UnTwelve: You made many statements and even wrote essays against microtonality and tunings this last year. Clearly you are still at it and going strong. Can you elaborate on your spiritual struggle?
JY: There's no "spiritual struggle", I'm afraid, but if you want to understand why I am "against" microtonality yet still make music in alternative tunings, that's easy enough to explain. I think an obsessive focus on any one aspect of music leads to shallow and boring music. Intonation is an aspect of music, as is rhythm, register, timbre, tempo, dynamics, harmony, etc. I am against music that is "about" intonation, just as much as I am against music that is "about" rhythm, or dynamics, or timbre. I always hated it when bands had gimmicky songs in odd time signatures, where they clearly struggled to feel the rhythm naturally and thus everything else suffered for the sake of this one "alternative" rhythm. I feel the same about microtonality. I also think that when studying and/or messing with intonation starts to come at the expense of actually making music, that is a bad, bad sign. I am interested in making the best music I can make, for however I want to define "best". That requires that I am willing to dispense with things when they don't serve me, which means I don't swear allegiance to any musical school or credo. To self-identify as a microtonalist is basically to say "I am obsessed with intonation". Well, I'm not. I can take it or leave it. I play with intonation when it suits me, when I enjoy it, when it helps my creative process. I want to distance myself from those who evangelize about it--and that includes my past self. I am a musician, that is the only label I am interested in wearing (and even that gets tenuous at times).
UnTwelve: What inspired you about your winning composition...did you have a preset goal in mind before you began?
JY: My goal was to approach the 15edo guitar as if it was no different to me than a 12edo guitar. That is to say, to move freely between scales, to use harmonies chromatically when I wanted to, to avoid setting rules and subsets based on certain theoretical ideas, and just go where I wanted to go. I reckon I may have ended up using all 15 notes over the course of the track, and I did deliberately throw in some completely chromatic passages. I was amazed at how easy it was, and more amazed at how "not gimmicky" it sounded. I think I got some really fresh dissonance happening that is maybe a bit more grating and nauseous than you get in 12edo, but still locked in some really "traditional" consonance exactly where it counted. It's hard to put my finger on it, but I think what made it work is that the dissonances were in more or less the same areas of the interval spectrum as in 12edo: they're all tritonish or minor-2ndish, with no weird 3rds or 6ths like you find in, well, pretty much every other tuning >12edo. This was one of the rare non-12edo cases where a tuning got the hell out of my way, and it has definitely cemented that guitar's place in my arsenal.
UnTweve: Fair enough, re:tuning as an unhealthy 'obsession' in your so-called 'former self'. Certainly, few would argue against the position that 'being about the music' and making musicianship the first concern are central. (Good music in 12edo, for me, will always trump bad music in any pick-your-alternative tuning system.) But: do you at least think that not making a _conscious_ choice to explore outside of 12edo, accepting it as an unquestioned given, as so many do, and remaining ignorant (or even contemptuous of tuning and microtones), is fine and noble?
JY: If you are asking "do I think that *NOT* making a conscious choice is fine and noble?", well, fine yes, noble no. I don't see any musical choice as being "noble". We're all ignorant--wilfully or not--of plenty of aspects of music. I know jack squat about playing any wind instrument, for instance. I barely read music. I don't understand most World music. My musical focus is narrow, relatively speaking. It is not every musician's duty to explore every single possibility out there in the world. If we all did that, we'd never write anything! One must pick and choose what to explore. Do a cost:benefit analysis. Microtonality only looks appealing if either a) the cost of exploring it is extremely low (like, you already have the synth, it's the only synth you use, and you can just tweak a parameter and get a new tuning), or b) you estimate the benefit as "really, really huge". Most people fall under the latter, but I think that's because of an unrealistic assessment brought on by flowery rhetoric, numerology, and pseudoscience. The benefit is not huge. Keep the costs down, or leave it alone, that's my advice.
UnTwelve: Isn't the understanding of the possibility itself, whether or not one chooses to make it an aspect of focus or not in their music, worthwhile?
JY: It is impossible to understand what different tunings offer *until* one has spent a large portion of time *making them* an obsessive focus. No one gets to my "take it or leave it" approach on Day 1. They either get really excited and TAKE it as far as they can, or they LEAVE it, perhaps after a couple of tepid explorations. The obsession takes a long, long time to wear off (if it ever does--I see most of the community still going strong on it). And while that obsession is going strong, the composer's music is suffering (90% of the time, anyway, presuming they would actually be making music at all if they hadn't got into microtones). I frankly do not think the payoff of mastering alternative tunings is really worth the long and insane journey it takes to get there. The possibilities are _not_ tremendous, but the effort required to realize them is. For me, that effort is already behind me, so I might as well continue, but in the grand scheme of things, I don't think I could confidently say that it's been worth it. I disowned a large chunk of my recordings--years worth of work--whereas if I'd never gone down this path, I may have produced music over those years that I still actually want to listen to. I guess I could say, "well, at least I got to learn from my mistakes", but I reckon I'd be in a better place if I'd never had to learn that lesson in the first place. Who knows, though...maybe in 20 years it'll all come out having been worthwhile. I can't say for certain. All I can say is, at this moment, it doesn't look worthwhile.
UnTwelve: Don't you enjoy showing some of the great under-explored possibilities through your work? Doesn't it feel good to know one can still be a pioneer in 2013? Don't you think there are sounds worth expressing in these new tunings that are worth expressing, and you'd feel poorer for not having made their acquaintance?
JY: Sounds are not expressions, they are a *medium* of expression. Let's set that straight right away. New sounds are neither necessary nor sufficient to express new ideas and new meanings. Would adding new phonemes to English make it possible to tell new stories with the language? Absolutely not. We're never going to run out of new music in 12edo, because as people, we are always having new experiences and new ways of looking at the world--we'll always have new ideas to express. I am a unique person, and the music I make would be no more or less unique in 12edo as in some other tuning. It is that which I seek to express that makes me a pioneer or not, not the medium that I choose to do the expression. What is important is what begins in my head and what ends up in yours. The best thing a tuning can possibly do is to get the heck out of the way of that transmission. The only thing it can contribute is noise that clutters the signal. So the real question is, are alternative tunings *better* at getting out of the way? Do they clear the path from my mind to yours above and beyond how clear it already is? That alone could justify pursuing them, but so far I think the answer has been a resounding "no". At best we seem to be getting closer to using alternative tunings that "get out of the way" about equally as well as 12edo. But even that can be a rare scenario.
I'd also like to add for the record that I AM poorer for *having* made the acquaintance of these tunings. Like, thousands of dollars poorer. Like, several years of making music I can't stand the sound of anymore poorer. Like, several years of missed musical opportunities (because I refused to play 12edo music) poorer. Like, having made some bitter enemies for the first time in my life poorer. Going down the microtonal rabbit hole has been a tremendous net loss to me. I've made some modest gains--more people know who I am than would have otherwise, I've made a couple of lasting close friendships with people I'd never have met otherwise--but an honest assessment shows that these gains don't come CLOSE to justifying the losses. It remains to be seen if, now that I've finally gotten my head in the right place, I'll figure out a way to recoup.