The most recent performance of the Ears open society “house band” Korvat Auki Ensemble was at MikroFest Helsinki 2018 (https://microtonalfinland.wordpress.com/mikrofest/), in the opening concert on 17.10. at 18:00 in Vapaan Taiteen Tila. The concert was named Bag of tricks, cave of skills – microtonality in improvisation and consisted of 10 pieces/performances, of which KAE participated in three.
This time, Korvat Auki Ensemble was composed of Grisell Macdonel (double bass), Lauri Supponen (double bass), Teemu Mastovaara (cello), Niilo Tarnanen (bassoon), Suvi Linnovaara (alto saxophone) and Sebastian Dumitrescu (violin).
Improvised music can easily gravitate towards 12-tone tempered music, especially when played on instruments that favour the 12-tone tempered scale. Put in a rough way, wind instruments are partly biased in favour of 12-tone, while string instruments are theoretically free to play any pitches, microtonal or not. Therefore, restricting the pitch material through various rules can be a good method to train performers’ ear and fingers, and to force ourselves to be more imaginative also in the pitch department, and not only for example in the timbre department. Exploration of harmonies benefits from playing with a microtonal mindset.
In the case when the pitches to be used are not restricted, we are quite close to “normal free impro” and the audience might not even notice that the music played is microtonal. We pay more attention to the pitches we produce, and small gestures may have a more pronounced pitch element.
However, restrictions such as use of certain scales, or an upper limit on the number of pitches each musician can play, are more obvious to the audience. Teemu Mastovaara, who played with KAE for the first time, proposed a 6-note scale that we ended up using in our first impro. The scale is a manipulated blues scale that also contains a dirty unison, in other words the intonation of the “tonic” can be varied quite a lot, by 25 cents or maybe even more. The “dirty tonic” was a great anchor to use, and at least in my personal experience we could produce a lot by just cherishing the few intervals that the scale provided, to the point of creating soundscapes around a just fourth, or a tritone offset by 50 cents.
Our second impro used a 12-tone scale that Niilo Tarnanen devised. It is a mixture of the chain of fifths familiar from the tuning of string instruments, and various intervals derived from the harmonic series. The two-dimensionality of this scale, as well as the relatively high density when compared to Teemu’s scale, gave us the freedom to explore a vaster assortment of harmonic colours.
In the third impro we played together with Juhani Räisänen and his vacuum-cleaner-plus-eletronics instrument called the zorm – an instrument which created thick blankets of sound, that at the same time left enough room, even in the cave acoustics of Vapaan Taiteen Tila, for the acoustic instruments of KAE to shine through. This time there we did not set any obligatory scale, so in effect the improvisation was entirely free.
All in all, we cherished the experience of a fully microtonal participation. After last year’s collaboration with microtonal wizard Johnny Reinhard, revisiting the microtonal realm felt fresh and rewarding. We are looking forward to doing it again.
composer, teacher of harmony & counterpoint, coordinator of Korvat Auki Ensemble