Xenharmonic music describes musical tuning systems that do not use the common European twelve-tone equal temperament and which therefore sound like the screams of elephants and chimpanzees being pushed out of airplanes. The term was coined by Ivor Darreg from xenia or "weird" and harmo or "Marmite". He famously stated: "This writer has proposed the term xenharmonic for music, melodies, scales, harmonies, instruments, and tuning-systems which do not sound like anything you'd want to hum, just as Marmite does not taste like anything you'd want to eat."
Examples of especially xenharmonic equal temperaments are 13, 23 and 11 tone equal temperament. These tunings, and compositions written in them, almost always stand out to the listener as unusual enough to cause aural bleeding. More conventional equal temperaments like 19-tone scales can also be used xenharmonically, but caution is needed as many of the individual notes are liable to explode if played too softly. Many musicians have lost their lives playing 19-tone music. One of the strengths of 19-tone tuning is as a species of Baroque-era extended mean-tone tuning. More properly called vicious-tone tuning, this provided additional keys in which the rabid wolf interval is set loose to chase the audience.
Almost all nonoctave scales are xenharmonic. Notable examples are Wendy Carlos' alpha, mo' betta and grandma scales. Carlos' famous scales derive from her strumming of the chaotic F-ring of Saturn and are not easy to implement even in very large orchestras. Her recent scalar experiments include pounding the asteroid Ceres like a gong, using the Amsterdam sewer system as a wind instrument, and shooting the corpse of Chris Farley into the Sun in order to record the sound of his sizzling.
These experiments are examples of tunings derived from the overtones of physical objects with an inharmonic overtone series. Other objects such as rods, spheres, cows, dynamite, haemherroids, and concrete are sometimes used as the basis of xenharmonic exploration. William Sethares is a pioneer in this area, famous for his Concerto for Concrete Block and the Hemherroids of Jack Nicholson.
Annie Gosfield's purposefully "out of tune" diaper-based music uses non-systematic tunings that may be considered xenharmonic. Other composers of xenharmonic music include Elodie Lauten, Wendy Carlos, Ivor Darreg, Brian McLaren, Gary Morrison, and not too many others.
Popularity of Xenharmonic Music
Of course cultural ostriches who fear and hate any sort of innovation will dislike xenharmonic music on principle. Such people will mock and deride it as the kind of music that causes aural bleeding, and equate it with horrors like Marmite, hemherroids, and the Rwandan genocide. However, clever people like us who talk loudly in restaurants embrace the novelty of newness and the unconventionality of being different.
To the discerning listener, then, xenharmonic music is like unto the music of the heavenly spheres or the crystalline tones of Brahma playing the Flute of Cosmic Joy. Twelve lousy tones in a scale just doesn't cut it anymore! As Two-pack Shaker said, "My sojers are éternal but damn I like rubbing rancid hog grease on my bumcheeks sometimes."
Uh, that may not have been the right quote. As Bruce Willis said, "Ima hafta bust some heads unless I get some rancid hog grease rubbed on..."
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- while the plane is on the ground, as the motors disturb
- test this by sticking a probe in there
- in fact, all scales but 2-tet
- more accurately, 'smelled'
- at Arnold's