Professor Monty Adkins

Professor of Experimental Electronic Music

Professor Monty Adkins, along with former Huddersfield PhD researcher and Swedish composer Paulina Sundin, have explored a new method for developing harmony in electroacoustic music. The five-year project has come together in the form of a four-track CD inspired by the writings and techniques of American theorist William A. Sethares. Entitled Beyond Pythagoras, the CD features the Stockholm Saxophone Quartet and percussionist Jonny Axelsson and welcomed the programming expertise of Huddersfield graduate Adrian Gierakowski.

MORE than 2,500 years ago, Greek philosopher Pythagoras worked out rules of harmony that still govern Western music.  Now, a new recording from a University of Huddersfield professor and his collaborators has challenged them, and used specially-created software to do so.

Newly-released is a CD titled Beyond Pythagoras – the result of a five-year project shared by Monty Adkins, who is Professor of Experimental Electronic Music – and the Swedish composer Paulina Sundin, who has a PhD from the University of Huddersfield.

Together they have explored a new method for developing harmony in electroacoustic music that was inspired by the writings and techniques of the American theorist William A. Sethares.

The disc has four tracks and in addition to live electronics from Professor Adkins and Dr Sundin, it also has contributions from the highly-innovative Stockholm Saxophone Quartet and percussionist Jonny Axelsson, whose performances have included works for ice percussion in the Arctic.

Professor Adkins explained that Setheres developed ideas about how the ear recognises consonances and dissonances that are outside conventional western tuning systems.  In order to explore this, Professor Adkins and Dr Sundin developed new software, drawing on the programming expertise of Adrian Gierakowski, who has degrees from the University of Huddersfield.

“You can put in all kinds of sounds into the software, freeze it any point and it then produces a series of scale steps, like a major or a minor scale, but they are not equally tempered at all and all tuned very differently,” said Professor Adkins.  All the harmonic structures of the pieces on Beyond Pythagoras are derived from the sounds of the instruments, he added.

“In its own terms there is a lot of harmonic rigour behind it.  We have replicated the ways in which Western harmony works, with modulation, transposition and certain notes given priority within a scale, but done so using a completely different tuning system.”

Tracks on Beyond Pythagoras were recorded in either Huddersfield or Stockholm between 2014 and 2017.  The titles are Emergence, Spectral Shards, Splintered Echoes and Rondures.

The pieces featuring Jonny Axelsson and the Stockholm Saxophone Quartet – who needed to develop new techniques to replicate the bespoke tuning systems created by the electronics – have received live performances, accompanied by recordings of the electronics created by Professor Adkins and Dr Sundin, who now aim to use the new software as a live performance tool themselves.

Beyond Pythagoras is released by Huddersfield Contemporary Records and distributed by NMC Recordings.  An excerpt from the track Splintered Echoes can be heard online.

Pictured is Swedish composer Paulina Sundin.  Pictured is Swedish composer Paulina Sundin.

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