Music, Tuning

Overtone Scale II

In my previous post on the so called “overtone scale,” I questioned whether any scale defined in the context of 12-tone equal temperament can be said to mimic the harmonic series.  I provided an audio example that shows the way accurately tuned harmonic partials seem to fuse into a single tone, whereas when those partials are altered to match equal temperament, the composite sound is rough and unstable.  My point was that the special perceptual properties of the harmonic series depend on accurate intonation, an appropriate pattern of amplitude decay, and appropriate registration; we should be cautious about assuming that any scale constructed in equal temperament will somehow inherit the special properties of the harmonic series by virtue of an incomplete resemblance to it.  My aim in the post was not to call into question the musical worth of any particular scale (and certainly not to address George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept as a whole), but only to point out that the Lydian Dominant scale shouldn’t be called an “overtone scale” when played on the piano or any tempered instrument: that name is misleading.

In this post I’d like to share another simple audio example that might help readers form their own judgments on the matter.  If the scale 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7 really does invoke the harmonic series in our minds, even when we hear it on a tempered instrument, how would that scale sound if its pitches were brought into exact alignment with the harmonic series?  Would that tuning bring us closer to the essence of the scale, or would it conflict with what we want to hear?

In the first audio example below, you will hear the Lydian Dominant scale rendered on an equal-tempered organ.  The ascending and descending scale is followed by a short tune that I wrote in the scale.  In the second audio example, you’ll hear the Lydian Dominant scale tuned so its pitches match the harmonic series, followed again by the example tune.  The just intonation ratios used in the second clip are: 1/1, 9/8, 5/4, 11/8, 3/2, 13/8, 7/4.  You will hear that the second, third, and fifth degrees of scale sound similar to what you hear in equal-temperament, while the flat seven, the sharp four, and the natural six are quite different.  (The flat seven is tuned to the seventh partial, the sharp four is tuned to the eleventh partial, and the natural six is tuned to the thirteenth partial.)  Which tuning do you prefer?

Clip 1 — Lydian Dominant Scale in Equal Temperament:

Clip 2 — Lydian Dominant Scale in Harmonic Series Tuning:

One thought on “Overtone Scale II

  1. As much as I love just intonation and the natural overtone scale, due to so many years steeped in ET the second example still sounds weird. It is strange that sounds so universal and existant on all reality become an “aquired taste”

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