BLOG - Horn harmonics, just intonation & other musical interests

Grady and Brass

Welcome to the 1st Guest Blog - Kraig Grady

I've known Kraig for a few years now, since he came to live in Australia. Kraig composes using just intonation, designs and builds instruments, redesigns existing instruments, retunes instruments, designs and builds shadow theatre characters and props, writes stories for them, and plays mallet instruments. Kraig has composed a couple of pieces that I've been involved in and we've done a couple of improvisation sessions. It's a great delight to bring you some of his thoughts on writing for horn. 

This is probably more a testimonial of the wonderful opportunity that has been opened by Dixon’s own development of the French horn as an extended microtonal instrument.

My use of brass instruments have been somewhat limited. It has been a rewarding one especially with this blog’s host. I’ve also had a rewarding interaction with trumpet player Kris Tiner. Compositionally, in both cases, I approached it more like Duke Ellington in writing for the player as much as the instrument. In both cases, it is the player’s excellent ears that have made music possible, allowing for the passing from notation to sounding the desired note. 

This last feature was used with both Tiner and Dixon playing against a tuner to play specific pitches. These were then cut and pasted into compositions that only exist as recordings. A strange form of ‘acoustic’ electronic music.  While not to the liking of many purists, such work serves the purpose of allowing the players to hear the tuning in a musical setting making it much easier to play live. Something I have even witnessed players using some of these intervals in their own improvised music.  

Relentless Tangents was instead a piece to be played live using the horn with flute, violin and cello. Having worked with Dixon in the past, I could think about composing the music as opposed to being concerned about how he was to get the pitches. This I left up to him and the other players.  

A Weathered Petroglyph (https://silentrecords.bandcamp.com/track/a-weathered-petroglyph) and still to be released A Molten Wind involved a quite extreme challenge. The scale called Copan involves superhuman harmonics in the hundred of thousands. A technical page on the tuning can be found here [http://anaphoria.com/copan.html] for those interested in such things. Both these required the Horn player to match the tones of a 19-tone scale that clustered around 8 tones with small deviations as small as 13 cents (that is about a 7th or  8th of the smallest note of a piano). Thus it is scale that at this point would be hard to do live. While working with the recordings of especially Dixon’s tones, I explored extending the range of the horn downward that quite unintentionally resembled a didgeridoo. Again this might offend the purist of the instrument but it serves a purpose in extending the range as something for instrument designers and creators to think of. It seems the use of electronics has stopped the further development of acoustic instruments when it should encourage it, so that was the purpose. Perhaps it points to the possibilities of new instruments too. The process is more than sampling because one is working with a very specific person and the small gestures that a player makes becomes an integral part of the composition.

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The Brass Whisperer's main aim is to play with subtle music tunings and coax brass players (and other musicians) into achieving delicious harmonies.

 

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