Musical Idea 14: Pitch Circular Aharmonics

01.06.2014 § Leave a comment

Before reading this entry, I would recommend reading this one, which introduces ideas I build upon here.

I cannot bring up aharmonics without going into pitch circularity a bit. The two topics go hand in hand. Because when you want aharmonic effects to apply continuously, over and over, like a rhythm (as opposed to as a melody, where processes are only temporary), you may soon find yourself way outside audible range. If you establish pitch circularity first, however, then you can do whatever you want with aharmonics for as long as you want and never worry! That is, with pitch circularity allowing you to rise or fall infinitely in pitch while never going anywhere, you avert that doom of screechingly high or wobblingly low frequencies.

Later on in this series I will be going into more detail about all sorts of crazy tricks and variations and expansions on the basic premise of pitch circularity. For purposes of completing my discussion of aharmonics, however, I’ll only be dealing with the most basic version of pitch circularity.

The primary consequence of pitch circularity for aharmonics is that your underlying composition, the notes, no longer need to move in pitch from iteration to iteration. That is, you can write a normal ostinato that returns right back to where it started in pitch, apply tonal movement, and the pitch circularity will cancel the tonal movement out all by itself without even needing the notes to do any work against it.

Another consequence of pitch circularity for aharmonics is that motion becomes symmetrical. By this I mean that moving up by an octave is the same as moving down by an octave, because you end at the same place. So if I had a riff repeating, whose notes make no changes in pitch, then rather than having the tonal movement repeatedly move up an octave each iteration (going nowhere mind you) I can have it alternate — up an octave, down an octave, up, down — and I can do it like a dumb triangle wave shape or maybe smooth it out for a sine shape that would have a cool seasick effect.

Probably the craziest idea I’ve come up with for pitch circular aharmonics that I’ve come up with so far I dub “wrarp,” a portmanteau of “wrap” and “warp”. This has mainly to do with tonal stretching, when we fiddle with our interval (rather than pitch) knob. As one expands the ratios of the notes to each other, but they’re wrapping around a circle, then it’s like including octave reduction (if the window is a circle, but if it’s not then we’re getting into advanced pitch circularity like I said we wouldn’t here), but that’s not critical right now, I think the main point is just that without having to individually ghost the individual and most extreme notes of a chord during an expansion back into the middle, it can happen very naturally and through a single process, so then you just take a snapshot and basically push the “reset” button on the wrarp so it starts expanding anew from a new set of notes it created. This snapshotting is “wrarp”ing.

The final sub-idea I’ll share here is a bit of a monster. This is a compound effect using tonal movement, tonal stretching, pitch circularity, and even some rhythmic circularity ideas I’ll get into more later.

  1. Start with a piece of music, a melody, possessing an assortment of durations, pitch intervals, and degrees of stress to its notes.
  2. Tonal stretch until you’ve eliminated all pitch intervals, consolidating everything down onto a single pitch.
  3. Analogously, supposing you had a rhythm knob which could be turned toward uniformity of all note durations, turn that until all notes are the same length.
  4. Analogously, turn an expression knob until there are no stressed or unstressed notes — they’re all hit at the same velocity.
  5. Now that your music has become a maximally boring pulse of the same pitch at the same volume at a constant rate, start gradually increasing the tempo. Eventually the notes are hitting so fast it sounds like a jackhammer.
  6. Also apply tonal movement. Pick one or the other, up or down, and just keep increasing the rate of tonal movement (for these purposes, let’s say you pick up).
  7. Establish pitch circularity, such that as your tonal movement picks up speed until it’s going at a huge speed, it’s not getting anyway. It’s going so fast now, and the notes are coming so fast now tempo-wise, that the music sounds like this ZHUWHIPZHUWHIPZHUWHIP many times a second.
  8. This one’s the kicker. As steps 5, 6, & 7 are happening, you’re also introducing a new expression scheme. Imagine that behind the scenes of this craziness you’ve transformed your music into there is a ghost of the original music, and it is trying to be heard again. It’s going to gradually take control of the stressing of these new zhuwhippy notes to serve that purpose. Imagine that each time your underlying original music ghost wants to play a G, it finds the nearest G amongst this zhuwhippy cycling, and endorses it, sort of like quantizing to it. Endorsed notes get stressed harder, while unendorsed notes get softer. Softer and softer until notes that don’t get endorsed at all are silent, making holes in that zhuwhippy grind, and the only ones that get heard are the ghost endorsed ones. While the tempo and tonal movement are still picking up steam, the quantization will be less accurate, and thus the ghost’s self-expression will be more awkward and inaccurate. But as the tempo and tonal movement pick up speed, each of those effects contribute to more pitches being represented in less time, and thus the ability for the ghost to express itself using this substrate becomes stronger. The artifacts of the quantization gradually get ironed out. Approaching infinite tempo and infinite rate of tonal movement, every note will be available at every instant, and thus the ghost will be perfectly expressed, and we will have returned via the entirety of this process right back to where we started: the ghost will be alive again.
  9. I suggested that processes 5, 6, 7, & 8 all happen in conjunction with each other, rather than in sequence, and implied that processes 2, 3, & 4 happen separately. The epitome of this effect would be 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, & 8 all happening simultaneously!
  10. What you might like to do not not totally a splode your listener’s heads is demonstrate these processes on your music in sequence first, and then gradually show how they can be layered together.
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