Brian Abbott – A Loose Grip on Reality

1. Trickster Makes This World (dedicated to Bianca Joao)
2. Don’t Cross the Beanfield (dedicated to Manuel Morales)
3. Wind-Up (dedicated to Ted Phillips)
4. Fata Morgana (dedicated to Naomi McCarroll-Butler)

All music composed, assembled, produced, and mixed by Brian Abbott.
Mastered by Kevin Frenette at Abrasive Chair Music, Randolph, MA.
Album art by {AN} Eel

A Loose Grip on Reality is available from:

This is a record of hyper-real, microtonal music. It was born from a mix of frustration and curiosity. As my interest in microtonal music steadily grew, it became a larger part of my compositional and improvisational output. But I already had enough trouble getting my “normal” music performed, and the prospects of moving my more ambitious music forward were looking bleak.
Many microtonal composers have turned to electronically realizing their works for just this reason. At first I was too attached to the intensity, unpredictability, and communion of live performance, but when the pandemic hit, I finally cracked and turned my back (at least briefly) on attempting to get human beings to perform my music.
However, making only electronic versions of my microtonal works wasn’t satisfying, so I decided to write music that would purposely be unplayable by humans even if anyone was crazy enough to try. I borrowed the idea of making electronic music that sounded acoustic yet unplayable from part of the definition given by composer, Noah Creshevsky, for hyper-real music. Other composers such as Kyle Gann, Paul Dolden, and Conlon Nancarrow might also come to mind in this little-explored musical zone. Setting myself new musical challenges was incredibly fulfilling and it ended up kicking open doors to unforeseen areas that I am excited to continue mining in future works.
Although unplayable, I consider the music on this album to be quite accessible. Most of the music is not obviously virtuosic. Much of the complexity that makes the music unplayable is not in the foreground. One need not wear their avant-gardism on their sleeve. I’m sure most non-musicians would not even notice these aren’t real instruments they are hearing. All philosophical and technical discussions aside, I was aiming for beauty with this music. The listener can judge my level of success.
– Brian Abbott

Thank You: Redshift Records for releasing this album, Kevin Frenette for doing a great job mastering, Neal Retke for dealing with my absurd album art demands, Ted Phillips for mixing suggestions, Kyle Gann for introducing me to Pianoteq and showing me a path forward, and to my friends who kept me sane during the pandemic while everything came crashing down around me.

TK493 © 2023 Brian Abbott

Trickster Makes This World
The title comes from a book by Lewis Hyde about the mythology of the Trickster – a complex figure that is both buffoon and world creator all at once. The piece purposely takes advantage of certain tuning anomalies in the harmonic series. Notes from different “systems” rub together throughout. It’s associated with the trickster figure because when studying the strangeness of the harmonic series, one could be led to believe that the Universe wasn’t meant to be perfect. Perhaps it was meant to clash and rub and make us uncomfortable, hopefully in an effort to show us a higher truth. Of course that’s only one way of looking at it… The piece is written in eleven limit Just Intonation.

Don’t Cross the Beanfield
This is another mythologically inspired piece, this time about the supposed death of the ancient Greek philosopher, Pythagoras. The story goes that while being chased by an angry mob intent on killing him, Pythagoras came to the edge of a bean field. It was against Pythagorean law to cross a bean field, so he had to take the long way around, which gave his pursuers enough time to catch up and end his life. The great man was undone by his own personal ideology. The piece is written for two virtual duos of piano and vibraphone. One duo moves at 60 bpm and the other at 60.8 bpm. The ratio between tempos is 531441/524288, the Pythagorean Comma. The pitches are in three limit Pythagorean tuning.

This is the least microtonal piece on the album (Do I hear some of you breathing a sigh of relief?) It is a concerto for virtual marimba, the marimba part being too rhythmically complex for a human to accurately perform. It’s a fun piece, like an out-of-control music box. The piece does feature some quarter tones and sixth tones.

Fata Morgana
A hallucinogenic work for virtual vibraphone (There’s actually something like twelve or fourteen tracks of vibraphone, but don’t tell anyone.) It’s mostly quiet and subdued, and occasionally references gamelan music, though with stranger tempo relationships. It’s in thirteen limit Just Intonation and purposely uses an array of motor speeds with microtonal clusters to create flickering clouds of beating textures.