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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 judgemental 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 refretted 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

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