Xenharmonic music

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Xenharmonicity includes intervals smaller than 12-tet and microtonality includes intervals larger than 12-tet. About this sound Play 

Xenharmonic music is music whose tuning systems do not conform to or closely approximate the common 12-tone equal temperament. The term xenharmonic 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....Xenharmonics is intended to include just intonation and such temperaments as the 5-,7-, and 11-tone, along with the higher-numbered really-microtonal systems as far as one wishes to go."[1]

"The converse of this definition is that music which can be performed in 12-tone equal temperament without significant loss."[2] Thus xenharmonic music may be distinguished from the more common twelve-tone equal temperament, as well as some use of just intonation and equal temperaments, by the use of unfamiliar intervals, harmonies, and timbres. For example, a use purely of the diatonic scales worked out by Easley Blackwood in equal temperaments from twelve to twenty-four may be excluded, due to the use of diatonic functions from and the closest intervals to twelve-tone equal temperament. Darreg explains: "I devised the term 'xenharmonic' to refer to everything that does not sound like 12-tone equal temperament."[3]

Tunings and instruments[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 partials or overtones of physical objects with an inharmonic spectrum or 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. Sethares created the tubulong, a set of xenharmonic tubes.[4]

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


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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Xenharmonic Bulletin No. 2, May 1974 at the Wayback Machine (archived February 5, 2012)
  2. ^ Chalmers, John H. (1993). Divisions of the tetrachord: a prolegomenon to the construction of musical scales, p.1. Frog Peak Music. ISBN 9780945996040.
  3. ^ Robert Smith, Robert Wilhite. Sound: An Exhibition of Sound Sculpture, Instrument Building and Acoustically Tuned Spaces : Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, July 14-August 31, 1979, Project Studios 1, New York, September 30-November 18, 1979.
  4. ^ Haluška, Ján (2003). The Mathematical Theory of Tone Systems, p.283. Marcel Dekker. ISBN 9788088683285.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]