Various Artists – The Harmonic Series (CD Important Records)

This rather wonderful compilation from Important Records is subtitled “A Compilation of Musical Works in Just Intonation.” Just Intonation is a term, these days, most often associated with La Monte Young. La Monte isn’t the person who came up with Just Intonation but he’s certainly the person who perhaps has done the most to popularise it. Though his reluctance to release very much of his work in recorded format could suggest otherwise.

The Harmonic Series is the successive series of tones whose frequencies are integer multiples of a fundamental tone. I.e 110Hz, 220Hz, 330Hz etc. And Just Intonation is a tuning system derived from the Harmonic Series in which all the intervals of the system can be represented by whole number ratios.

Just Intonation is just one of many different tuning systems across the world. None necessarily better or worse than the others. But it is one that suits certain types of music.  What this compilation does is bring together 8 pieces by well-known composers/musicians all written in Just Intonation. Interestingly enough despite different instrumentation and styles they do all share a very common feel. Just Intonation produces a rather melancholy sound and the artist I can most relate this sound/feel to is one who is missing off here. Tony Conrad. His gliding, sweeping, droning viola sounds have the feel of this album summed up in one instrument and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that he was an integral part of La Monte Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music.

The artists that are on here are Ellen Fullman and Theresa Wong, Greg Davis, Michael Harrison, R Keenan Lawler, Pauline Oliveros, Duane Pitre, Zachary James Watkins and Charles Curtis.

There are no real disappointments here. I’m not the worlds greatest fan of the accordion so for me from a personal perspective Pauline Oliveros‘s piece is probably my least favourite but even this after a few plays starts to grow on you. Maybe that’s a facet of Just Intonation, may it’s not.

The album comes with notes from each artists explaining their piece and in most cases with the frequencies used which adds an extra level of interest.

This album serves as a fantastic introduction to not only Just Intonation but also to the artists if any of them are unfamiliar and it would be great if Important could follow this up with more albums of Just Intonation pieces. DB