THE ACT OF SCALE FORMATION ( Erv Wilson in a letter to Gary David from the 1960's)
The act of scale formation is inseparable from the other creative aspects of music formation. The human voice illustrates admirable how scale formation participates fully in the whole creative process of song. The scale is perhaps as unique to the song as are its rhythms and melodies. And like rhythm and melody, the scale neither precedes, nor follows the song, but progresses in the full flow of real time as a soft and sensuous and endlessly malleable expression of human consciousness.
Particularly in fixed-pitch instruments the role of scale tends to be diminished, if not entirely put aside. Even in a polyphonic keyboard instrument, whose ostensible goal is scale-making, the spontaneous, song-like scale is far from being achieved. In the design of a new instrument, one does well to recognize the technical limitations, and to compensate accordingly. (1) The fixed-tone needs to be bendable. (2) The fixed-pitch must have alternate inflections. One makes “knowledgeable guesses” as to what these will be, basing one’s judgment on past creative explorations. These are assigned to a Generalized Keyboard in an appropriately organized pattern. (3) One must have the facility for introducing, in performance, and in creative explorations, new pitches/inflections that may not have been anticipated when the “best-guess” tuning was assigned to the keyboard. Particularly as we “compose” we must be able to create our tunings, immediately from the console, as part of the same, if I may say, somewhat ritualized, creative act. To whatever level is optimally feasible, we should espouse creative tuning as part of the “live performance” (again, a ritual). The wall separating the “composer” from the “performer” should not be designed into the instrument.
The keyboard may be visualized as a Navajo loom upon which intricately lovely and endlessly variable scale patterns may be woven. A canvas. Arbitrary limitations to this variability must not be designed into the instrument. The keyboard is an art, and an interface, a crossroads and a bridge. The keyboard is a ship. In the tunable generalized keyboard we have the birth of a new art and the rebirth of an old art, as ancient as man. The keyboard must Breathe, poetically speaking, for it is the extension of a living process. The scale is a volatile genie that knows how utterly to transform its shape. Every effort must be made to accommodate this mercurial creature-of-the-psyche through the keyboard. The keyboard/console must animate the scale. While undoubtedly it is valid and admirable to study the scales of other peoples and other times, we are concerned primarily with the creative processes and the development and expression of our own arts. We see the keyboard in an attitude of creative anticipation, and to jealously guard against closed, limiting, non-living attitudes, and the great body of “tacit assumptions” and “forgone conclusions” (which, incidentally, we do not assume ourselves to be free from) which might hobble or render ineffectual those subtle intuitions of beauty.
Design philosophy, in a word, should be OPEN. Keep it general(ized), viable, versatile, changeable. Guard against the proverbial cul-de-sac, the one-track, the squirrel cages! My heavens!
The keyboard is a transient lens through which a cosmos of musical relations may be observed. Keep it volatile. Forgive the metaphor! Or interests are primarily “just” and in that regard the acoustic universe is seemingly endless.