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29 Pieces For The Microtonal Guitar: Live At The Knitting Factory New York by Sten Höstfält

Sten Höstfält has more than absorbed the teachings of some of the free-jazz New England-based musicians he studied with at the New England Conservatory of Music and Berklee; he has internalized their thoughts to come up with his own investigations, actually, into the theory of music. Initially, Höstfält worked with Boston- and New York-based leaders like Herb Pomeroy Guillermo Klein, Jimmy Giuffre and Gary Burton, who produced Höstfält’s first CD.

But of late, Höstfält has been exploring and presenting the theoretical propositions of Joe Maneri, who has identified 72 pitches within the octave, although traditional Western musical theory involves at most the 12 tones of the chromatic scale. All of a sudden, the addition of six times as many tonal possibilities has opened up new vistas for sonic expression as the nuances between the normally expected vibrations are stated, rather than being contained within temporary pitch-wavering allusions such as "blue notes" or vibrato.

So what does all this mean? It means that Höstfält now has developed his own repertoire that incorporates the microtones contained within expansion of pitches available to him. And his 29 Pieces For The Microtonal Guitar, which was performed live at the Knitting Factory in New York in 2002, consists of relatively brief components that accumulate thematically into relatively brief suites that are distinct and consistent in intellectual intentions combined with appropriate technical applications. That is, the longest of the 29 pieces excluding the final track, "Icons," perhaps an encore of sorts is almost three minutes long ("Alive On The Dead Screen, Part IV"), and the shortest is a half minute ("Eight Variations, Tres Agile").

Tuning his guitar in intervals of a quarter tone and smaller, Höstfält, through theoretical curiosity and perhaps to-be-influential open-mindedness, pays tribute to the equally tradition-shattering Guiffre with "Eight Variations," each variation averaging a minute in length as Höstfält sketches with his guitar, allowing the listener to connect the lines, rather than painting a mural. Slyly, Höstfält refers to traditional harmonic conventions even as he microtonically upends them, removing the audience’s comfort zone as he challenges its combined expectations with a genuinely innovative approach for guitar.

In contrast to Höstfält’s solo work on "Eight Variations" and "Major Changes," "Lighters" includes his interactive work with his own pre-recorded improvisation, his conversation with himself, as the pitches seems to slide although still combined within the 72-pitch spectrum and as the conversation appears to intertwine with the unpredictability of the pitch of the human voice, which, after all, doesn’t remain within a pre-defined scale.

Although listeners of traditional forms of jazz may prefer four-beat rhythms and classical European-based harmonies, in the future 29 Pieces For The Microtonal Guitar may be considered a groundbreaking work that expands the sonic continuum available to the guitar as Western musical theory catches up with the microtonality of Indian and Middle Eastern genres.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Sten Höstfält
  • CD Title: 29 Pieces For The Microtonal Guitar: Live At The Knitting Factory New York
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: g-wOw
  • Tracks: Lighters: Sun Shot, Dialogue, Argument, Monologue, Epilogue; Major Changes: Spare Change, Second Chance, No Chance, Minor Change, Major Change, The Boat; Eight Variations: Scope, Variation, Poem, Sarabande, Tres Agile, Ballade, Micronic, Roll; Alive On The Dead Screen: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V; Diplomacy: Danse Populaire, Danse Venetiano; Lighters II: Sun Shot Reale, Deni Mund Wie Eine Dreiecke, Closer; Icons
  • Musicians: Sten Höstfält (microtonal guitar, electronica)
  • Rating: Three Stars
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