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Xenotonality – Strange Feelings with Sounds

Some days ago I read in the NZZ Folio-Magazine an article by Luca Turin on “The sound of impossible objects” (also translated into English). It is about William Sethares, a researcher from the University of Wisconsin at Madison (“Each of us plays several roles in life. Some of my favorite are: researcher, teacher, and musician”) .

Sethares did experiments where he electronically stretched the musical octaves and observed what happened with the chords: Some combinations sounded very dissonant, while others produced an astonishing consonance. Some scales he used were more harmonious for the ears than others. So in 19-tone, the “octave” on the keyboard is a fifth larger than the normal one.

Sethares calls this “Xenotonality” (from the Greek word for “strange” combined with tones). The results are described on his website as “strange and somewhat eeri. The effect was so different from the tempered scale that there was no tendency to judge in-tuneness or out-of tuneness.” Some of the songs sound quite normal, some leave an alienating feeling.

You can listen to some example from his CDs, like Incidence and Coincidence. I got a strange feeling from these sounds, like being a bit “off the track”, and the effect lasted for quite some time afterwards. It is not just the kind of vibrations I would love to expose myself to over a longer time, but and interesting transgression of the boundaries of the sound-range of physical instrument. In this context see the next blogpost on “Silence, Speech and Sound”.

Loudspeaker in a little forest ashram in Andhra Pradesh, India

One Response to “Xenotonality – Strange Feelings with Sounds”

  1. Bayrak Says:

    do you know any information about this subject in other languages?

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