Just Tuning In

Some resources for microtonality, just intonation, xenharmonic systems, being out of tune, and other tunings.

I’ve been thinking about microtonality and alternate tuning systems a bit recently. It’s not really my area of expertise but I’ve got a sense that an upcoming composition will need some understanding of Just Intonation. While I’ve read some Partch and Tenney in the past, and some Ben Johnston last year, I can’t say that I really understand it… or rather, I’m not sure I have a feeling for it as much as I’d like to. I need to re-read some things, certainly, but I wonder what I’ve missed in the past, or maybe I’ve been starting from the wrong point…

Given that I’m teaching a bit these days, I started thinking more about how I’d want to learn about microtonality if I were coming to it fresh… and what some of the useful resources might be useful for diving into this strange world of seemingly endless tuning systems. Now, I think listening is generally the route into an area like this, but I’m curious about how it’s explained and discussed, so I’m looking for books/readings/resources. I asked the hive lattice-mind:

I had a sense of some of the key touchstones (Helmholtz, Partch, Tenney) that would crop up, but then in the sprawling comment threads lots more interesting material started to turn up. I thought I might list them here to make it easier to find things. This is of course by no means a comprehensive list of where to start with microtonality, but, if you’re curious, it might give you a nudge to go and read some things:

Lawrence Dunn offers these:

(I’ve not had a chance to read through all of this yet, so recommendations are not necessarily endorsements.)

Thanks to everyone who got back to me with suggestions. (*deep breath* @frozenreeds, @DrPAlvarez, @wednesday_club, @moderncomp, @stephanmathieu, @l_a_dunn, @azzigotti, @swayzeroundhaus, @aaronhnahum, @chayaczernowin7, @rchrdbkrmuso, @michaelbegg, @fantasticdrfox, @mugloch, @heathen_specs, @larrygoves, @_anthonyvine_)

What did I miss? Obviously, this is a massive field of musical thinking, so there’s no reason to try and cover everything. But if there’s some really useful introductory resources, I’d love to know about them. If you have any more ideas of where to look, please send me a message or tweet at me and I’ll update this list. (You’ll note that these resources are white-male heavy… I’m also interested in hearing about writings from those outside this particular demographic if you know of any!)

Finally, I’ll leave the last word to my sage colleague, Scott Mc Laughlin:


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A slight digression from the usual “contemporary classical(ish)” stuff, I’ve released a new tape under my WITH ZERO moniker. NOCTURNES is a 60-minute slow-burning new age piece, intended for deep nighttime listening, meditation and states of half waking/consciousness.




The cassette comes in a limited edition of 50, pro-dubbed on transparent glittering shells (because, y’know…) and is available via bandcamp.


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The WITH ZERO project has been around since about 2012, mainly as a hard drive with which to store miscellaneous synthesiser sketches. This is the first proper release, with a few more in the pipeline for the next couple of months.

Ullmann article now up

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I recently wrote an article on fragility in the music of Jakob Ullmann. I’m very pleased to say that it is now available, published in the excellent TEMPO music journal (Volume 69 / Issue 274, Cambridge University Press).


If you have institution access (or a subscription, which is well worth it), you can read the article here, otherwise, I hope to make the text available as soon as I figure out a way around academia’s archaic copyright systems ( cough email me cough).


For those within reach of HCMF this year, you have a great chance to see a rare performance of Ullmann’s work coming up. Don’t miss it…

Jakob Ullmann :: LIST OF WORKS [2015]

[This list is also available via my academia.edu page and in PDF here.]

Jakob Ullmann

— chronological list of works —


Komposition 2 für Orgel


Organ solo

Komposition für 10 Instrumente (I-V)


  Fl., cl., hn., 4 vl., vla., vc., cb


Komposition für Flote (I-III)


  Flute solo 

MNIMA auf texte von Anna Achmatova


3 female voices, alt.fl., ob., vc., cb.cl. und 36 solo strings

Komposition für Streichquartett


  String quartet

30’|| recording

Komposition für Posaune


  Trombone solo

Symmetries on א [aleph] zero 1


  12 instruments

Symmetries on א [aleph] zero 2 (Komposition für Violine)


  Violin solo

  15′ || recording

Symmetries on א [aleph] zero 3


  4 percussionists


ALAKATA in fünf teilen


  Fl., eh., tbn., perc., hf., va., vc., cb.


