The American Music Center’s NewMusicBox-meister Frank J. Oteri dropped by, with word of an upcoming gig of his own this Saturday:

“Just wanted to alert you folks that Tonally Perplexed, my trio devoted to improvisation with just noticeable differences (featuring moi on the custom built 6-octave ‘tonal plexus’ tuned to 205-tone equal temperament) will be performing on Saturday night at 7PM in Harlem for an art opening featuring new paintings by the wonderful Lisa Taliano (Chashama 461 Gallery, 461 West 126th St, between Amsterdam and Morningside). Since our last outing at the Cornelia Street Cafe, the group has taken a somewhat jazzier direction, no doubt urged on by the amazing bass playing of Ratzo Harris and the blues sensibility and sensitivity of Jeffrey Herman as well as my getting somewhat more comfortable on that beast of an instrument (which looks like a Lego assortment).”

Here are the full details. Meantime why not take a listen and a gander at Frank and crew, from a November 2008 outing?


5 thoughts on “Pick a tone, any tone”
  1. McLaren, while you explanation might have something to do with a certain breed of “New York composer”, from what I know just about none of it would apply to Frank.

  2. The reason for 205-equal is obvious: New York composers have gotten wrapped up with musical macho. Whatever anyone else does, they have to do more. If someone else does a piece for 5 electric guitars, the New York composer has to do a piece for 100 electric guitars. And if someone does a piece for 200 guitars, the New York composer has to do a piece for 400 guitars. If someone composes a piece that’s 6 hours long, the New York composer has to do a piece that 60 hours long. If someone does a piece for 31 equal (the Huyghens-Fokker people in the Netherlands) or 72 equal (Ezra Sims in Boston), the New York composer has to use 205 tones per octave. New York composers obsess over “mine is bigger than yours,” compositional machismo, more, more, more, more, more. It’s one of the least attractive aspects of the New York compositional scene. New York composers get so fanatical about making sure that their music is “more” than anyone else’s (more electric guitars, more tone per octave, more rhythmically complex, more structurally complex, more acoustically rough, more acoustically smooth, more minutes in the performance, whatever) that the music gets lost. Only the machismo remains.

    On an unrelated note, when are you gonna release a CD of your music, Oteri? Dammit, we’ve been waiting for decades to hear your xenharmonic music.

  3. OK, from the horse’s mouth sotospeak:

    For decades I’ve been trying to find a microtonal keyboard instrument that would allow me the same flexibility as the piano does for 12-tone equal temperament to intuitively create music in real time. Over twenty-five years ago Joel Mandelbaum kindly allowed me to spend a summer working out ideas on his two motorola scalatrons, one of which he kept in 31-tone equal temperament and the other, which had 24 keys per octave, could be tuned a number of ways. It was relevatory, but the instruments are large and cumbersome, have limited timbre possibilities and are no longer made.

    Eventually I tracked down the Yamaha TX 81Z which allowed me to retune any digital synthesizer with a MIDI output, but I was hindered from really exploring scales with more than 12 pitches because they still had to be realized on a typical 7white,5black keyboard so it was physically unwieldy.

    Without access to a usable instrument I abandoned microtonal composition until 10 years ago when I discovered that Sibelius music notation software had a plug-in for quartertone notation and playback. I started to compose 1/4-tone music. And once I learned that I could handcode the MIDI detune commands, I went beyond that to 36-tone equal temperament and other just-based scales. But the intuition was missing and so my music became much more systemic.

    So when I learned about the tonal plexus, I got really excited. And I became totally enamored with it after visiting the website for H-Pi Instruments, the company that designs it:

    The instrument has 211 keys per octave but its default tuning is 205-tone equal temperament, a system devised by plexus mastermind Aaron Andrew Hunt which reconciles commas and just noticeable differences. To read more about this tuning, visit this site:

    I initially thought I would use it to return to 31tET and start messing around with 53tET, which are also both presets on the machine. But the keyboard is optimized for 205tET and I’m still trying to master its layout, so for the time being I’ll staying mostly in 205. On the first Tonally Perplexed gig I tuned the plexus to 31tET for one of our improvs and on Saturday we’ll be messing with 5tET, a perfect pentatonic (which is contained in 205tET), but otherwise I’m keeping things in 205 which offers so many possibilities as it can approximate virtually any audible interval since it is based on the concept of the small interval being just noticeably different. (The interval is under 6 cents, e.g. 6/100 = 3/50 of an equally tempered semitone.) Hope this isn’t too confusing.


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