This is my first blog post where I'm going to try and explain the music on Sanctuary (Overtones and Deviations) in some more detail. I hope you enjoy reading and it gives you a better understanding of the music. Please let me know in the comments if I've explained something badly, you want more information on something, or you want me to describe something with less (or more...) technical detail!
I'm going to write mainly about the opening track Fantasia in this post. To start with though, I want to explain a little music theory/history just in case it's new to you, as I think it will help you understand some of the things I was doing musically on Sanctuary (Overtones and Deviations). The standard 12-tone scale we know from the majority of Western music (pop, rock, classical, jazz, soul, disco, you name it) is derived from musical intervals (relationships between notes) that exist in nature, in what's called the "harmonic series" — every sound from a plucked guitar string to a screeching tyre is made up of a number of "overtones" that give it its special tone quality. One of the most important things in the history of Western music was the discovery that by distorting these natural intervals a bit, it was possible to start a melody on any of these notes and it would sound basically the same, meaning music could move freely from one "key" (central note) to another. This system is known as "equal temperament". Without this, Western music – J.S. Bach, Johannes Brahms, Count Basie, David Bowie – would simply not have progressed the way it has done.
However, one of the drawbacks of this system is that the musical intervals lose their natural, pure quality. These natural, purer sounds are something I explored a lot in Sanctuary (Overtones and Deviations) and that will be something I'll explain in more detail over the course of these blog posts.
I wrote Fantasia for solo piano – tuned, incidentally, to equal temperament. Something I wanted to do was use the tensions between equal temperament and the natural intervals I mentioned above to make music. So, I took the 12 notes on the piano and looked at how "out of tune" they were compared to their natural versions*. I then created music in a free, improvisatory style, writing four bars at a time; in the first four bars, I limited myself to a single note, the note that was in tune with its natural equivalent (C). In the next four bars, I added a note that is very slightly out of tune (G), so, composing with two notes in total. Then, I added one that was more out of tune, composing with three notes now...and so on, until I was using all twelve†. I loved the idea of increasing the tension in the music as the melody moves further away from the harmonious, natural-sounding notes!
This melody unfolds over a repeated accompaniment. I created this striding, chordal phrase simply by showing where the natural versions of the 12 notes come from: a bass note (played first) and its overtones (played second). At first, I was just playing this pattern out of curiosity, but I immediately felt it had a really strong expressive power, and that was where the idea for Fantasia originated from in the first place. In the percussive opening of the piece, I use a technique where you make the overtones of the bass strings on the piano resonate – you hold down the key of the bass note silently to release the damper and allow the string to vibrate, then hit the keys of the notes that are closest to the overtones you want to hear. It's a fairly common technique, but perfect for this piece. Listen carefully in the opening of the piece and you'll be able to hear these overtones.
I hope you enjoy listening. If you have any other questions about the music, feel free to leave a comment below!
*To be more specific, the piece is in C major, and by "natural versions" of the notes, I mean the intervals in 7-limit just intonation.
†The full sequence is C, G, F, D, B flat, D flat, B, A flat, E, A, E flat, F sharp. Strictly speaking, the G and F are equally "flat" and "sharp" respectively, compared to the intervals in just intonation (the same for the D and B flat, etc.).