Composer Kraig Grady talks about his long association with Wilson and explains some of his work.
KRAIG GRADY: I will start off by saying that Erv Wilson is probably the most influential person in my life both musically and philosophically. And it’s probably his nature as a human being probably has more to do with me spending twenty years studying his work, as well as, actually realizing many of his tunings and acoustical instruments. And also, doing what I can to document his work on the Wilson Archives on my website to make his papers available to as many people as possible.
I first met Erv Wilson through Walter O’Connell who’s a physicist who worked at LACC. He was quite involved in new music, he had a paper published in Die Reihe, Stockhausen’s Magazine. One day when I went in there to ask him some questions about how the shape of objects affected the sound quality and the timbre.
(Timbre = the tone color of a note… bright, dark, metallic, etc…)
He didn’t have that answer, but he thought I should meet Erv Wilson so he gave me Erv’s number and proceeded to meet him at that time. This probably had to be in the 70’s.
At this point he was working a lot with 31 tone equal because at that time he had be communicating with Adrian Fokker.
(Adrian Fokker was a physicist/music theorist who worked in a tuning system known as “31 tone equal temperament.”)
I once asked Erv why was it that he didn’t actually write compositions so much. He said that when he first got interested in music he realized there were certain things that were needed in order to do the type of music he wanted to do so he thought he would actually be able to influence the future of music more by solving these problems as opposed to writing a few compositions that might or might not get played or played so much later. He thought it would actually be better to actually solve these problems so the next group of people who come up would have a much easier time.
(Wilson pioneered unique ways of creating and organizing new musical frequency combinations……..)
It’s probably his main accomplishments are almost like a Unified Field Theory of microtonality (…. via a sort of “Unified Field Theory” of microtonality… mapping the tonal terrain) where he’s able to plot different types of scales using any size, any interval you wanted to use, he has a way of developing scales like his “Moments of Symmetry.” (“Moments of Symmetry” also known as the “Scale Tree” is a vast data field yielding new intervals and note combinations.)
Later on he developed the Combination Product Sets which was a way of having a microtonal system in just intonation that did not imply a strong tonic and was kind of the complimentary to Harry Parch’s work. (Harry Partch was a major figure in 20th Century microtonal music)
It’s kind of like the female to the male is one way in which he describes it.
(“Combination Product Sets” are obtained by multiplying a small set of whole numbers against a single frequency. Erv then maps the resulting set of notes onto a geometric object like this to visualize the note relationships.)
Since then he has also developed the Scales of Mount Meru, which involved all types of scales based on intervals, the opposite of just intonation intervals through the recurrent sequences or Fibonacci numbers, long irrational numbers (“Irrational Number” = a number that can’t be represented as a fraction) that fit in between where all these other just intonation scales. He has charted personally over 200 of these. Each one of these has quite a lot of flexibility in that one can seed (“Seeding = setting the initial conditions for a note generating formula) the formula in different ways to even with the same formula get completely different results.
The use of the word seed is probably, also probably, another important clue as to Erv Wilson in that his use of plants in that he has worked quite extensively with different hybrids. Traditional hybrids were done by breeding as opposed to manipulating them chemically. At times, he saw each scale or each family of scale, as being like almost like a plant species and that plant will create all types of variations that are kind of determined by the plant itself.
(Erv Wilson remarking on the number of points on a plant illustrating that Nature uses these same irrational numbers in generating growth patterns.)
With his method of keyboard, has ways in which could take a harmonic structure put it on this keyboard and fill in the blanks. You do that he’ll produce certain scales called constant structures that’ll have a complete melodic integrity through out them all.
(Wilson has designed new musical keyboards available from starrlabs.com)
KRAIG GRADY: I know one time someone had sent him a check for $600 and that way payment to send him a copy of all his xeroxes and Erv wrote a letter back to him saying that would be unfair to those people who couldn’t afford $600. He really would not accept any money for these lessons so I figured what is it that I can do to most benefit him and I thought the best thing I could do would actually be to create music that actually illustrated some his scales because I think that was the thing people would say like these things are just like theories. People didn’t realize that these things were actually very beautiful scales They’re not just some mathematical games that a lot other people seem to do. These were things that were actually filled with immense beauty. And so through the years I have taken a few of his tunings and built ensembles of these instruments and wrote music for them in order to to give examples of what I thought were important scales
Erv is the great seed scatterer I think. He really is. There’s a botanical edge to this where he’s scattered all these different seeds and he’s not really sure which one of these plants will take hold and continue to grow. I think that’s the nature of his work.
Is he like a Johnny Appleseed? Only in the sense that he kind of does it anonymously. He was never an academic although he is probably one of the most rigorous thinkers I know. He is very methodical and very thorough in his work. His papers are sometimes very hard to breakthrough. Most of them were designed… they are like cliff notes to oral lessons. He believed in the oral tradition of music and passing things on orally. And basically these notes or pieces of paper were a way of reminding the student of what was that was covered in the lesson or covered in the ideas of the paper.
He definitely has some type of energy about him that separates him from most human beings I’ve known.
You’ve been listening to the music of Kraig Grady.
Film by Stephen James Taylor. For more info on the Erv Wilson documentary “Surfing the Sonic Sky” please continue to explore our site.