Every one of us lives with a tonal system in our head. The diatonic-chromatic- enharmonic system that has long dominated Western music was codified at an early stage through the use of notation. Later, around the beginning of the 17th century, major/minor tonality superseded the old church modes and has influ- enced our perceptions of harmony ever since. These perceptions are, however, constantly evolving. When blues, jazz, and other forms of African-American music brought the first “blue notes” to Europe in the early 20th century, they created quite a stir, because neither their pitch nor their harmonic function fit into the conventional tonal system. Our musical sensibilities are nonetheless learned, not innate. Even if we do not understand music theory, we feel the way the dominant resolves to the tonic; we sense whether chords are more conso- nant or dissonant. We find our ability to remember melodies that conform to our tonal system self-evident, but are astonished when people from other cultures do the same with their own music. An example would be the melodies with “notes in between” in Arabic music, where for centuries the octave has been divided into more than our usual 12 half steps, with additional quarter-tone, three-quarter-tone, and five-quarter-tone intervals.
mikroPULS lets us participate in an excursion by these four musicians into unknown territory. Ullmann, Lüdemann, Potratz, and Schaefer are our excellent Sherpa guides on this journey, enabling us to experience new sounds and types of listening without losing our way. Their music opens our ears and confronts us with our own preconceptions. But once again: quarter tones for their own sake are not the point of the exercise. The goal of these musicians is to feel so at home with their expanded musical vocabulary that the resulting music sounds completely organic and self-evident.
For a number of years, Gebhard Ullmann focused much of his attention on the bass clarinet, feeling that on the tenor saxophone he was self-consciously aware of the work of his illustrious role models. His involvement with micro- tonality allowed him to deal with his instrument from another perspective and develop a new and more personal sound. Hans Lüdemann says, “It’s interesting that in an age when young musicians are increasingly well-educated and the music is becoming ever more perfect, more and more people feel a need to find or create a space where things can be ‘dirtier’ and more out of focus.” The music of mikroPULS lives in the space between the extremes of discovering new worlds and returning to the roots of African-American music. The group’s experimentation with microtonality is both an intellectual challenge and a bridge to the music of the African-American experience from which jazz grew and to which all four musicians of mikroPULS feel connected: the blues.