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Chris Brown’s song cycles Some Center (2019) and First Light (2016), based around poems by Emily Dickinson and Jackson Mac Low, are here performed by the Chromelodia Project. The Project – Brown, Theresa Wong and Kyle Bruckmann – was formed in 2016 to explore just intonation, improvisation and interactive electronics in a chamber music setting.

In the last century, composers including Harry Partch and Terry Riley explored unequal temperament, a sonorous alternative to what they regarded as the characterless equal-tempered tonal system post-Bach. For Brown, born 1953, Partch is the model, and he follows him in using just intonation, the purest version of unequal temperament. The resulting tunings are what’s immediately distinctive and attractive about this music.

Some Center features five poems by Emily Dickinson. Brown improvised to create harmonies in just intonation, using the 43- tone tuning system devised by Partch. His MIDI keyboard controls a software synthesizer that functions as a virtual piano – a digital version of Partch’s Chromelodeon, a pump organ modified to fit his tonal system. At the touch of a button, Brown can play any two contiguous 43-tone octaves at a time. There’s an immediate attraction to the unfamiliar tonal worlds that result, but acclimatisation is needed. Intense listening brings out the delights of this intriguing release.

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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