UnTwelve: Kindly tell us what got you interested in alternative tunings and microtonality.
BB: I (Brendan) was first introduced to the idea of microtonality through Glenn Branca's music. I was fascinated by the concept of it, but didn't find much of a use for it in my own music until many years later. Once I learned more about JI in grad school (mostly through my composition teacher Wolfgang von Schweinitz) and learned about all of the work being done with different temperaments and scales I got really inspired by it all. Music for me is usually a synesthetic experience, so I find the range of colors made possible by microtonality totally mind blowing.
AW: My first exposure to microtonal music was a college visit to La Monte Young's 'Dream House' installation in Tribeca: A neon lighted room with four speakers projecting sine tones that drone and fluctuate as one walks around the space. The informational pamphlet said that the frequencies were 'derived from prime numbers.' I didn't really understand how that worked until grad school when I read Harry Partch's book and took Wolfgang von Schweinitz's intonation workshop. This sparked a great interest in Just Intonation, which has held me since.
UnTwelve: What inspired you about your winning composition...did you have a preset goal in mind before you began?
BB: Alex and I both acquired JI guitars at about the same time and it just seemed obvious to try to write a piece together- it's not every day you come across another microtonal guitarist. We borrowed a compositional technique from a James Tenney piece in which the time signature would often mirror the harmonic limit being used (i.e. if we were using 11-limit harmony we would play in 11/8). Other than that, we just tried to find common ground in our compositional styles, explore what was possible with 2 micro-guitars, and write something we both liked.
AW: When writing this piece with Brendan, I was interested in exploring the consonance of unfamiliar intervals. We include intervals not often found in Western music, such as 7/4 (septimal seventh), 11/4 (quartertone fourth), and 11/6 (neutral 7th). These ratios are particularly interesting to me because they are of comparable consonance to some familiar intervals (i.e. 15/8, 16/3, 9/8) while sounding completely distinct from them. In the piece, we attempt to assign 'tonal meaning' to these ratios by defining them within repeated melodies and chords. By the end, the listener will, it is hoped, perceive these unfamiliar intervals to be closer to their acoustic consonance.
UnTwelve: Tell us about the fretwork of intervals on your Just Intonation guitars...and I assume it's the same, or similar, for both your guitars?
BB: The guitar I used is a Freenote 12 Tone Ultra Plus designed by Jon Catler. The guitar has an extra frets in between each regular fret. They allow you to play 7, 11, and 13 limit harmonies as they are intonated for the 7th, 11th, and 13th partial of various fundamentals. The guitars use different approaches but are very complimentary.
AW: I am playing the Lou Harrison National Guitar, which is in an open DADGAD tuning with frets set to an 11-limit scale in Just Intonation. It was great to work with Brendan's guitar tuning because in addition to having a lot of common notes, we were able to write for some intervals that I don't have on my guitar, like the 13/8 (neutral sixth). Likewise I had a few that Brendan didn't have, such as the 5/4 (pure third).
UnTwelve: What's in the near future for Alex, and for Brendan, musically? And how do you plan on using your 2nd prize money?
BB: I'm writing music for a band that will be using 22 EDO almost exclusively (at least for now). I've ordered a 22 EDO guitar from Ron Sword, written about 10 demos, and have all the musicians lined up. It won't be too far off aesthetically from my album Micropangaea but the arrangements and orchestration will be simpler and better suited for live performance.
AW: I am about to embark on a month-long trip to China to play music and make prayer flags along the Yangtze with poet, Wang Ping. It is the culmination of a project called 'Kinship of Rivers', whose aim is to bring the Yangtze and Mississippi together as Sister Rivers. For the project, I set 15 of Ping's sonnets to music with the Lou Harrison National guitar. We will be performing these songs at different festivals and community events from Shanghai to Tibet.