Agitated Atmosphere: Various Artists – The Harmonic Series

As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound such as The Harmonic Series: A Compilation of Musical Works in Just Intonation.

Curated by Duane Pitre and released via experimental safe haven, Important, The Harmonic Series is a avant nerd’s wet dream come true. Each of the nine contributors (including Pitre) study just intonation, a form of tuning that involves the frequencies of notes in a convoluted mess that music majors and invested hobbyists only dare to master. Pitre is wise to include further explanations and studies in the booklet as do some of the artists involved on the album.

But it’s the music you’ve come for and this exploration into the harmonic series delivers in droned masses. Each piece (and it’s wiser to call them pieces rather than songs with run times often hovering near double digits chunks) delves into the mysteries of just intonation and the whole-number ratios that entail their creation. While just intonation has been the basis for more traditional or classical musics for centuries, it is allowed to be freer in the realm of Pitre’s compilation. The album’s first two tracks explore even keel melodies, choosing to display just intonation as the buzzes of bees and monotone whispers. Michael Harrison takes a different trajectory with “Tone Cloud II,” which finds familiar splashes of piano being absorbed into the resonance of just intonation. While The Harmonic Series comp is full of fantastic drones the likes of Louisville’s king of resonator guitar, R. Kennan Lawler but it’s when just intonation finds an accidental melody more in tune with contemporary aesthetics that it truly adds depth to Duane Pitre’s vision. His own piece, “Comprovisation for Justly Tuned Ukelin no. 1″ furthers this argument with a slapdash melody that sounds like a child playing on a busted harpsichord. The result is a recognizable, if broken, harmony that displays the power of just intonation beyond a tool from drone folks to create consonance and dissonance from fractional hertz.

Listen to Michael Harrison’s “Tone Cloud II (from Revelation)”:

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Justin Spicer is a freelance journalist who also runs the webzine, Electronic Voice Phenomenon. He writes the Monday News Mash-Up for the KEXP Blog. You may follow him on Twitter.

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