THE WILSON ARCHIVES
It is the duty of the Conscientious Speculative Musical Theorist (CSMT) to go where no one has gone before; to venture into the spaces between all harmonics and all equal divisions (Darien 4297)
A CHART SHOWING THE CROSS RELATIONS WITHIN WILSON'S THEORIES AND INVESTIGATIONS INTO MICROTONAL AND JUST INTONATION SYSTEMS
Wilson views the creation of scales and other intonational structures as a creative act. He does not have a system with a set of rules. He has, however, found possibilites in applying particular methods to generate scales and structures he finds pleasing and more importantly fruitful. Many of these are extremely novel yet were often sparked by his investigations into historical practices and examples found throughout the world, as well as conversations with other musicians and students. Just as important as the scales themselves is his interest in placing them on practical instruments such as generalized keyboards.
The most difficult obstacle in presenting Wilson's work is that his papers were originally short hand for verbally transmitted lessons or a quick method to collect his thoughts. Often they were designed for a small group of individuals who shared a common language. The work is not for absolute beginners but it requires, for the most part, just the simplest level of mathematics and an understanding of the short hand he uses. In general, it is here to speak for itself in order to avoid the misconception his work is often subjected to. It was in such an environment that the archives were first undertaken.
At present the Wilson Archives, is broadly arranged from the simplest to the more complex and often older to newer. Related materials have been grouped together to highlight his overall thoughts which are not always clear in the stray single sheets he would often hand out. The most important and pivotal papers are listed in bold at the top of each section. The other papers offer historical or expanded insights into these. Certain material will appeal to some more than others depending on their own creative pursuits.
The chart below might be the most accurate mapping of his work as this archivist understands it. Plans are that it will one day serve as an interactive chart that can be used as a way to navigate through the archives.
This chart is followed by a letter that captures much of Wilson's attitude and approach to scale building.
THE ACT OF SCALE FORMATION ( Erv Wilson in a letter to Gary David from the 1960s)
The act of scale formation is inseparable from the other creative aspects of music formation. The human voice illustrates admirably 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! Our interests are primarily “just” and in that regard the acoustic universe is seemingly endless.