La CAnción del ÁnGEl Desaparecido


  Ob., eh., tbn., perc., va., vc., cb.




  Horn quintet

Son Imaginaire II


  Piano solo

  Duration ad lib.

Son Imaginaire III (piano pianissimo)


  Any instrumental group


Meeting John Cage Under The Tropic Of The Late Eighties Oder Wir Überholen Die Moderne


  Instrumentation ad lib.


Komposition á 9 (Palimpsest)


Voice, 2 fl., b.cl., vl., tbn., va., vc.

30’|| recording



Viola and live-electronics


Disappearing Musics


6 Players (More Or Less)

32′ || recording (1)  || recording (2)


(1989 – work in progress)

2 fl., ob., 2 b.cl., 3 tbn., perc., va., 5 vc., 2 cb., 17 actors


Due Frammenti (für Luigi Nono)




Komposition 1 für Orchester (I-V) »…Schwarzer Sand/Schnee…«



i: fl., eh., tbn., hf., 4 vl., 6 va., 2 vc., ii: ob., bssn., tr., 4 hrn. , timp., 2 vl., va., 2 vc., 2 kb., iii: kl., basskl., bssn., tr., 7 vl., 2 va., vc., iv: picc., fl., eh., basskl., 2 tbn., 13 vl., va., 3 vc., 4 cb., 3 perc.

50’|| recording

voice, books and FIRE I


Voice(s) and any sound-creators

70′(original score lost)

25 Items in Variations (II)


Preparations for John Cage’s Variations II for chamber ensemble


voice, books and FIRE II/2


Voices (and sound-creators)


Echoing The Distant Sounds


Percussion, 4 (wood)wind and string trio


– also performable separately:

Komposition für Streichtrio (I-III)


(String trio from Echoing The Distant Sounds)


Solo I

(1992-93; revised 2010)

Flute solo (later oboe da caccia)


Solo II

(1992-93; 2010)

Trombone solo (later bassoon)


Solo III

(1992-93; revised 2010; 2012)

  Organ solo

  32’ min || recording

— all Solo series may also be performed with accompanying electronic modification or in combination with other solos —  also recorded as Solo I+II+III || recording

Komposition für Orchester 2



i: fl., b.cl., tbn., eh., 2 vl., va., 2 vc., 3 cb., string trio i; ii: 4 hr., pno., vl., 2 va., 2 vc., 3 cb., string trio ii; iii: fl., tbn., cl., bssn., timp., 2 vl., va., vc., kb.


voice, books and FIRE II/1




Komposition für Orchester 3



i: fl., b.cl., tbn., perc., 5 vl., 2 va., 3 vc., cb.; ii: bssn., 4 hr., tr., 6 vl., va., 2 vc., 2 kb; iii: fl., ob., 2 cl., bssn., timp., 6 vl., 2 va., 2 vc., kb.; iv: eh., tbn., 6 vl., 3 va., vc., cb.; v: fl., eh., tbn., perc., 5 vl., 2 va., vc., 3 cb.; 5 s.


A Catalogue Of Sounds

(1995 -)

13 solo strings (ensemble) and 1-13 string soloists

  70′ || recording

voice, books and FIRE II/4




19’30” for the Morgan O’Hara project


  Fl., e.hn., cl., tbn., vl., vc., cb., perc., pno.

Komposition für Streichquartett II


  String quartet

  50’ || recording (1) || recording (2)



  Foreword/minute’s silence for orchestra



(Kol 1)


Fl., e.hn., cl., vl., vla., vc., cb., perc.


  ב׳ כֹּל

(Kol 2)


Voices, fl. e.hn., cl., 2 vl., 2 vla., vc.


voice, books and FIRE II/5




voice, books and FIRE III


  Voices and instruments

70’ || recording

PRAHA: Celetná – Karlova – Maiselova


  Voices, fl., hn., vl., vla., vcn., cb., perc., speaker and electronics.

