MUSIC WITHOUT MINOR SECONDS
A Harmonic Field for "Cave of Luminous Mind"
Music without minor seconds? Why not! The central atonal field in the fast movement of Cave of Luminous Mind is constructed to avoid the interval, and it seems to produce a remarkably spatial effect, devoid of the tension that a surface with minor seconds generates. I suppose it is akin to a kind of atonal pentatonic material, only obliquely related to pentatonic scales.
Luminous Mind is inspired by the meditational journey of the Tibetan saint Milarepa. Subjects such as these which inhabit most unusual ‘non-Western’ territory, cannot be convincingly clothed in the harmonic materials of a traditional European vintage, such as diatonic keys, or even chromatic extensions of them such as we find in Wagner. Buddhist concepts originated in an ancient world, and these ideas relating to meditation, self transformation and enlightenment find only distant resonance in Western intellectual history. So it seemed especially anomalous to use such traditional ‘Western’ materials, as they tend to summon powerful historic and cultural associations that detract from the sheer uniqueness of Buddhist concepts.
However I encountered no such difficulty when I began to use atonal harmonic fields, specially constructed in order to give harmonic colour to this form of intellectual and psychological discourse. Atonal harmonic fields symmetrically projected outwards from the centre with non-replicating octaves seem especially suited to expressing these kinds of alternate realities. The harmonic field with which I start my work is given below and it recurs many times in various transpositions of itself and very occasionally with one or two altered or added tones. There are very few direct octaves in this field, though there are double octaves, hence the pitch class content within each octave tends to be different from the octave above and the octave below it. Of course there are any numbers of ways to construct such fields and with different degrees of density and intervallic properties.
The field above is constructed entirely from consecutive major seconds and minor thirds. It also features embedded diminished seventh tetrachords and – towards the extremities - complementary whole tone scales. Through repetition, reiteration and free arpeggiation, and with multiple instrumental colours thrown rapidly on its pitch grid, it begins to assume a quality of “potent” stasis and yet seems to me to release remarkable energy when orchestral sonorities are cast into its mould. The symmetry of its pitch structure gives it an additional quality of stability. The lack of minor seconds seems to make it less personal and more ‘objective’ in its effect. As the meditational journey lies beyond normal emotion and personality-driven psychological phenomena, it seemed to me that this field was especially suited to the task.
Interestingly, fields like this present a practical problem when writing for the harp. The harp is designed to be an octave-replicating piece of technology. When considering a harmonic field, it is apparent that if the pitch class content of one octave does not match the next octave above or below, this either means that the harp must play very sparely, or deploy swift pedal changes and ingenious enharmonic tuning.