Creating, Performing And Listening
FRANK J. OTERI: Now in the area of tuning, we really didn’t get to touch on that but I really want to because that’s an area that fascinates me no end, the more you listen, the more you realize that there are so many musical sounds beyond the equally-tempered scale. And you’ve done work for years using purely tuned intervals, just intonation.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: My accordion is tuned in just intonation and I like it, it’s important to me, but I’m interested in all kinds of tunings, not just that. Not just equal temperament. We don’t have to be stuck with one system. There’s an interesting group that I’m performing with called the Space Between, with accordion in just intonation, shakuhachi, and piano in equal temperament. So that’s three different tunings right there. So our performance together is really a negotiation on how to perform together and not have our differences in our tuning system collide in a way that we don’t like.
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s poly-microtonality. Johnny Reinhard who runs the American Festival of Microtonal Music is a real advocate of poly-microtonal thinking. There’s a composer who’s almost totally forgotten about now Mordecai Sandberg who wrote for all these instruments in all these different tunings, and almost nothing has been recorded, there are scores here and there. But other societies have done this for centuries. In West Africa, you’ll hear ensembles where the koras are in one tuning, the balafons in another tuning, etc. and it works beautifully.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: The thing is that the tuning system is really only a reference. It’s something referred to but most music deviates from it.
FRANK J. OTERI: Well I guess this gets once again to this whole notion that the so-called developed societies needed to have things that were identically replicable in order to mass produce them. In Indonesia, every gamelan is tuned differently. If you listen to a piece played by one gamelan and then hear the same piece played by a different gamelan, the piece will always sound slightly different. There must have been a time in Europe when every orchestra sounded completely different.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: I’m sure.
FRANK J. OTERI: But they put a stop to that.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: Well, when you think about the standard, A = 440 – that decision that was made in England somewhere in the 19th century – that was a tremendously political act. It’s also a product of the industrial revolution. It was something that would make it possible to have standardization among musical instruments.
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s like Greenwich Mean Time for music.
PAULINE OLIVEROS: But it’s truly construction.