Julia Werntz: Imperfections (2010)
I wrote Imperfections for Amy Advocat in January of this year. I had a limited amount of time for composing, and I was using an unfamiliar scale, so out of necessity I kept the piece short, and conceptually simple.
I took a straightforward linear approach, exploiting the special expressive melodic qualities of this scale which has only one “step” (the lovely 146 cents interval) and “skips” of rather ordinary sounding minor thirds (293 cents) and strikingly large and evocative major thirds (439 cents). I am used to composing microtonal music using 72 equal divisions of the octave (72 edo), which allows me seven kinds of minor third, seven kinds of major third, and so on. It was a welcome challenge to limit my melodic choices this way.
To enable myself to compose with a familiar vocabulary, I simply conceived of the Bohlen-Pierce scale as a subset of 72 edo (with the Ezra Sims symbols I’ve used for many years). Using 72 edo I was able to approximate Bohlen-Pierce temperament always within eight cents of accuracy. When the piece was finished, I converted it back to the BP clarinet notation.
Imperfections is a simple melodic expression, as well as an expression of the Bohlen-Pierce scale—from the point of view of a Bohlen-Pierce newcomer. It makes statements and asks questions the way melodies typically do, while it also features structural aspects of the scale, such as the “true” consonances of the 3/1 and 5/1 intervals, as well as the “false” octaves, fifths and thirds.
It is a short homage to another way of thinking about music.