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Topic: Weird theory dept.: "short scales"

  1. #1

    Weird theory dept.: "short scales"


    I've been playing around with something that may be mostly useless musically, but is still pretty interesting theoretically. The thought occurred to me that there are thousands of different types of scales, but they all seem to share one thing in common: they repeat every octave. So I started wondering what would happen if they repeated at some interval other than an octave.

    Here's on example I've been toying with:

    At first I was thinking of this as a scale that repeats every minor 7th, but then I started to see that it actually repeated every perfect fourth. There are only five different transpositions of this scale from the perspective of any given octave. But any transposition will match perfectly with the original key if it is placed in the correct higher or lower octave. You might have to play with this to see what I'm talking about.

    Harmonizing in this weird scale is something quite mind-boggling. Naturally you'd have to throw all previous notions of harmony out the window. Octave doublings are out. Well, that is unless you do something like this:

    In the above example, we hit a perfect octave every third note, and the other notes are major ninths. In the right context, this can actually be a fairly interesting sound.

    Here's an alternate way of doubling:

    This unusual version contains no octaves at all... only minor 9ths and major 7ths. It's conceptually closer to doubled octaves than the first example (average distance for "incorrect" notes are closer to a perfect octave), yet contains not a single consonance.

    Why am I playing with this? I really don't know! It's a whole new world where only tremendous experimentation has yielded anything useable for me. Still, I'm a little obsessed by it at the moment, and thought I'd share the concept.

    Has anyone ever worked with anything like this before?
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  2. #2

    Re: Weird theory dept.: "short scales"

    your scale covers 5 octaves before hitting the "same" notes.
    it's basically a very large limited transposition mode - transposable 5 times (C, C#, D, Eb, E... before hitting notes that are a repeat of a previous transposition - F is the second "tetrachord" of the scale in C).

    because it is chromatically "total" and symetrical, it ends up being pretty repetitive. which is one of the limitations of limited transposition modes.

    you could maybe consider building chords out of "thirds" within the scale, maybe stacked chords, or going quartal (since the basic building block of the mode is quartal).

  3. #3

    Re: Weird theory dept.: "short scales"

    Quote Originally Posted by Skysaw


    Has anyone ever worked with anything like this before?

    Olivier Messiaen wrote using modes of limited transposition, and (IIRC) eve wrote a treatise on then and their use.

    It can sound pretty weird, for sure!

  4. #4

    Re: Weird theory dept.: "short scales"

    Messiaen's book is kind of dry, but it's an interesting read for a hungry composer. I think I still owe my old school library an overdue fine!

    I may experiment with these kind of scales, it's always fun to try some new colors.


  5. #5

    Re: Weird theory dept.: "short scales"

    Interesting responses. I do hear a certain "Messiaen-ian" quality to it.

    The funny thing is how the tonality itself is controlled by the voice spacing.

    I've actually got some material worked up using this particular scale. It's taken a lot of sweat, since I'm usually pretty free-form tonally. I doubt I'll continue to work with this, but at least one piece is getting this sort of treatment.
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  6. #6

    Re: Weird theory dept.: "short scales"

    I have played with ideas like this in the past. They can be interesting. They can also be useful for melodic modulation...

  7. #7

    Re: Weird theory dept.: "short scales"

    Quote Originally Posted by Skysaw
    I've actually got some material worked up using this particular scale. It's taken a lot of sweat, since I'm usually pretty free-form tonally.
    I'm usually pretty free-form tonally too, but sometimes this leads to a loose, unfocused sound, or sometimes I find myself relying on the same types of harmonies over and over. Your scale idea reminds me of a technique I sometimes use to develop the harmonic materials I'll use in a piece. I like to create a new set of chords--I like big, vast chords with 6-8 tones

    -Usually based loosely on jazz "tension" theory (starting with 7-9-11-13, but vastly altered and voiced so that it doesn't sound particularly jazzy). This way almost every chord has at least one kind of ABCDEF and G.
    -Or sometimes by stacking chords or intervals (I love stacking Perfect 5ths and Major 7ths)

    I create a chord like this and then designate it as my "tonic." Then I use my ear and voice-leading to move it to another, similar chord. After doing this 6-7 times, I have 6-7 big chords, each starting on a different root. I treat this as the "key" for a piece. (often my original "tonic" chord turns out to not be the tonic anymore, usually one particular chord just instinctually feels like "home.")

    Then I play each chord over and over and "invent" scales/modes that fit over each of them, with varying degrees of tension.

    Once I have this sketched out, I have a new harmonic language to use for one particular piece. I can experiment with chord progressions between these chords, almost as if I were working with diatonic materials.

    Now, I tend not to focus too much on harmony or melody -- I like composing with rhythms, textures, and counterpoint. But this is a
    good way for me to keep my harmonic materials cohesive.

    Just my 2 cents -- your "short scales" reminded me of this process--I may try using them in conjunction--this would be a great way to work some "modulations" into this scheme.


    P.S. I "apologize" for the overuse of "quotes" in this "message."

  8. #8

    Re: Weird theory dept.: "short scales"


    Sorry Jamie, I didn't mean to kill your thread with my prattling!




  9. #9

    Lightbulb Re: Weird theory dept.: "short scales"

    Hey people, such a nice thread.
    I'm sorry other didn't understand how good and fertile is to discuss about this research of personal way of organizing tonal material.

    Playing with intervals and using chord set as a base are both the melodic or the harmonic approach: you can start from melody and derivate chords or start from chords and derivate melodies.

    I used both systems successfully, and I teach to my pupills doing the same personal research for inspiring set of tunes.

    Overall grade of tension or euphony can be adjusted in this way, as it's possible to pre-design a sort of tonal structure for the composition of the whole piece.

    ...frequently it's just a starting point: developing the first idea new sounds and new sets create an athmosphere, and it's enough to let you go on in a free and varied way, collecting an impressive mixture of planned and unplanned events.

    I think it is: COMPOSITION. full stop.

  10. #10

    Re: Weird theory dept.: "short scales"

    Reminds me of some of the Slonimsky patterns. But isn't the important part how they sound in use? have you tried writing with these scales in mind? And can you post some demos?

    I used to play with rhythmic interpolation - 7 against six vs 42 beats with every sixth and seventh emphasised, sometimes going deeper, especially with the consisten meter.

    I wrote one tune that the time sig was: 8+7+6+5+4+3+2+1/4.
    Each instrument essentially played a different meter, until the all resolved a distance down the road (8+1=7+2=6+3=5+4=36 36 beats to complete the cycle halfway, so it could be eventually scored in 9/4 or 9/8.)

    I only got about 8 bars into itbefore I lost interest, it was too much like writing serially. But the rhythmic groove was quite interesting.
    It's all about the music - really. I keep telling myself that...

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