"What's a Theramin?" Page innacurate.

Posted: 10/6/2008 10:16:40 PM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

P.S. And don't even get me started on the
syntonic comma (

(shorter version: more things in heaven and earth)
Posted: 10/6/2008 10:40:16 PM

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire, U.K. ................................... Fred Mundell. ................................... Electronics Engineer. (Primarily Analogue) .. CV Synths 1974-1980 .. Theremin developer 2007 to present .. soon to be Developing / Trading as WaveCrafter.com . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syntonic_comma - Found it!

"an error of 10 cents would be completely unacceptable in a unison or octave, or a perfect ...."

Thanks for that, Brian - interesting stuff I never knew - I have believed that 10 cent error was the point at which 'problems' started, and that, provided any pitch error was below this, no one would notice. I designed my instruments to 1 cent theoretical worst case error just to be safe - and thought I was being pedantic!

Does my idea that a 'distributed' error is more likely than a consistent adding of an error offset seem right to you? is there any reason why a person would add say 1 extra cent to each semitone, than that they would randomly 'land' on a pitch within (say) +/- 5 cents ?

I hope I am not doing a 'hijack' on this thread.. If I am, please put me in my place! - but the answer to this could be quite important to me in terms of my design - I am looking at incorperating microtonal quantization, and any possibility that the process could be 'fooled' needs to be looked at.
Posted: 10/7/2008 12:12:03 AM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

Hi, Fred--

If this is a hijacking, then I'm gleefully wielding an Uzi alongside you.

I hesitate to hazard a guess as to the likelihood of making consistent errors (e.g., falling slightly short as one goes up a scale, so as not to cover a full octave), or of making an assortment of errors.

I suspect that the results could vary widely, depending on 1) the character of the melody being performed, and 2) the extent to which the player is finding intervals from one note to the next (absolutely dead reckoning), or remembering across successive notes (half-dead reckoning?).

Given that the 12-ET semitone represents an irrational frequency relationship, I wouldn't be surprised if players tend to err consistently. (I can confess to this myself, anecdotally... the piece I just premiered last month featured a LOT of chromatic noodling, with short runs of semitones... and when I practiced unaccompanied, I would all too often wind up on the wrong note at the end of such a passage!)*

P.S. About the tolerances: Your mileage may vary, across different individuals and different cultures. In the Baroque era, the prevalent "mean-tone" tuning systems sacrificed the accuracy of fourths and fifths (which were off by as much as six cents, if I recall correctly... which sounds gruesome to our modern ears!) in order to achieve greater accuracy of thirds and fourths. I think Harry Partch pointed out that with just a little practice, one can easily learn to hear more "distant" ratios (such as those involving 11 and 13) accurately. I know the 3rds on a modern piano didn't bother me a whit before I started paying attention to these things... but now they annoy me in slow, sustained passages.

* [...and I blush to confess, these were passages that spanned only one octave, not eight...]
Posted: 10/7/2008 12:28:42 AM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

Oh, and about the memory thing:

(this will somewhat repeat things I've said elsewhere on the site, in years past)

If you're listening and calculating strictly from note to note, then as Gordon points out, the dead-reckoning drift can accumulate all too rapidly.

But if you have a clear sense of where one or two key pitches are, then you can err slightly when you depart from them, but find them again when you return (even if needing to adjust slightly).

So, in highly diatonic melodies (e.g., Handel, "Where'er you walk"), I can do pretty well staying in tune from start to finish, because I'm remembering most of the notes of the scale (what the cognitive scientists would call a strategy of position-finding, rather than pattern-matching)... above all, I'm always keeping in mind that tonic B-flat.

In more chromatic selections (e.g., the Rakhmaninov "Vokaliz"), I drift, because the melody is constantly resetting the tonal frame of reference, incorporating more chromatic semitones, etc.

When I'm atop my fuzzy-set soapbox, I emphasize that it's a bit silly to talk about EITHER having absolute pitch, OR not having it (as something one is born with, and cannot hope to cultivate). Rather, my experience suggests that there is a whole continuum of short-term to long-term memory. Absolute pitch represents the long-term extreme (i.e., you never forget where each pitch is). But those of us far from that extreme nonetheless can inch closer to it, with practice.

