J.S. Bach C Major Prelude & Fugue On The Tonal Plexus Keyboard, In Just Intonation

Sunday Synth Jam: This video captures a performance by Aaron Andrew Hunt of Bach’s C Major Prelude & Fugue, Book 1, BWV 846, on a Tonal Plexus keyboard.

Hunt’s performance both the use of an alternative keyboard and Just Intonation.

Here’s what Hunt has to say about the performance:

Here’s a rendition of Bach’s C Major Prelude and Fugue (opening) played in Just Intonation on a Tonal Plexus keyboard

Obviously, Bach did not write this music to be played in Just Intonation (the “Well Tempered” part of “Well Tempered Klavier” has a specific meaning for tuning), so this is an experimental performance which uses pure 3rds and 5ths, natural 7ths in dominant chords, and harmonics reaching the 17-Limit in diminished chords. In several places, a common tone can be heard to ‘bend’ from one chord to the next (usually in ii-V progressions) where a pitch has to move by a septimal comma; the pitch is changing in real time by JND steps.

This is a single take. I played only the opening of the fugue, very slowly ; ) This is for two reasons. First, so my fingers will behave and play the right keys, and second, so the sounds of Just Intonation can be savored a bit. Find out more about the Tonal Plexus at http://www.h-pi.com

8 thoughts on “J.S. Bach C Major Prelude & Fugue On The Tonal Plexus Keyboard, In Just Intonation

  1. Interesting. I found several of the notes to be quite unpleasing. I’m curious to know how much of that is personal taste and how much is simply being accustomed to a particular tuning.

    1. I found this really interesting, but I’d agree with Xtopher that the tuning on certain intervals makes them more ‘out of tune’.

      Wendy Carlos did an anniversary version of her Switched On Bach album, where she used alternate tunings with Bach very effectively. The tunings do occasionally sound ‘weird’ to my ears, though.

      I’d like to hear some music composed for the Tonal Plexus, created with both the capabilities of the keyboard in mind and also the alternate tuning.

      1. I’m not sure but it could be that the out-of-tune notes that we hear are actually the real-time “bends” from the description. It could also be that there are mistakes here and there on which (among the continum of possibilities) “notes” are chosen since just-intonation is by no means a clear-cut science and transcriptions require a lot of “art” and interpretation. Finally, it could just be that this piece in particular, given its beaufifully complex harmonies (and modulations), is just impossible to play “properly” in just-intonation. My only point is that although it does sound badly out of tune here and there, that’s not just-intonation’s “fault” and that’s not how just-intonation usually sounds.

  2. This looks just as difficult (if not more!) than to play that piece on the piano. At least the first part… It was certainly a commendable try. Playing Bach that way is like strapping note/chord sensors to a dancer and ask her/him to figure out the dance to make that particular song come alive.

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