Microtonal music is a means to unmask the hypocrisy of people filling the mouth with sonic terminologies to supplement pseudo-scientific hokum on some kind of extramundane polyphony. Then – as the consequences of a factual harmony strike the ears – the unequipped know-it-all can’t obviously distinguish the subtleties, ultimately calling what they can’t decode as “out of tune”. That is, speaking of themselves without knowing.
Face it, babblers: not everybody can acquire the minimal knowledge needed to handle the characteristics of resonance, and translate that acoustic education into the comprehension at large of the incalculable counterpoints that surround us. For the good luck of the earnest students we have beings like Thollem McDonas – a conscious artist whose command of anything keyboard-shaped I don’t need to stress, if you are a dutiful follower of this blog – and Clem Fortuna, a piano tuner, instrument builder and performer deeply interested in out-of-ordinary sonorities. This album contains the results of their cooperation and, believe me, they’re quite stunning. It was recorded at Detroit’s Trinosophes in 2016, each of the house’s four pianos calibrated according to a different system by Fortuna (who joins Thollem for a duet in the final and longest track, “Ten Tone Equal Temperament”).
There’s no way to graphically delineate the intrinsic relationships of a chord – or even of a single pitch – whose components comply with mathematical ratios and physical laws rarely figured out by the average ear. In order to avoid the aforementioned inconsistent references to the higher spheres of divine sagacity, remember what follows. Everything in the haunting glorioles surrounding these sounds is evocative of a past made of memories that still float around us, but of which we just retain fragments of signal somewhere in our very insides. A peculiar ability exists in certain sensibilities to uncover the teaching of foregone resonances. The latter are shrouded by selected combinations of frequencies; accessing them is a rare gift, not something done by scanning magazines.
Thollem approached this set, as per his own words, in “experiential” fashion. At first he plays as a blackbird sings, sparse tones and quick phrases emitted within a deafening silence. With the elapsing of time, the trust in the new tunings grows. Now and then the improvisational privileges leave room to investigations of melodic materials and rhythmic complexions mixing reflections of ancient cultures with an irrefutable grasp of present-day idioms. All of the above – don’t forget – informed by an overtone-based atypicality which will banish the zealots of unadventurous consonance from the thrill of authentic learning, in a classic “survival of the fittest” Darwinian process.
Were yours truly a concert organizer, I’d have Thollem and Fortuna in my venue every month if only to physically savor the lovely ricocheting of eras. After hours spent with this record, distinguishing between recited formulas and stated truths will be a little easier. That sincerity may hurt a bit in the beginning; once accustomed, though, you’ll be prepared for subsequent stages.