PERFECT tuning has long eluded
the world's musicians: like the yeti its existence is assumed
but so far never authenticated. For centuries the 12 standard
intervals divided an octave have left players struggling with
an imperfect harmonic jigsaw.
Violinists, with wide freedom
to control their instruments, make constant tuning adjustments.
But pianists and guitar players, working with a more rigid
mechanical framework must steel themselves to accept sounds
which sometimes come out slightly wrong.
Today, at London's Barbican Centre
the curtain is being raised on the Lucy scale, an attempt
by a computer-literate guitarist to build on the work of an
18th-century clockmaker. The aim is to remove the fundamental
artistic obstacle which forces instrumentalists to play an
A sharp as if it were a B flat, when all their instincts shout
that they are different.
Charles Lucy, the scale's inventor
who often busks on London's Underground, said: "If this
catches on, the public will have an alternative system to
create music: much more harmonious, much more consonant."
The deficiencies of the conventional
12-tone scale had worried Lucy for years. But his attempts
to straighten them out proved fruitless until he discovered
the work of John Harrison (1693-1776), inventor of the marine
chronometer. After squeezing 20,000 pounds out of the govenment,
Lucy devoted himself to perfecting "the really true scale
It was Harrison's work on the
subject, enshrined in the City at The Clockmakers' Library,
which put Lucy on the right track. "I took his numbers
and equations and worked them through on the computer."
Harrison's discoveries showed
that the closest approximation to perfection required the
division of a scale into 19 or 25 parts, as opposed to the
classical 12. Applied to a guitar, the Harrison/Lucy solution
means providing 19-25 fretted divisions. Although careful
to point out this is just one of hundreds of variants proposed
throughout the ages, Lucy admits: "The difference is,
this one seems to work." The Barbican guitar weekend
is the acid test.
Darrel Mayers - The Sunday Times
29th November 1987.