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6 customer reviews

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Audio CD, March 15, 1998
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Xentonality explores the relationship between spectrum and tuning. Specially crafted timbres are used in unusual scales and modes. Listen to the "guitar" in Ten Fingers or the synth sounds in Circle of Thirds, which are tuned to a scale that divides the octave into 10 equally spaced intervals, instead of the familiar 12 equal divisions of the piano. The overall effect is weird, otherworldly, but it is not jarring, dissonant, or noisy.

Max Mathews, one of the founders of electronic music, says, "It's clear that inharmonic timbres are one of the richest sources of new sounds. At the same time they are a veritable jungle of possibilities so that some order has to be brought out of this rich chaos before it is to be musically useful."

Xentonality provides an organizing principle that helps to order this rich chaos. Tunes are performed in 10, 19, 17, and 13 equal divisions of the octave, as well as other scales specially designed to match natural and unnatural timbres.


The chords sounded smooth and nondissonant but strange and somewhat eerie. The effect was so different from the tempered scale that there was no tendency to judge in-tuneness or out-of-tuneness. It seemed like a peek into a new musical world, in which none of the old rules applied, and the new ones, if any, were undiscovered. -- F. H. Slaymaker

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1. Ten Fingers
2. Circle of Thirds
3. Three Ears
4. Seventeen Strings
5. Unlucky Flutes
6. Glass Lake
7. Duet for Morphine and Cymbal
8. Tingshaw
9. Incidence and Coincidence
10. Haroun in 88
11. 88 Vibes
12. October 21st
13. Saint Vitus Dance
14. Truth on a Bus
15. Imaginary Horses
16. The Turquoise Dabo Girl

Product Details

  • Audio CD (March 15, 1998)
  • Original Release Date: February 15, 1998
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • ASIN: B00000I7UH
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #693,666 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By James C Sethares on November 18, 2000
Format: Audio CD
Two years ago I reviewed the book "Tuning, Timbre, Spectrum, Scale" (TTSS) which forms the basis for most of the musical pieces on the CD Xentonality. Here, I review and enthusiastically recommend this CD for those interested in new forms of music.
First, in the spirit of another reviewer Doren Garcia, let me qualify myself. I have a good deal of experience in the physics and mathematics underlying the basic ideas described in TTSS. Most of my working career was spent as a research physicist investigating electromagnetic and acoustic properties/phenomena in various media, at Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories in Bedford, Massachusetts. While listening to the music on Xentonality it became clear to me, even though I am not an expert in music theory, that the CD includes not only musical pieces which demonstrate techniques described in TTSS, but at the same time contains new and unusual sounds which I can only describe as beautiful music. For me, the songs on Xentonality put to rest any lingering doubts concerning the bright future of Xenharmonic music.
There are 16 musical pieces on Xentonality:
"Ten Fingers" and "Circle of Thirds" exhibit a strange kind of consonant effect in the difficult tuning system 10-tet, where there are ten equally spaced notes per octave. These two pieces also portray certain effects and chord patterns achievable in this unusual tuning system. "Three Ears" adjusts the pitches of tones microtonally to enhance consonance, during each sampled time interval. The resulting slides and swoops are both interesting and pleasant.
The next three pieces transform sounds from one tuning into another in an unusual kind of modulation.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By D. Garcia on April 26, 2000
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
First let me qualify myself. I know a hell of a lot about music. I'm a fanatic. At one time I had 10,000 recordings in my collection. I also write music. In some ways I'm a snob. I like all kinds of music but no particular type. I once took a job for 2 years at Tower Records so that I could hear everything. I like Varese, Miles Davis, Stan Ridgeway, Sun Ra, Ralph Stanley, Beethoven, Captain Beefheart, The Damned and... is that enough?
Microtonal music is definitely an important part of the future of music if not THE most important part of the future of music. Digital technology has finally made Microtonal music practical and accessible to musicians and composers. Most Microtonal music written up until now was written by academics, god love `em, we need them. But that's too bad, because some of this academic music can turn people off to the amazing possibilities of Microtonal music. Music isn't just better math, music is art. Art has to COMMUNICATE possibilities and challenge preconceived notions to be good art.
I've been waiting for the time when musicians would start using microtones in a musical way and fortunately the time has come. There are now several good Microtonal musicians; Wendy Carlos, Brink McGoogy, Prent Rogers, Jon Appleton and some others who could be loosely called Microtonalists; La Monte Young and Terry Riley. Haven't hear of them? That's because they are ahead of their time.
We can add William to this short list. William writes microtonal music that is really musical. He's not afraid to make music that plain sounds good. It challenges and it sounds good. You can listen to it carefully or in the background. In addition William has contributed some theoretical ideas which allow some really cool manipulations of the timbral qualities.
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By Mark Cowan on January 13, 2009
Format: Audio CD
Actually, I was Googling to see if William Sethares had released a new album yet (this came out in '97). Appears not (** see below **), but having discovered his microtonal work on the internet several years ago, by accident, and downloaded samples, I got this CD. It remains part of my morning play list - every day. It's that good. Close listening continues to reveal new levels.

This album will expand your mind musically, it's as simple as that. If Bach had a hand in opening your ears, if Mozart suddenly made you go "ah!", if Hendrix took you to a space that only psychedelics could reach before, if traditional Asian microtonal music evokes Zen vistas - be assured this will continue the journey. But also be warned - the 12-tone scale will eventually come to seem rather limited by comparison. Don't worry - it won't ruin Bach for you. Nothing can do that.

It's superb - buy it!

** An update (1/6/09): I see a listing for "Exomusicology" dated 2002 - ah ha! I'm getting that! **

Thanks for reading.
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