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Easley Blackwood: Microtonal
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Easley Blackwood: Microtonal
Easley Blackwood, polyfusion synthesizer
Jeffrey Kust, guitar
Cedille Records CDR 90000 018

"Tonally, [Blackwood's Microtonal Etudes] are the most fascinating music I have ever heard . . . This music is attractive, even addictive . . . If you are interested in what happens to melody and harmony when certain fundamental musical assumptions are altered, sometimes radically, then you must hear this disc . . . no theory required to be amazed by this CD." (Fanfare)

Easley Blackwood's Twelve Microtonal Etudes for Electronic Music Media, a landmark exploration that drew widespread critical praise upon its release in 1980, has been reissued for the first time on compact disc. Also new on the CD are two never-before-released Blackwood microtonal works.

"Easley Blackwood has composed and produced contemporary music that is quite beautiful," wrote Frank Peters of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Feb. 22, 1981) in a review of the 'tudes. He described them as "music that holds the attention and stimulates the mind, music that keeps yielding new attractions after many rehearsings."

The intriguing 'tudes culminated Blackwood's research, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, into the techniques and expressive possibilities of microtonal tunings. Microtonal tunings are those that divide an octave in some other manner than into 12 equal parts. Blackwood wrote 'tudes for equal tunings of 13 to 24 notes to the octave and has likened the task to writing a "sequel" to "The Well-Tempered Clavier," JS Bach's famous collection of preludes and fugues in each of the major and minor keys.

Blackwood let the "flavor" of each tuning suggest an established musical form or style for each 'tude: a Classical piano sonata (track no. 13), Russian nationalism (track no. 8), jazz (track no. 11), the sound of South Pacific gamelans (track no. 5), and the form of a Baroque violin sonata (track no. 4). This approach also allows listeners to hear how microtonal tunings affect familiar musical genres.

"He has done no less than tame the wildest musical beasts and create ideal domestic environments for them," wrote Fanfare's reviewer.

"There is a crazy wit in this, as though one is following a madcap chase through a Chinese laundry of overlapping and interlocking tonalities," wrote Conrad Cummings in the Computer Music Journal.

"It seems to me that in the long run, the microtonal scales I've been working with offer the most positive direction that music could go in," Blackwood told Keyboard magazine (May 1982). "This is where there still remain things to be discovered. Attractive things to be discovered."

The Fanfare in 19-note Equal Tuning (1981) was commissioned by Chicago fine arts radio station WFMT, along with fanfares by other Chicago-area composers, to celebrate the station's 30th anniversary.

The Suite for Guitar in 15-note Equal Tuning makes use of the properties Blackwood discovered when he wrote the microtonal 'tude in 15-note tuning. It's cast in four movements with dance-like rhythms akin to those found in Baroque suites. "For the performance of microtonal music on conventional acoustic instruments, those with fretted strings are the least problematic because the frets automatically and accurately establish the location of each pitch," Blackwood writes in the CD booklet.
Click here to download the CD booklet.

Click the Cedille Player at the upper left to hear excerpts from the tracks highlighted in red below. These have been carefully chosen as representative of the recording program.

PROGRAM (56:00)


1. Fanfare in 19-note Equal Tuning, Op. 28a (2:25)

Twelve Microtonal Etudes for Electronic Music Media, Op. 28 (43:34)
2. 16 notes. Andantino (3:46)
3. 18 notes. Allegro volando (2:30)
4. 21 notes. Suite in four mvts. (4:48)
5. 23 notes. Allegro moderato (3:17)
6. 13 notes. Sostenuto (3:10)
7. 15 notes. Lento (3:35)
8. 17 notes. Con moto (2:51)
9. 22 notes. Andante ma non troppo (4:35)
10. 24 notes. Moderato (3:02)
11. 14 notes. Allegramente (2:42)
12. 20 notes. Comodo (3:57)
13. 19 notes. Allegro moderato (4:06)

Suite for Guitar in 15-note Equal Tuning, Op. 33 (9:38)
14. I. Prelude (Allegro) (2:49)
15. II. Sarabande (Andante) (2:46)
16. III. Gavotte (Tempo di gavotta) (1:04)
17. IV. Gigue (Vivo) (2:51)

Recorded: Tracks 1-13: Made from master recordings owned by Easley Blackwood and recorded 1979-81 at Sound 80, Minneapolis. Programmer: Roger Dumas. Engineer: Scott Rivard. Tracks 14-17: Recorded September 16, 1990 at WFMT Chicago. Producer: James Ginsburg. Engineer: Bill Maylone. / Cover: Guitar and Fruit Dish (Georges Braque, 1909) 1994 ARS NY/ADAGP / Design: Cheryl A Boncuore / Notes: Easley Blackwood