Vexations Re-tuned - my contribution
Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 11:45AM

As part of this year's Micro-Fest in Los Angeles, John Scheider invited a number of microtonal composers, yours truly included, to make an alternate tuning to Erik Satie's Vexations.  Vexations, for those of you who have forgotten, is supposed to be repeated 840 times, and uses a bewildering variety of double sharps, double flats, etc in its notation.  If you take the accidentals seriously, there are 21 pitches that Satie uses.  So the obvious question would be (obvious to microtonalists, that is), what would Vexations sound like with 21 different pitches in the octave.  17 of us responded, and here's the program, which happened on April 1, at the Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Center, on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.

It's a very nice crew that contributed, and some of them have already written their scales, and the reasons behind them.  Here's Kraig Grady's explanation of his scale, and the performance, here's Terumi Narushima's explanation of her scale, and the performance, and here is Kyle Gann's explanation of his.  I'd love to be able to give you an erudite explanation of my scale, but the truth is, I've lost the notes, and I can't remember a thing about how I made it.  None the less, here's my tuning for Satie's Vexations:

 0:  C         1/1                0.000  unison, perfect prime

  1:  C#       17/16            104.955  17th harmonic

  2:   Db      128/119        126.219

  3:   D        32/29            170.423  29th subharmonic

  4:   Ebb    8/7                 231.174  septimal whole tone

  5:   D#      39/32            342.483  39th harmonic, Zalzal wosta of Ibn Sina

  6:   Eb      79/64             364.537

  7:   E        5/4                 386.314  major third

  8:   F        4/3                 498.045  perfect fourth

  9:   F#      11/8               551.318  undecimal semi-augmented fourth

 10:  Gb     16/11             648.682  undecimal semi-diminished fifth

 11:   G      3/2                 701.955  perfect fifth

 12:   G#    51/32             806.910

 13:   Ab    8/5                 813.686  minor sixth

 14:   A      209/128         848.831

 15:   Bbb  64/39             857.517  39th subharmonic

 16:    A#   7/4                 968.826  harmonic seventh

 17:    Bb   29/16             1029.577  29th harmonic

 18:    B     119/64           1073.781

 19:    Cb   32/17             1095.045  17th subharmonic

 20:    B#   243/128         1109.775  Pythagorean major seventh

 21:    C     2/1                 1200.000  octave

Anybody who wants to get a PhD in Music Theory is welcome to try and analyse this - the only note I have regarding its genesis is "based on Erv Wilson's Mt Meru scales work," which is not too helpful, but at least points one in the right direction.

There are sound recordings of five other tunings up on the Micro-Fest website - tunings by Bill Alves, Kyle Gann, Ron Nagorcka, John Schneider, and Terumi Narushima.  Listen to them here.

Finally, here's the recording of my piece. Thanks to John and the pianist Richard Valitutto, for permision to post this, and thanks to Richard for his wonderful performance.  By the way, John and Richard recently also made the new, magnificent recording of Harry Partch's Bitter Music on Bridge Records.

John Schneider tells me that there will be a CD release soon of all the tunings from the Vexations project, so I'll let you know about that as soon as I do.  

Erik Satie: Vexations - retuned by Warren Burt - performed by Richard Valitutto.


Article originally appeared on WARREN BURT (
See website for complete article licensing information.