Microtonal Keyboards


The challenge of using conventional acoustic instruments while working in 31 tones per octave should not underestimated! You can alter woodwind fingerings, for example – but what do you do with the piano, with its rigid tuning?

There are numerous electronic microtonal keyboards around, many with confounding key layouts. My solution so far has been to use a standard digital piano and some simple MIDI software.

Throughout The Tempest, for example, the digital piano is being dynamically re-tuned by microtonal synthesiser software; enabling a working simulation of three real instruments, two of which exist today -

  • Nicola Vicentino’s (1555) Archicembalo, was a 31-tone per octave(31-et) harpsichord;
  • the Huygens-Fokker Institute for Contemporary Microtonality’s 31-et Fokker Organ (currently under restoration in Amsterdam);
  • and composer and pianist Geoff Smith’s remarkable Fluid Piano, a microtone-capable acoustic piano that can be re-tuned by the player during performance.

Pianist Akvilė Šmotavičiūtė was quite comfortable with the approach and this will remain the working solution… until we get our hands on a real Fluid Piano.

Works featuring this instrument:

Involution (2013) 31-et

Microtonal digital piano (details). Duration 4:20

Guitarra (2013) 31-et

Microtonal digital piano (details). Duration 1:50

The Tempest (2012) 31-et Tempest Part 4 (excerpt)

Flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, Tempest Chimes (details), percussion, 31-et electric guitar (details), Microtonal digital piano (details), piano, soprano, violin, viola, double bass. Duration: 20:00
Full premiere performance here

Septimal Switchback (2012) 31-et Septimal Switchback

Microtonal digital piano (details). Duration 4:30