[Interview] Richard D. James speaks to Tatsuya Takahashi

Richard D. James speaks to Tatsuya Takahashi

Lots of cool content and links in this intervew on Warp’s website.

Of particular interest to me is the discussion of microtuning, and that Tats developped a “midi thru box” to implement new scales for Aphex Twin Midi synths. It instantly made me think about the MidiPal of course. I wonder if someone more technically-inclined than me could develop an editable Midipal app for custom scales. :innocent:


That is a nice interview. I like the new insightful and no longer forcibly weird RDJ.

I really want some of those cube speakers.

That was a good read.

I know nothing of any value about alternative tunings that they speak of there… But I do know that having built a few analog synths, that I often rather liked how they sounded before I calibrated and tuned them! The x0xb0xes were a good example. I’d put a semi random sequence in just to test it, and expected it to sound crap because it hadn’t been tuned at all. But actually, the results could be surprisingly interesting (Mostly because the tuning span was way out of line)

Tats cube speakers were also interesting, as i’ve been considering building some myself for a while. Altho i’d like each of the 6 drivers to be individually driven. Just so that I can throw sound about in weird directions. Hopefully one day i’ll get around to it :sunglasses:

On the subject of odd ball speakers… Some folk are also building dodecahedron speakers.

Xenharmonics (micro- and macrotonal tunings etc) is a genuinely interesting area, particularly for modular synths where one is working far outside the constraints of the Western music canon, and where music is rarely written down and is often composed on-the-fly by sequencers and generative patches. We went to some effort to add support for a lot of microtonal scales in O&C, as well as non-octaval tunings such as the Wendy Carlos tunings and the Bohlen-Pierce tunings.

However, the microtonal scene also seems to attract people who have fallen for, or who are perpetrators or promoters of pseudo-science, conspiracy theories and generally wooly and non-critical thinking. Richard D. James seems to have a foot in that camp, with his mentions of cymatics (which is closely associated with Rudolph Steiner theosophical and antprosophical pseudo-science. James has also bought into the whole 440Hz conspiracy theory and the Colundi thing (see http://colundi.net/colundi.php).

I recall that Olivier has previously pointed out the folly of numerological justifications for 432.3 Hz tuning (or whatever the “magic frequency” is supposed to be), given that the units of frequency, Hertz, are based on entirely arbitrary (and not very logical) divisions of time, and thus the numerical value of any frequency expressed in Hertz is itself also arbitrary and thus cannot have any deeper numerological significance.

I would have liked to have read more about what the interviewee thought about synth design, than the wacky thoughts of the interviewer, frankly.

But yeah, the cubic speakers caught my eye too.

1 Like

The delights of non-meantone tuning are far reaching. It’s probably more of an issue in European/ Western music where there is a strong sense of tonality. But if you have a background in renaissance/ baroque music (I do), you’ll find that meantone tuning simply means that EVERYTHING is out of tune and that choosing a key signature is meaningless exercise… Once you’ve heard a really perfect 3rd interval there’s no going back

Though as usual he could just be messing with us, making us believe that he believes in that kind of stuff.

I’m wondering if the Monologue librarian software might be useful for editing scala files for use with, say, a PreenFM2. It seems compatible, at any rate, but I think the advantage of the Monologue is that you can play the scale while editing it.

1 Like

I didn’t get that vibe from the interview, and I’m rather sensitive to that stuff because I hate anything Rudolph Steiner with a passion, but I’ll re-read. He mostly seemed to be making fun of people insisting everything being tuned exactly to 440 all of a sudden when it became a standard.

It was actually Takahashi who mentioned cymatics. But I’ve read or heard elsewhere about James’ involvement in the Colundi Cloud thing - I can’t decide if it is an elaborate joke, like Kosmischer Laufer, or if they are serious. I’m super-sensitive about Steiner stuff because I used to work in public health, chasing unvaccinated kids with measles etc…

1 Like

I think Richard D. James mention cymatics first by linking to its wikipedia page and then Takahashi says he has done some workshops for kids based on it.

All the pseudoscience around this stuff still surprises the hell out of me, to be honest. Those standing wave patterns look awesome, but I can’t imagine why people feel they should be able to derive some kind of magical universal constants from that.

The same with tuning the middle A to 440Hz; it’s just a convenient standard to make it easy for people to play their instruments together and to make it cheaper to mass-produce tuning forks. It’s entirely unrelated to musical scales which are derived from the human perception of pitch intervals between played notes.

I guess it’s a tendency of people to attribute magical properties when they first get introduced to a phenomenon they haven’t encountered before.