Notes on the "pop" end of the spectrum (Part II)

by Aaron K. Johnson 2013-10-07 @ 20:35:22

As promised I'm returning to discuss the intersection of various pop/rock/dance styles with micro- and macro- tonality.

Yesterday, I introduced you all to the work of Brendan Byrnes. Tonight, I will focus on an interesting trio of artists who share broadly similar stylistic traits, because they work on beat-driven dance music, but who each have a unique voice. They are Jacky Ligon, Sean Archibald (aka Sevish), and Tony Dubshot. The neat thing here is that the artists, realizing that they share similar aesthetic goals, have collaborated on a 9-track release called Subversio, on the Dubbhism label. Each of these artists do 3 tracks, and as such, it presents the wonderful similarities and contrasts between them.

Jacky Ligon is a somewhat well-known figure to those in the tuning community who have been paying attention. Since the 1980s, he has been avidly designing scales, mostly in Just Intonation, and really has some interesting ideas as a scale builder. His music is what I might term "progressive dance music" in that his rhythmic structure express an affinity for the time signatures found in progressive rock and jazz fusion, even though the instrumentation (synth and drum-machine MIDI-based orchestration) is of the standard dance music type. True to form, Ligon also designs his own software synthesizers, which are available at his site, His music often has an energetic dark, driving edge to it, and exhibits a true craftsmanship in terms of intelligently composed structures and studio production values; thus it makes for rewarding listening. The track Just before Midnight illustrates his style well. It should also be mentioned that he does some interesting ambient-based composition as well.

Being from England, Sevish's music strikes one as clearly in the great IDM tradition of highly regarded artists like Aphex Twin or Squarepusher, but his interest in alternate tunings pushes things to the next level, and can be described as overall less hyperactive, though no less hypercharged, than the two aforementioned greats. Sevish's music really wants to be funky, and really manages to be, too! This is music with something for everyone, and he has said that this was always his goal, compositionally: to have people get down and dance, or enjoy a great relaxing "chill vibe", while at that same time offering something for the mind that was really listening and paying attention to the fine details, particularly to the beautiful tunings. For a listen to Sevish at his feverish drum 'n bass best, try out the track Mashroon from Subversio.

Tony Dubshot, to my ears, has a enjoyably humorous and 'robotic' edge reminiscent of Kraftwerk at times, but again, the emphasis on tuning shows what great potential this parameter has to bring new life and interest to such musical styles. Listening to the irreverent glitch of a track like Insect Spaces or Wicked Witch from the Subversio release, with their psychedelic chime-like, farfisa-organ-esque timbres, and retro 1980s laser gun snare sounds, should bring a smile to the most hardened cynic or non-fan of dance music--it's too fun and clever not to appreciate.

These 3 artists have been up to much more individually than just this 2-year old release, but the release represents a nice single place to get a great taste for each of them, and to compare and contrast them. However, I urge everyone to 'Google' them individually and check out their various pages.

Tomorrow, we are going to take a look at the long career of one of the great pop artists in the alternate-tunings universe, Elaine Walker (aka Zia).


Margo Paula Schulter 2013-10-07 @ 22:05:37

What I'd emphasize is that Jacky Ligon has taken an immensely creative and open approach to JI, as also to tempered tunings, with his ambient music able to start from a simple JI set and explore many ramifications. It is something like the art of raga, although definitely not an attempt to emulate any other world music. Over the 15 years or so that I've known of his music -- and it goes back much further, to the era of cassette recording in home studios -- he has drawn a vital link between xenharmonic creativity in the realm of European and related musics, and preserving intonational diversity in many cultural traditions. It is a great pleasure to see such a talented as well as technically proficient artist -- both in the technique of performance, and in the technology to perfect a recorded performance -- honored in this blog at Untwelve!

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