Name: Georg Vogel
Occupation: Multi instrumentalist, composer, improviser
Current release: Georg Vogel's live at moers festival is still available from his bandcamp account.
If these thoughts by J Georg Vogel piqued your interest, his excellent website is the best place to find out more about him and his microtonal ensemble Dsilton. There is also plenty more music to be discovered on his souncloud account.
Was there a particular event or experience that made you realise that there might be more outside of the realm of music we take for granted? When did you first start getting interested in the world of alternative tuning systems?
I started tuning keyboard instruments by myself because strings were broken. Fortunately on a clavichord kind of instrument, where re-stringing and tuning could be done easily. Several questions arose about how to tune. I tried the just intonations of the most basic interval, for which the keyboard, consisting of upper and lower keys was developed, the so called fifth with the ratio 3/2, then later adding the third 5/4.
Since both together work only in a very limited space in just intonation I discovered a special temperament called meantone or quarter comma tuning, where fifths are narrowed and tempered and the major thirds remain pure.
I intensified my investigations when I found out that the enharmonic change leads to higher prime intonations, meaning involving higher prime number whole number ratio approximations like the flattened minor seventh based on the seventh harmonic.
What artists working with alternative tuning systems are you personally interested in? What approaches do you find inspiring?
I´m very happy about collaborating with David Dornig. Now for over 6 years we are writing in 31-edo and related just intonation compositions for each other and work on them in the ensemble Dsilton together with Valentin Duit. For many years I've also been working with Gerald Preinfalk, playing his quartertone compositions.
Terms like consonant and dissonant are used in school, but mostly with very limited understanding of what they mean. How has your own idea of these terms changed over time and how do you see them today?
Thse terms can also be applied when questioning whether a certain size of interval is closer or more distant to a possibly resonating whole number ratio of the harmonic series.
For instance: Let's assume that we're listening to the third 5/4 and the seventh 7/4 with no movement at the sound level, because of the just intonation. Now, let's compare that to a slight deviation, which causes the sound to create beatings depending on the detuning. In this case, the first situation could be considered consonant and the second dissonant - pointing out that it´s not 100% working.
What were some of the most interesting tuning systems you tried out and what are their respective qualities?
I've been working intensively with quarter comma tuning and its closed chain equivalent 31-EDO.
Quarter comma can be tuned by ear - it involves pure major thirds at 5/4 and tempered fifths.
Since 31-EDO is an equal division of the octave, there are only approximations of the intervals of the harmonic series available, but it shows a very special selection of pseudo just intonation ratios that can be used in various transpositions. Basically 31 can be described as a temperament with pure, 5-limit major thirds and tempered 3-limit fifths. Beyond that it includes the pure septimal 7th and some approximations to higher limit primes such as 11 and 13.
Do different tuning systems suggest different kinds of music?
Some specific tunings can be traced back to a common origin, like the so called pythagorean tuning, quarter comma and 12-edo all developed out of interlocked tetrachords with different focuses. So if it´s useful to look at pieces of music through the glasses of this tone/semitone-tonal conception and the material makes sense from that perspective, all mentioned tunings can be used to emphasize different qualities. And there are even more tuning possibilities, all based on the tetrachordal origin, that can be applied in cases like this, like allso called well-tempered tunings.
Let's take a different base, meaning not coming from tetrachords, tones and semitones like for instance tonalities not fifth-based with the seventh harmonic as a core-ingredient. 12-Edo is not a consequence of that, so the use of this tuning system disables most characteristics, because it does not involve septimal intervals.
The reasons why certain tunings are chosen and known for various types of music can be found within the correlating triangle of available musical instruments, accessible musical theory and most of all the social circumstances. I like to look at these components as flexible parameters; like as an example: last fall I played a concert with Chopin in extended meantone; the conception of the music and the features of the tuning work together brilliantly.
Would you say that different tuning systems are capable of expressing different, and potentially unique emotional states?
Definitely; especially by the factors of the type of instrument, the specific intonation and the possible resonance.
What challenges does playing in different tuning systems present to you as a performer? If you're performing a piece in a different and new-to-you tuning, how will you approach this?
