Music Reviews

• Archived Articles by Paul Burton

Tribute to Ivor Darreg: Microtonal Music Pioneer, Instrument Builder, Theorist, Futurist, Free Thinker, Composer

Ivor Darreg was a musical revolutionary of the first order, a true freedom fighter. He combined the revolutionary urge to put forward a new vision, an alternate universe, with the anarchist’s impulse to reject, even revile, the status quo and its oppressive institutions.

Ivor was also a map maker for the experimenters and explorers willing to attempt the journey into a vast and glorious unknown. He literally charted the way through fretting tables, comparisons of various tuning systems, articles on systems of notation and – most importantly for Ivor and thankfully for us – recordings and performances of the wild, strange and “new” sounds he heard. Having these “new” sounds heard was primary to his mission – to liberate music from the constraints of 12 tone equal temperament and expand the composer/musician’s palette with new, unimagined hues and to expose the listener to the various moods, harmonies and dissonances available.

Ivor also, like a Galileo or an Einstein, sought to open our minds to a larger view of the universe. He knew that when someone heard pure, just intonation or the contrasts and resolutions of 17 tone or 31 tone, their ears would be liberated and their minds would follow. Ivor’s antipathy toward the conventions of modern, classical, or even “New Music” theory and the limitations of 12 tone equal temperament was the enlightened stance of the true anti-fascist. He resented the imposition of a narrow musical world view and the suppression of alternatives. He was eager to share his knowledge of the path to liberation and offered total encouragement to those willing to take on the often overwhelming task of exploring and developing the infinite landscape of Xenharmonic space.

Like John Cage he delighted in the unexpected and extraordinary. But Ivor also knew specifically what effect, what mood, he was going for when combining certain notes or extending chords into wide open space.

Ivor Darreg changed forever how I hear music, from the first visit to his cottage when my ears began to be retuned when an overripe avocado fell onto one of Ivor’s 22 tone tubulongs. Ivor’s knowledge was mind boggling, his enthusiasm contagious. After prolonged exposure to his music and his thought, my ears and mind were liberated. The fine tuning of my sense of pitch has benefitted me immensely in all areas of music. And although I often feel guilty that I am not playing microtonal guitars exclusively, or going all out in developing my limited microtonal vocabulary, I remember that Ivor was never judgmental and even appreciated the combinations of 19 tone and 12 tone guitar I played him. He was never a purist and was always open minded and supportive. Although the rigors of playing re-fretted guitars are still overwhelming, the mind expanding impact of Ivor’s instruments sustain me on the journey.

Ivor would often say, “I’m 67 years old! I don’t want this information to die with me!” Thanks to the efforts of Jonathan Glasier, Jon Catler, Johnny Reinhardt and others who were profoundly influenced by Ivor, his ideas and music live on. I think Ivor finally did see wider acceptance and support and felt vindicated when his instruments were showcased at the Hollywood Bowl or featured in mainstream publications and museums.

The network of Xenharmonic experimenters Ivor inspired will continue to expand our musical universe. For as Ivor often said, “Even the seven year itch had to start from scratch.” But thanks to Ivor, we don’t have to.

Ivor Darreg will be sorely missed by all of us who were fortunate to have known him.

Paul Burton
Long Beach, California
March, 1994
More re: Ivor Darreg

Are Musicians responsible for this election mess?
By Paul Burton

(Published in Music Revue, Jan., 2001. Copyright Paul Burton. All Rights Reserved.)

Depending on your politics, or your taste in music, you can blame, or credit, the following bands, performers, and songwriters for backing, or not backing, your candidate in the most recent presidential election.

Many of the most liberal/progressive and politically active musicians of the past two decades leant their support to Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader. The legendary consumer advocate, corporation basher and would-be spoiler (who of course asked the salient question, “What’s to spoil?”) was endorsed by noted anti-nuke rockers Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt, all-American hemp hero Willie Nelson, grunge god Eddie Vedder, former friend of Jerry Brown, Linda Ronstadt, and legendary DJ Casey Kasem. Vedder performed at several of Nader’s super rallies, which filled a dozen 10,000 plus arenas, along with punk rock priestess Patti Smith, bluesman Ben Harper and independent righteous babe Ani DiFranco.

Meanwhile Tennessee farm lad Al Gore picked up mega support from other liberal musical icons and Democratic Party backers like geriatric harmony boys Nash, Stills and Crosby, bathhouse diva Bette Midler, lower case chanteuse k.d. lang, aging tunesmith and cultural imperialist Paul Simon, and the raspy throated drummer Don Henley (who also donated to the Nader campaign). Puffy haired rocker Jon Bon Jovi, the always fun-seeking Sheryl Crow, and latter day hippie Lenny Kravitz performed, without irony, the Beatles’ classic “Revolution” at a Gore fundraiser, showing that great songs can be misused to sell weak candidates just as they can be used to sell soda pop or cars. Gore and the Democratic National Committee also received hefty financial backing from elite players like David Geffen, Barbara Streisand and Berry Gordy. Second generation musical clowns Dweezil and Ahmet Zappa each threw $1,000 into Gore’s treasure chest, despite protestations from the ghost of Frank Z., who shredded second spouse Tipper when she vainly tried to impose her moral authority over rock lyrics in the mid-1980’s through the censorious Parents Music Resource Center.

Predictably, recovering alcoholic and execution king G. Dubya Bush won the dixiecrat states for his Republican Party by enlisting the support of such cutting edge country western deep thinkers as longhaired redneck Travis Tritt, ugly American Hank Williams, Jr., patriotic musak maven Lee Hazlewood, Paleolithic swinger Pat Boone and twangy-haired heartthrob Loretta Lynn. Out of shape soul princess Chaka Khan mysteriously lent her voice to the Bush chorus at the Republican Party convention, which featured a get-out-the-vote harangue from the chiseled jaw of the aptly named “wrestler” The Rock. Meanwhile, Brit-rocker Sting stayed neutral until the Bush crowd began playing his hit “Brand New Day” at campaign rallies. Deeply embarrassed, the Sting man threatened to sue the bastards to stop them from misusing his hopeful anthem.

At press time, non-voters and anarchists seem to have won the day as legal wrangling over vote counts in the great Sunshine state have held up declaration of a winner. While many Gore supporters blame Nader for siphoning off their man’s votes (as if he was entitled to them) and throwing a monkey wrench into the works with his candidacy, other, saner voices are celebrating the opportunity to expose the chinks in the armor of The System. Some of us recall the prescient words of Jefferson Airplane singer Paul Kantner, who cynically noted back in 1968, “Electoral politics in America is a futile, and feudal, system.” One cynic proposed a novel solution to the impasse. Floridians Gloria Estefan, representing Bush, and Jimmy Buffett, for Gore, would down margaritas while singing alternating choruses of “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Who Let The Dogs Out” until one passes out and the other is declared winner.