60’ || recording

Ὄρος Μετεωρος. dramatisches fragment mit Aischylos und Euripides (Horos Metéoros)


  Sop., 3 choir groups, 3 auloi, ob. da caccia, perc. and string trio


La Segunda Canción del Angel Desaparecido


  Fl., bsst.hn., bssn., 2 perc., 2 vl., vla., 2 vc


Solo IV


  low-pitched string instrument (premiered as ‘cello)

Solo V



45’ min.

– Solos I-V may be played together –


  • Currently, the voice, books and FIRE series remains unfinished. The final piece, voice, books and FIRE II/3, is due to be completed by 2019. The original score to voice, books and FIRE I however, remains lost.
  • The solo sections of the original score to A Catalogue of Sounds have been lost and the sketches are no longer extant. Parts 1-10 remain lost, whilst 11-13 have been recreated using fragments of the string ensemble parts. The published score features 4 violins, 5 violas, 3 violoncellos and 1 contrabass.
  • For the Solo series (currently I-V), any constituent parts may be played simultaneously. For example: Solo I+II+III or Solo II+IV+V.



–appears in collections–

Donaueschinger Musiktage 1991

Orchestrola (1992)

Komposition für Orchester (I-V) »…Schwarzer Sand/Schnee…«  (38’45”)

  1. Äußerst langsam (11’35”)
  2. Rasch (6’23”)
  3. Äußerst langsam, quasi senza tempo (8’27”)
  4. Ziemlich rasch (4’18”)
  5. Äußerst langsam (7’57”)

Müller (sop.); Bamert (cnd.); Sinfonieorchester des Südwestfunks Baden-Baden

Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik 1992

WDR (1992)

25 Items in Variations (ii)

R.E.J.C. (John Cage/Jakob Ullmann/ensemble recherche)

Maderna / Ullmann / Hespos

AHL-Classics (1996)

Komposition á 9 (Palimpsest)(28’57”)

Spreitz-Runfeldt (m.sop.); Müller-Goldbloom (cnd.); work in progress – Berlin

John Cage / Jakob Ullmann

HR-Musik (2007)

Komposition für streichquartett 2(34’44”)

Arditti quartet

–as featured composer–

Jakob Ullmann (portrait)

Wergo (1996)

  1. Komposition für streichquartett (23’47”)
    • Streichquartett des Ensemble UnitedBerlin
  2. Komposition für Violine (Symmetries on Aleph Zero 2) (13’43”)
    • Nicolaus Richter de Vroe (vln. & elec.)
  3. Disappearing Musics (34’19”)
    • ensemble recherche freiburg

A Catalogue of Sounds (1995-1997)

Edition RZ (2005)

  1. A Catalogue of Sounds (73’16”)
    • Ensemble Oriol Berlin
    • soloists: Ritts-Kirby (vln.); Renshaw (vla.); Kasper (vcl.)

voice, books and FIRE III

Edition RZ (2008)

  1. voice, books and FIRE III (70’21”)
    • Ensemble für experimentelle Musik 2006

Fremde Zeit • Addendum (1-3)

Edition RZ (2012)

Disc 1:

  1. Disappearing Musics (34’14”)
    • Staravoitava (fl); Serassis (cl.); Stadler (sax.); Sepsi, Csizmadia (vln.); Martin, Schulz (pno.)
  2. Solo I + II + III (40’42”)
    • McDolan (ob. cacc.); Vicente-Sandoval (bssn.); Schulz (org.)

Disc 2:

  1. Komposition für streichquartett 2 (47’26”)
    • Pellegrini quartet

Disc 3:

  1. PRAHA: celetná – karlova – maiselova (55’29”)
    • Flückiger, (vox.); Bösch (fl); Vicente-Sandoval (bssn.); Winkelman (vl.); Margulies (vla.); Fallowfield (vcl.); Gervais (cb., perc.); Schmidt (spkr.); Idrobo Arce (elec.)

Fremde Zeit • Addendum 4

Edition RZ (2013)

  1. Solo III für orgel (66’03”)
    • Hans-Peter Schultz (org.)

Compiled by Oliver Thurley

December, 2014