Quarter-Tone Dissertation

Easley Blackwood's 24 Notes

24 notes is a passacaglia, written in a strict contrapuntal style. Blackwood incorporates quarter tones into the traditional consonance/dissonance hierarchy by adding a third category which he calls discord. Discords are harsher than dissonances. We're all used to dissonances resolving to consonances. Well, in Blackwood's system, discords resolve to dissonances. In this passacaglia, Blackwood takes care to prepare and resolve discords in a manner consistent with traditional dissonance treatment; discords are generally prepared by common-tone voice-leading and resolved by step.

In this chapter, I look at some of the more general notational problems in Blackwood's microtonal music before looking at the contrapuntal configurations in the passacaglia. I also intend to provide a bit of an aesthetic critique of the piece. I think the theoretical underpinnings of 24 notes are fascinating but I think the musical realization of Blackwood's extended contrapuntal hierarchy didn't really "work" as well as it could have.

Some of the sketched examples in this chapter don't translate well into MIDI. I have reworked some of these so that each sketch appears aligned vertically beneath the actual music it represents, which is itself rendered in MIDI format. I think the reworked examples actually work better than the ones that made it into the dissertation.

Contents of Chapter 2

Chapter 2: Easley Blackwood's 24 notes
The current version of this chapter, saved as a PDF.
Example 2.3b
A chromatic sequence in 19-note equal temperament proposed by Blackwood. Try to listen for the enharmonic equivalence between the augmented sixths and diminished sevenths in the outer voices. The effect is somewhat disorienting at first.
Example 2.4
Blackwood's 16-note chromatic scale.
Example 2.5
Blackwood's diminished seventh chords in 16-note equal temperament.
Example 2.6
Blackwood's 15-note chromatic scale.
Example 2.8
Representative major triads in Blackwood's 15-note equal temperament.
Example 2.10
24 notes, mm. 1-9. The subject of the passacaglia.
Example 2.12
24 notes, mm. 10-19, reduced to species counterpoint. I have increased the tempo of this MIDI because when this example is played faster, it is easier to hear the overall shape of the counterpoint.
Example 2.14
24 notes, mm. 31-32. The web version has been reworked slightly from the original.
Example 2.15
24 notes, mm. 35-37. Reworked.