Non-tonal Centricity


Messiaen and his Technique. Messiaen composer, teacher, organist, bird watcher, interested in ancient and non-Western musical cultures, neumatic notation, etc.

His ideas regarding Rhythmic structure and notation.

His ideas regarding pitch structure

A mode with limited transpositions is a scale which is divided in segments of the same size and containing the same exact arrangement of steps and halfsteps. Whithin an octave (12 semitones), there are a number of such divisions possible: The last case produces the chromatic scale - not a very interesting result. The mode whose repeating segment is a major second long is the wholetone scale and there are only 2 such scales possible. Dividing the octaves by 4 leads to scales build around the pillars represented by a fully diminished chord and there are 4 possible transpositions for each of them. When the octave is divided by 3, the mode is built around an augmented triad and there are 3 possible transpositions of that scale. For modes built around the interval of a tritone there are 6 possible transpositions.



Messiaen combines modes with limited transpositions with nonretrogradable rhythms in order to create a sense of "failure of the rational thinking", an impasse created by a logical proceedure. Compare this with certain images (optical illusions) created by the artist Escher.

For more details, see Olivier Messiaen - Technique of my musical language on reserve.

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