Xenharmonic music

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Xenharmonic musical tuning systems are those that don't conform to or closely approximate the common 12-tone equal temperament. The term was coined by Ivor Darreg, from xenia (Greek ξενία), "hospitable," and xenos (Greek ξένος) "foreign." He stated: "This writer has proposed the term xenharmonic for music, melodies, scales, harmonies, instruments, and tuning-systems which do not sound like the 12-tone-equal temperament."[1]

Xenharmonic tunings include those such as 5- and 7-tone equal temperament, which are perhaps excluded under "microtonal" rubric, since their intervals are larger than those of 12-ET. The term "microtonal" may have also been seen as too restrictive in that it was strongly associated with the quartertone movement, and with composers like Julián Carrillo, who only worked in equal temperaments that were multiples of 12. Darreg was among the first to argue that any equal temperament could be a valid source of musical materials.

Xenharmonic tunings[edit]

Any scale or tuning other than 12-tone equal temperament can be used to create xenharmonic music. This includes other equal divisions of the octave and scales based on extended just intonation.

Tunings derived from the overtones of physical objects with an inharmonic overtone series such as rods, prongs, plates, discs, spheroids and rocks are sometimes used as the basis of xenharmonic exploration. William Sethares is a pioneer in this area.

The Non-Pythagorean scale utilized by Robert Schneider of The Apples in Stereo, based on a sequence of logarithms, may also be considered xenharmonic.

Xenharmonic composers[edit]

Annie Gosfield's purposefully "out of tune" sampler based music uses non systematic tunings that may be considered xenharmonic. Other composers of xenharmonic music include Elodie Lauten, Wendy Carlos, Ivor Darreg, Paul Erlich and many others.


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