Sunday, August 20, 2006

history of the project

In late spring or early summer, 1995, I returned to The WELL after a break of approximately six months, to discover that David Doty, the editor of 1/1, The Journal of the Just Intonation Network, had become a regular visitor to a conference I'd had a part in launching. He wasn't there to proselytize Just Intonation, but he did provide a short synopsis and respond to questions.

For me, it was a long-awaited explanation why every piano, fretted, and valved brass instrument I'd ever heard sounded out of tune, and why non-fretted strings, woodwinds, and human voices not chained to the standard scale sounded so much sweeter -- and also why the concept of scales as expressed in standard musical notation seems so tortured to me.

Several years of gestation followed, before I began to have specific ideas about using computers as aids, to help identify integer ratio scales, in composition, and even as instruments or backend processors for dedicated interface hardware. However, my initial effort ( 1 ) fell short, both for being poorly conceived and for being incapable of producing sound; it only calculated numbers.

After becoming convinced that there was no way not involving exhorbitant effort to synthesize sound from a web page, I switched to programming for Mac OS X, and eventually produced a working program ( 2 ) that both better represents the theory of ratio based music and produces sound.

Having gotten that far with it, I took a deep breath and set the project aside until such time as I had fresh enthusiasm for it, but continued to study Mac OS X and learned something about the best practices of Mac OS X programming, largely ignored in the program linked above.

I also continued to think through the basics, how computing could play a pivotal role in ratio based music, and to express those thoughts in code, starting over many times but never arriving at a sufficiently clear vision to warrant the effort of following through to a completed application.

That's the current state of the project. I know a lot more about programming, and have a jumble of ideas which may or may not add up to anything.

So the first order of business here will be to express some of those ideas as clearly as I can manage, and maybe in the process I'll see how they might fit together.

Don't be surprised if it takes some time to amount to anything...

Just Intonation

In a nutshell, Just Intonation is a theory of music, developed by Harry Partch and a handful of others, which makes use of scales composed of tones, the frequencies of which are related by small integer ratios. This might sound complicated, but compared with the standard scale, which is composed of tones related by powers of the twelfth root of two (an irrational number), it's actually pretty simple.

To learn more about Just Intonation, please visit the website of The Just Intonation Network.