I'm following multiple approaches, for instance playing with octave variyng twelve note selections out of 31. At Dsilton two different distributions were the base for two cycles of pieces by David Dornig and myself. Each octave shows special enharmonics that enable you to play in very limited ways. At Dsilton these tunings are used in long arrangements, at my recent solo piano recording live at moers festival 2018 I also used one of them, originally for the Rhodes piano then especially adapted for an acoustic grand piano, for improvisations around basic compositional material.
The other 12-note out of 31 tuning developed out of a 7-limit just intonation transcription of a balafon kind of instrument. At Dsilton we play an arrangement of the transcribed piece as well as some other works that developed out of new basic intervals picked out of the same balafon tuning.
Then, after building the Clavitones, first the M- then the E-model, it was a very special challenge to relearn all the pieces with new fingerings for the split sharps enharmonic keyboard; you have the sound in mind, but your fingers need to learn almost every move from the beginning again step by step.
Another approach to the enharmonic space of 31-edo comes from combining tetrachords and triads using the solfege for the hexachords. This can also be done with 12 tones, since the interlocked tetrachords are the base of 31 and 12. Every diatonic element can be played in 31 different keys. All improvisation techniques known from 12-edo can be applied to 31 based on this diatonic approach.
A third approach to 31 is thinking in spectral relations, notes as numbers of the harmonic series. Like for example playing a tonal grouping that involves the seventh harmonic, the fifth, eleventh and third can be seen extended as if it was completely purely just intonated, although the eleventh and third are tempered. All techniques can be combined in unlimited ways.
Concerning projects with special tuning systems (beside my solo work and Dsilton with David Dornig and Valentin Duit) I work with Andreas Lettner where I use keyboards tuned to various edos as well as with several composers for pieces in various tuning systems, like most recently a piece of Amir Abbas Ahmadi adapted to 31-edo, further just tuning at works of Philipp Gerschlauer and Zoran Scekic or the quarter tone pieces of Gerald Preinfalk.
How, if at all, has performing in a different tuning system changed your creative practise?
Definitely, it enables you to look at the features of each tuning from changing perspectives. Like for example the spectral aspects of 12-edo including many intervals based on the 3rd, 17th and 19th harmonic.
So far, the focus with regards to alternative tuning systems has mainly been on harmony. But melody is affected, too. How do you personally understand melody and what changes when it becomes part of a new pitch environment?
Melody, as seen as pitches with mainly horizontal (in terms of notation visualisation) relations can occur as part of tonal groupings from which also the harmony (vertical) relations are derived.
As mentioned, the basic approach in 31 I am following is based on tetrachords and triads. So this basic category can be described as diatonic using the 5 fifth of a tone whole step and the 3 fifth of tone semitone. As a second extension the chromatic step can be involved via the 2 fifth of a tone step that also opens the door to different high prime number intonations such as septimal. The third category is the enharmonic step, the fifth of a tone. Changing the enharmonics means changing the intonation as well. That's the great speciality of meantone / 31-edo tuning. When changing the intonation, doors are opening to new far distant diatonic fields.
With electronic tools, playing and composing in just intonation has become a whole lot easier. Do you find this interesting?
Yes, especially if the new environment functions like something that can be imagined in real, meaning acoustically. Working with every kind of technology leads to the same basic questions like what is lost and what is found when limiting all possible ways we can go to to a special selection.
Some Clavitones I play only work digitally (and also couldn´t be built except with the technology of these days). Most often I use them as substitutions for imagined analog instruments. And I use special electronic tools for composing as well.
Books, websites, articles and other sources of information recommended by Georg Vogel of Dsilton:
I can recommend reading Enharmntuplet Theory & Praxis, a journal I´m coediting.
This is a portrait of my workshop including explanations about 31-tone tonality.
This is a text about rhythm improvising using short/long groupings.
For a microtonal symposium I put together this overview.
The piece "Zug" is going to be appearing in the next program of Dsilton in a new arrangement.
Before the Clavitone-keyboards were built, I used specially adapted 12-tone keyboards for the compositions of David Dornig.
Another study of a field recording, recorded with the band Flower.