For the past year I’ve found myself irresistibly drawn to microtonal music. After being exposed to Ligeti’s violin concerto and Ben Johnston’s string quartets for the first time, I couldn’t continue to compose in the same way, even going so far as to abandon a piano sonata I was in the middle of writing. That’s not to say that I stopped enjoying equal-tempered intervals; I simply lost interest in committing them to paper. After hearing pieces in just intonation and the beauty of 7th, 11th, and yes, even 13th partials, how could I constrain myself to a system that ignores them completely?
Naturally this has created problems for me both as a composer and a performer. My instrument of choice, the guitar, is particularly unsuited for exploring the in-between notes, and refretted (or unfretted) necks are beyond my price range. Also, as a composer of intimidating-looking music, my works will scare off many performers who would otherwise be willing to play them, were they written in a more familiar style. Yet I also realize that, as evidenced by several works played in Brooklyn during last week’s MATA festival, microtonal intervals are gaining more acceptance amongst young composers, and I’ve been lucky enough to find a few musicians who are enthusiastic. Still, being fresh out of college I worry that the in-betweens hurt my chances of establishing more relationships with performers.
On the one hand, I’m unwilling to subvert my own music to an equal-tempered system that I’m philosophically opposed to. Yet, as with any composer, I want to actually hear what I write and have it performed. I’m at a loss as to how to reconcile this dichotomy. This situation can apply to anyone who writes challenging music, whether it be microtonal, polyrhythmic, or just bizarre. Where does one draw the line between practicality and fulfilling one’s own just intentions?