XI

There’s something of a contrast between the diverse career moves of Warren Burt and the extreme purity of the music he creates for self-built just intonation tuning forks. After university, Burt moved from the United States to Australia to pursue an interest in interactive electronics and microtonality, exploring connections between other disciplines along the way. He has contributed greatly to the development of microtonality both through his writings on the subject and, more concretely, by helping to reconstruct Percy Grainger’s Electric Eye Tone Tool, a light-controlled synthesizer originally developed in 1961. Burt’s previous outing, Harmonic Colour Fields (Pogus) was a fine example of his research in such areas.
This double album is a perfect introduction to Burt’s world of chance-determined resonance. Commissioned by Phill Niblock in 2002, The Animation of Lists and the Archytan Transmissions was played in its entirety by the composer and Catherine Schieve on hand-held or mounted sets of aluminium forks whose bass and treble range varies depending on their size. They’re hit with different beaters, and peculiar resonators (plastic sewer pipes of varying length) are used for the bass ones. The “limpid clouds” Burt generates by superimposing pitches (with the aid of a computer and multitracking) represent a shift from “wrong” listening habits and saccharine-drenched temperamental boredom to a sudden repulisti of the ears. These strangely familiar flows of beating frequencies are seemingly unobtrusive, yet impose their presence with gentle yet firm authority. It’s like removing a cardboard box from the head to finally enjoy a true spatialization of sound. Rhythm, the movement of the forks through the space and phrasing are essential for the correct functioning of what William Duckworth defines as “sonic colors that momentarily hover here and there”. Random sequences can sound fully notated, microtonal rainbows can be conjured forth from a mere handful of notes. Such infinitesimal differences in pitch are the key to unlock the brain from its tacit acceptance of (equal temperament’s) rules, rules that do not necessarily fit its predisposition – are you ready to unlock yours?

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