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Peter Hübner
Founder of the
Micro Music Laboratories




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  The Microcosm of Music  
JOURNALIST: What is dissonance?

PETER HUEBNER: Dissonance – like disharmony – is recognised spontaneously by the plain human being. The sound physically disturbs him, he physically feels unwell. Fundamentally, what the listener perceives as dissonance, is also part of the harmonical, but in the microcosm of music, this part is pushed far away by nature into the hardly audible and right into the inaudible.

Each tone fundamentally consists of many, theoretically of a boundless number of tones. The unpractised listener thinks that he only hears one tone, and the practised listener can hear more tones – meaning a kind of sound. In our electronic age, with the help of special technical equipment, quite a number of tones can be filtered out of this so-called one tone, and amplified – so they really exist and are not just imaginary.

These tones in a tone are usually called overtones. And all these tones relate to each other in certain mathematical ratios. As a rule, one assumes that the ratios are made up of whole numbers, i.e. 1:2:3:4:5:6 etc.. From these ratios then follow the intervals, i.e. the distance of the tones to each other, and the numbers present the frequency and/or pitch proportions.
The first to investigate these ratios in the microcosm of music in our cultural area, was the great physician, musicologist and mathematician Pythagoras 2500 ago.

The first impression that is given with the insight into the microcosm of music, is that one tone consists of many tones, that, in reality, it is a chord where the distance of the tones – taking the fundamental tone as a starting-point – becomes closer and closer, and that, in general, starting from the fundamental tone, they become quieter and quieter, until you no longer hear anything.

So, if i.e., you play a tone on the piano, then, in reality, you hear many tones on this side, and these tones swinging in one after the other, and their volume proportions give us the impression of tone colour.

If, i.e., with the help of electronic equipment, I stretch the process of the piano swinging in, we get the impression that it is a different instrument – for instance, a woodwind instrument or, with further stretching, a string instrument or, with even further stretching, a brass instrument.

As already said, these are sort of the initial inaccurate impressions which we gain with the insight into the microcosm of music. Upon closer examination, we also come across a diversity of modulations between the different tones of the microcosm of music and, of course, processes of swinging out.

In a way, it is like with the atom – where, first of all, we think we are dealing with a particle, and upon closer examination find out that these “particles” are composed of further particles, and that these “particles” are again composed of different particles etc. etc.. In the end, one doesn’t speak so much of particles any longer, but of spatial and temporal structures, and then of spatial time structures etc., etc...

When you have reached these levels of observation in the microcosm of music, then you realise that the initial insight into this sounding field of creation – with that fundamental tone and the overtones – were still very inaccurate after all, well – almost deceptions.

Today’s official insight into the microcosm of music, as it exists at music academies, is extremely limited, and in physics, for example, might be compared to the mechanical age.

Therefore, it is only understandable that official experts show no special interest in the microcosm of music, as this can only develop from a profound insight into this harmonical field of creation. In comparison, official experts would have to advance into the field of nuclear physics – not to mention the sub-nuclear fields.

Well, that was a short digression into the possibilities which the music experts are provided with, but with a little more insight into the microcosm of music one can indeed realise that the outlying areas of the microcosm of music, i.e. the tonal areas which are further away from the fundamental tone present themselves subjectively to us more and more as dissonances, whilst we feel that everything close to the fundamental tone is a consonance or harmonious.

But the subjective feeling of perception of dissonance or consonance depends on quite a number of other factors. It would take too long to explain them at this point.

The existence of dissonance makes perfect sense, because it increases the listener’s alertness.
  With kind permission of AAR EDITION INTERNATIONAL