It would probably be crap anyway - the HandSonic sounds are algorithmic, not sampled. It has vibes, marimba and xylophone, for example, but they don't sound remotely like the real instruments to me. Since I've never played a real gendr, I'm happy with the sound from the HandSonic.

Thanks for the compliments.
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Andy Volk


From:
Boston, MA
Post Posted 12 Mar 2010 11:09 am     Reply with quote

Thanks, b0b, I enjoyed that. What would a Bohlen-Pierce string quartet sound like?
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b0b


From:
Northern California
Post Posted 12 Mar 2010 12:35 pm     Reply with quote

My sister said it needs a cello. She plays cello so, for her, "There's always room for cello". Winking

I'm not sure how you'd tune the string quartet instruments for the Bohlen-Pierce scale. The BP fifth is 737 cents - not an easy interval to hear if you've been tuning your string intervals to 702 cents since you were a kid.

Then there's the issue of even vs. odd overtones that Earnest brought up. Bohlen-Pierce is based on odd harmonic overtones. Instruments with a lot of even overtones might sound more dissonant playing the BP scale.
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Richard Sevigny


From:
Salmon Arm, BC, Canada
Post Posted 12 Mar 2010 1:08 pm     Reply with quote

The intervals certainly sound "odd". "Honey would you get that" reminds of an Alfred Hitchcock film for reasons I can't fathom. The music sounds both incredibly right and incredibly wrong at the same time.
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Scott Shewbridge


From:
Bay Area, N. California
Post Posted 13 Mar 2010 3:01 pm     Reply with quote

b0b - I like your composition. The instrument sounds like an African Kalimba.

I'm not exactly on topic here, I hope you'll forgive my slight deviation, but this issue of scales and intonation are fascinating to me. It seems to cause some real strong feelings for some people. Sort of like one of those hormones that some people's tastes are sensitive to and they dislike intensely. I haven't figured out if I'm a "well-tempered" or a "just" guy.

I took my boy to the experimental-based science museum, the Exploratorium in SF a year or so ago. There is a neat display on Lissajous patterns ( http://www.microtonalguitar.com/tutorial/lissajous-curve/ ). They have two dial controlled tone generators hooked up to an oscilloscope and a speaker. I spent a good hour trying different intervals by ear. Fascinating what happens. My boy got real annoyed with me.

Anyway, this youtube video sort of summarizes it. It was eye-opening to me to actually "see" that the "just" tunings have some very appealling aural and visual "harmonies," but the visual and aural tension of some of the "tempered" intervals can evoke different emotions, which are driving or compelling and therefore useful to a musician.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXpntnHxNZQ

I guess, like our typical 12-tone scale, this 13 note scale has certain intervals with more or less tension, which would lead to different emotions when used. It is amazing to me to see that these tensions and perhaps even the emotions evoked are not necessarily arbitrary, but are directly related to the physics of sound, and that we have to make compromises about what intervals will be "more perfect."

I don't mean to put any of this up as an answer, but rather more a mid-point contemplation. On faith, I've always felt like the 12 tone scale was more than just arbitrary, but I'm not sure that is correct.

The steel guitar is a great instrument for pondering and exploring these things. Who knew intonation issues could raise such passions? (sometimes perhaps a bit too much)
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Rick Schmidt


From:
Prescott AZ, USA
Post Posted 14 Mar 2010 1:39 am     Reply with quote

That was really cool b0b!!! Thanks. Smile
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