Writings About Music

Flavored Sound

What we are really talking about here is rejoicing in the discovery of new flavors. Imagine not knowing about the tastes of India, China, Africa, Indonesia, Japan, Cuba, Brazil, etc. And individual composers after being exposed to different flavors, known as both tunings and timbres in music, may be drawn to specific types. In Western classical music, the most famous example is Claude Debussy, and how he pursued a direction initially suggested by a gamelan orchestra he happened to hear.

Myself, I’ve used a range of varied tunings and timbres, including dividing the octave into different numbers of steps, though mostly finding Just Intonation as the preferred choice for the simple reason that it seems to sound best in the context of expressive and technical delivery for individual compositions. One piece, Lahaina Lanterns, surprised me by insisting upon Equal Temperament tuning!



I would encourage every composer to delve into this area of infinite tunings and timbres while being mindful of how they are part of a larger vision of melody, rhythm and form. There has been much misinformation spread about the nature of tuning in Indian classical music, for example, as if it were an end in itself. Speaking with some of that forms towering masters, including Pandit Jasraj and Shivkumar Sharma, they verify that tuning is related to specific ragas, and phrases within those ragas used to exemplify rasa, or expressive essence. It makes me uncomfortable when mention of tuning becomes overly scientific, echoing the formulas of the serialists.

- Michael Robinson, August 2017, Los Angeles


© 2017 Michael Robinson All rights reserved


Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).