Barstow Bagatelle

for retuned piano

premiered June 23. 2012
Aron Kallay, piano
Beyond Baroque, Venice, CA

Recording with Aron playing available on Microfest Records


MIDI recording. Though performance is computer-generated and stiff, the sounds are identical to those heard in live performance. (Pianoteq tunable software.)

Barstow Bagatelle makes use of the tuning system devised by Harry Partch and used in the guitar part of his "Barstow." The 19 notes per octave is a non-symmetrical subset of his 43-tone scale. Some adjacent notes are just about a "half-step" apart, in 12-tone equal tempered tuning. In other parts of the scale it may take 4 adjacent notes to span the same interval. The harmonic possibilities range from stunningly pure consonance to excruciating dissonance, and Barstow Bagatelle uses most of that range.

I am a relative newcomer to the world of microtonal composition, but I do have visceral early memories of tuning issues. Popular songs in the 50s and 60s would occasionally shift a tiny fraction of a half step, due to splicing two sessions that were recorded at different speeds, perhaps. The extraordinarily dizzying sensation of those moments made me wonder as a child whether they were deliberate key changes or accidents. Barstow Bagatelle begins with exactly that unsettling question and proceeds to explore many tonal centers, each with its own flavor. Barstow Bagatelle is dedicated to Aron Kallay, master of the keyboard, whatever the tuning system.