Name: Greg Davis
Occupation: Musician, composer, multi-instrumentalist, sound engineer, record store owner at Autumn Records
Current Release: Greg Davis's New Primes is slated for release on September 23rd 2022 via greyfade.
If you enjoyed this interview with Greg Davis and would like to know more, visit him on Instagram, bandcamp, Soundcloud, and twitter.
Over the course of his career, Greg Davis has collaborated with a wide range of artists, including Keith Fullerton Whitman, Ben Vida, and Jon Mueller.
[Read our Keith Fullerton Whitman interview]
[Read our Ben Vida interview]
[Read our Jon Mueller interview]
When did you first start getting interested in the world of alternative tuning systems?
I think the first alternate tuning piece I ever heard was probably Charles Ives’ Three Quarter Tone Pieces for Two Pianos around 1994. The sound of it really did my head in & from there I heard Harry Partch, Terry Riley, Lamonte Young, Arnold Dreyblatt, Ellen Fullman, etc.
[Read our Ellen Fullman interview]
I've also liked the sound of alternate tuning systems and just intonation but had never really tried to work with it in my music until my Primes CD in 2009.
Working with a different tuning system can be a very incisive transition. Aside from musical considerations, there can also be personal motivations for looking for alternatives. Was this the case for you, and if so, in which way?
The impetus for me to finally work with just intonation was because I was invited by Duane Pitre to contribute a piece for his The Harmonic Series (A Compilation Of Musical Works In Just Intonation) compilation CD for Important Records in 2009. This gave me an opportunity to explore just intonation and create my own unique approach to it.
[Read our Duane Pitre interview]
I settled on using various prime number sets to determine frequency and tuning relationships and also mapping them onto all aspects of the music. Primes (and now New Primes) are really the only time I have explored alternate tuning / JI in my own music.
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?
I think after I heard the music of Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, John Cage, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Stockhausen, Xenakis, etc and so many more during late high school / early college, that really blew the doors wide open for me and I never really looked back.
So now I don’t even think about the distinction between consonant / dissonant anymore. To me, it's all about sounds and how they relate and react to one another, how they resonate, textures, colors, densities, shapes, movements, activities, flows, vibrations, etc.
Once you really open yourself up to listening more deeply, you can accept any sounds that come your way without the need to label them in a dualistic way.
What was your own learning curve / creative development like when it comes to alternative tuning systems - what were challenges and breakthroughs?
I never really got deep into the theoretical / mathematical aspects of alternate tunings but I found my own unique way into it by using prime number sets. I’ve been happy exploring that world within Max/MSP.
Do you still use equal temperament? What are some of the aspects and goals for which you find it suitable?
Yes, I still primarily use equal temperament. In fact, Primes & New Primes are really my only work that explores JI / alternate tuning.
However, in my other work, harmonic series, overtones and microtonality have been utilized at times, but not necessarily the main feature or guiding principle of my pieces.
With electronic tools, playing and composing in just intonation has become a whole lot easier. Do you find this interesting? What are some of the technologies, controllers and instruments you use for your own practise?
For sure, electronic tools make it a lot easier to dial in very specific and stable frequencies, tuning relationships and intervals.
I've pretty much only ever used Max/MSP to explore JI and building simple synthesis patches within that. I haven't really explored any controllers or instruments yet.
How do you see the connection between music and science in general and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Of course, I think science can be useful for music if it helps to unlock new ways of composing or listening or new forms, shapes, textures, sounds, etc. I'm all for any way in which music can be expanded and enriched.
From the concept of Nada Brahma to "In the Beginning was the Word", many spiritual traditions have regarded sound as the basis of the world. Regardless of whether you're taking a scientific or spiritual angle, what is your own take on the idea of a harmony of the spheres and sound as the foundational element of existence?
Everything in the universe is vibrations! Sound is just one small slice of vibrations that our ears / brain translate into what we call music.
Everything throughout space and time is interconnected and interpenetrating and dying and being reborn at every moment.
For interested readers, what are books, websites, articles or other sources of information you recommend for them to educate themselves on the topic?
kyle gann the arithmetic of listening
harry partch genesis of music
james tenney meta+hodos
steven halpern tuning the human instrument
peter michael hamel through music to self
tuning and temperament : a historical survey
ross duffin how equal temperament ruined harmony