When there's a piece of music I'm studying from day to day, I'll tend to remember pivotal notes (especially the starting pitch). F'rinstance, yesterday I played along with the prelude to Act I of Wagner's [i]Parsifal[/i], and today I poked my nose into the vocal score for Kundry's kiss in Act II.

Just now, to test myself, I tried to find the opening A-flat of the prelude. I tried to start on one pitch, immediately recognized it as the wrong one (about a third or fourth too high), corrected it, and then checked myself with a pitch pipe... self-corrected second attempt turned out to be an A, rather than Ab.

Then I tried to find Parsifal's cry of "Amfortas!" (F-E), and nailed it.

For those of you keeping score at home: that was an error of only a semitone for the items last heard about 24 hours ago, and spot-on for the item last heard about 7 hours ago.

And then there are some pitches that are just burned in... e.g., the singer's opening G-sharp in the first song of Schumann's [i]Dichterliebe[/i], which I just found, even though I haven't sung or played that selection in months, maybe a year or more.
Posted: 10/7/2008 12:31:43 AM
Brian R

From: Somerville, MA

Joined: 10/7/2005

OK, full-disclosure of additional self-test, and then I'll shut up:

I just tried a couple of other items that I [i]thought[/i] were burned-in, from vocal study years ago... but I missed one by a semitone, and the other by a whole step.

Then recalled the first big/loud trombone entrance (E-flat to A-flat) in that Wagner prelude, and was right on (as opposed to the softer, more amorphous A-flat at its start).

Bottom line: If I can learn to do this, you can, too.
Posted: 10/7/2008 12:58:31 AM

From: Eastleigh, Hampshire, U.K. ................................... Fred Mundell. ................................... Electronics Engineer. (Primarily Analogue) .. CV Synths 1974-1980 .. Theremin developer 2007 to present .. soon to be Developing / Trading as WaveCrafter.com . ...................................

Joined: 12/7/2007

I like that [b]"half-dead reckoning"[/b] - LOL.. Ive been doing quite a lot of that lately!!

Thanks for all that meaty input though - quite a bit of it (particularly the references to specific pieces of music) are way above me - but I will endevour to fill in the other 'gaps'. I certainly think you are right (or close) on the memory aspects.. I have expierienced the same sort of things.. But there are some pieces I have listened to quite regularly since I was a teen (>>30 years ago), which I have absolute pitch memory for.. I can go to an untuned synth, tune it precisely from my memory of a note in the piece, and play it - ( Some tracks of Tales from Topographic oceans by Yes are in this group).. If I remember to 'tune in' to my memory of these pieces, I get the tuning right.. If I try to tune based on my memory of A440, I often get it wrong! -- Funny ol thing, the brain!

These pieces, which are 'burned' into my brain, do need refreshing for them to work.. I used to listen to Emerson Lake and Palmer's "just take a pebble.." (dont know if thats the title) daily - then lost the album, and went for several years before I got a copy of it again.. I sat at my keyboard to play (and sing) along (waited till everyone was out, closed doors and windows, so I could really let go..) And I was miles out - couldnt hit a note.. but after a few plays, I can 'tune' to it far more quickly now than to any piece I first heard in the last 20 years - even though many of these are easier and have been played more often.

however.. as a scientist rather than an artist, I must question the validity of both your and my 'subjective' expieriences as the basis for any conclusions..

You went 'cold' and tried [b]" to find the opening A-flat of the prelude".. "immediately recognized it as the wrong one" .. "corrected it".. and checked with a pitch pipe...[/b] This might have given you a mental 'tuning' or 'mapping' of the instrument, which might be the reason why when you then tried [b]"to find Parsifal's cry of "Amfortas!" (F-E)," you nailed it. [/b].. It would be interesting to reverse the experiment and try the (F-E) first, and see if you got the same result.. With my 'tuning' it is much more difficult to determine the mechanism - it might just be 'motivational' - I WANT to play these pieces, I never really manage to play them completely, but I need (for my delusional satisfaction) to be as in-tune as possible or I have no hope of fooling myself that I am really managing to play that Rick Wakeman lead....

THIS THREAD IS CONTINUED HERE (http://www.thereminworld.com/forum.asp?F=480&T=3595&cmd=p)

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