sábado, 2 de octubre de 2010

Introducing Pythogoras.... or what is musical tuning?

Music is everywhere.

A major part of culture is driven by it. Dancing without music? Movies without music? Going to a restaurant and having no background music? You get the idea, right? It's, just like John Milton said in "The Devil's Advocate", EVERYWHERE!

In terms of western music (and that's what I intend to talk about in the article, keep that in mind), a loooot of music theory has been created and published for many centuries. Yet much of it based on experience.

And there's a major part of it where I believe a lot of research is yet to be made: Tuning. Have you ever heard someone play with an instrument that's "out of tune"? But then, this begs the question: What is "Tuning"? Well... the answer can be anything but simple. Go take a look at wikipedia to make yourself an idea.

The fact is that for us humans, or rather, our human ears, being in tune will mean using the simplest ratios possible for notes/chords. But that is in direct contrast with tuning instruments... specially keyboards..... let me explain myself a little bit better:

I play the flute and it's very simple to assume that whenever you play, say, an A, you will always get the same frequency that you used to tune the flute (be it 440, 441, whatever)... but it's not like that. The tuning of the flute can be adjusted a little bit "on the fly" by readjusting the angle of the wind that is coming out of your mouth towards the flute or by _turning_ the flute either forward or backward (backward makes the pitch a little bit lower). Even more, the flute will play the forte sounds sharper than piano ones and just in case this is not enough, higher notes will also produce higher pitches for each note... in other words, a flute player is _always_ tuning his instrument according to what's being played. Most instruments, like the flute, can be tuned on the fly: Violins, Violas, Cellos, Basses, Oboes, Clarinets, etc etc. Most of the instruments in the orchestra can do that... most notorious exception: The Piano. It's tuned by a "tuner" and will remain like that for years to come, no on the fly adjustments.

The thing is that there are many ways to tune notes, in other words, many Tuning Systems are available and each has advantages and disadvantages. Normally there are trade-offs between "tuning experience" and "practicality of tuning the instrument to different tonalities".

I believe a lot of research has to be done on the way we perceive being in tune, but where to start? Well, I'm a programmer (among other things) so I developed one application to _try_ to play music with different tuning systems (I'm sorry for the long introduction).

It's still very rough but I hope I can make it better in the following months (sponsoring is welcome, by the way).

So, instead of describing what it can or can't do, I want you to listen to three files I produced from the application. Here you have the Air on the G String by J. S. Bach played in three different tuning systems:
- Just
- Pythagorean
- Equal Temperament



Files are available both in MP3 format and OGG (which I prefer). If you'd like to get more info, don't hesitate to email me.

Oh, and by the way, the application is called "Pythogoras" and can be found here. It's released under the terms of the Affero GPLv3... and then again, keep in mind it's still veeeery rough.