Sagibelius 2.0 Released

Sagibelius is a set of extensions to the Sibelius notation software which enables the use of the Sagittal notation system. Sagittal is a consistent and intuitive system of arrow-like microtonal accidentals developed by Dave Keenan and George Secor with the intent of notating every possible tuning system. We used it to notate just intonation intervals at the first Xenharmonic Praxis Summer Camp, and I was encouraged by the results and by my own learning of it.

This free software is available for download here.

It was a long journey to completing this. I wrote the plugins initially in 2005, but updates in the Sagittal font rendered it incompatible with my version of Sibelius. It took five more years of intermittent struggling with fonts to come up with a special version of the font which works for Sibelius. The original plugin was written for the Spartan subset of symbols, but the higher-precision Athenian set, capable of notating pitches to 3-cent accuracy, was requested. Parts of the process were laborious and will likely remain so for future updates.

Not having a notation program capable of Sagittal has been one of the biggest roadblocks in my own process of composition since 2005. I’m glad that time is over. I’m currently compiling a “Sagittal Songbook” of small, singable pieces by myself and friends written in the meantime, with hopes of instigating a musical Arab Spring in these revolutionary times.

Please consider making a donation, especially if you use Sibelius and find this plugin contributive.

Teaching at summer programs in West Virginia

There are two programs this summer at the Gesundheit! Institute in West Virginia that I am involved in:

For me, these two programs are interconnected in a curious history of the past six years. You see, I first discovered the School for Designing a Society in 2005 in a quest for a microtonal summer program. I did a Google search with the text “Warren Burt summer 2005”, and up popped SDaS, who had done some collaboration with the illustrious Burt back in 2001 when he visited U of I’s composition world.

It was a serendipity, for in attending SDaS in 2005 I found many crucial ingredients to my living which I hadn’t found before:  a community of people very different from each other yet able to learn from each other;  a way for composition to be relevant to anyone at all; a practice for listening to my own desires, what *I* want and envision, not only for myself but for the world, turning my everyday performances and language into crucial, significant, chosen actions;  and ways of thinking the “big picture” which didn’t overwhelm me with powerlessness.

SDaS’s emphasis on designing and then trying out new-and-needed real-world projects is what led to my formulation of my desire for the microtonal summer camp that I had wanted SDaS to be, and for a musical instrument library. We started Oddmusic-UC in May 2009 as a musical instrument library in Urbana. This summer, armed with clearer and clearer formulations of social musical problems in fruitful friction with our social and musical desires, we dive into the beautiful mountain retreat of the Gesundheit! Institute and attempt to forge yet negotiate a temporary microtonal community within the ongoing microtonal movement.

Meanwhile, the Summer School for Designing a Society kicks off at Gesundheit! for its 8th consecutive year. Because the curriculum is so driven by the desires of the participants, every slight variation in the participants tends to have big consequences on what actually happens. Whatever happens will show us how undeniably we matter to the world, to each other.

Have an Udderbot Xmas

So-called hit single from “An Udderbot Xmas” (unfinished, 2007). Jacob Barton on udderbots, vocals, gong (that’s all there is!).

Amateuroso music video created Xmas 2010 by JAB+TES3+Leaves of Grass.

STEREO FIELDAGE: use headphones or decent speakers to honor your attentiveness.

TUNING NOTE: This piece is tuned to an 11-note subset of 19 equal divisions of the octave, a “kleismic” chain of minor thirds.

METRIC NOTE: As drawn poorly on the pavement, the udderbot drum machine moves *smoothly* from a 16-beat pattern to a 17-beat pattern by way of 11 (nexus at 2:05), using the same kind of process used to generate the tuning, but applied to rhythm. Credit due to Erv Wilson and others.

Help the Udderbot go to Sydney!

I have been selected as a finalist to participate in the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra composed of people selected by video audition from all over the world who will gather in Sydney, Australia under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas.

As an udderbot player, I was ineligible for a spot in the symphony proper, but was eligible for the Improvisation category, open to any instrument.  I think my audition turned out…well!  What makes it a real contender is the yet-unrealized novelty & potential of the udderbot itself.

This week folks can vote for their favorite auditions in each category.  Go to to vote for mine & view all the excellent finalist videos.

UPdate: There is also now a Facebook event for this message.

An Udderbot Recital (Press Release)

Champaign-Urbana, July 30, 2010—Multi-instrumentalist and composer Jacob Barton is happy to present his first full-length concert featuring the “udderbot”, a unique slide woodwind instrument invented in 2005.

A joint project of OddMusic-UC and UnTwelve, the concert will feature adaptations of pre-existing music and new music commissioned especially for the occasion. Sixteen composers, half of them Champaign-Urbana residents, participated in the commissioning project.

The recital will take place at 8 PM on Friday, August 20, 2010, at the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center. Admission is a $10-15 sliding scale, with no one turned away for lack of funds. RSVPing is encouraged.

Made of a glass bottle, a rubber glove, and water, the udderbot’s quirky appearance and unassuming timbre make it a “friendly” instrument; however, with a range greater than the concert flute’s, the udderbot is no mere novelty. The recital will feature music for solo udderbot player; udderbot with electronics; chamber music with traditional instruments; and multiple udderbots. The udderbot will substitute for its electronic predecessor, the theremin, for the oldest piece on this recital, Martinu’s “Fantasie” from 1944. A majority of the music being performed is “microtonal”, i.e. using notes and intervals that fall “between the keys” of the piano (but are no trouble at all for the udderbot).

Jacob Barton, the udderbot’s chief advocate and only known virtuoso, grew up in Virginia Beach, VA, where his musical hunger led him to learn piano, saxophone, clarinet, bassoon, and musical saw. He studied composition at Rice University, where he received a BMI Student Composer Award for “Xenharmonic Variations on a Theme by Mozart”. His passion for instrument building led serendipitously to the collaborative invention and development of the udderbot, which continues even today. Since 2005, Jacob has played the udderbot in traditional bands, children’s concerts, experimental music venues, theater productions, New York City subway stations, and humanitarian clowning missions in Ecuador.

The recital is a joint presentation between UnTwelve, a Midwest-based organization dedicated to exploring the musical frontiers beyond the 12-note system, and OddMusic-UC, a new compositional co-op and musical instrument library out of the UC-IMC. OddMusic-UC aims to increase everyone’s access to unusual musical experiences, offering radio programs, performances, and instrument making workshops. The udderbot can be built in under an hour using materials available at a hardware store; even so, learning the udderbot takes significantly more time and effort. Jacob will be leading an all-ages udderbot marching band with OddMusic-UC this fall.

Eighty-one ninth chords

Eighty-one 9th chords (2006) by Jacob Barton

for two pianos tuned to 17edo

Program note from 1st performance (Seventeen Tone Piano Project Phase Two)

There are three types of thirds in 17-edo; let’s call them subminor (4/17-oct), neutral (5/17-oct), and supermajor (6/17-oct). If a ninth chord is composed of five notes separated by four thirds, then there are 3^4 = 81 of them in 17-edo. You will hear each of these once. Begin with the smallest — all subminor thirds — and end with the largest—all supermajor. The rhythm will help you keep track of the unfolding expansion. If you like the logic of this piece, I recommend the composer Tom Johnson.

Program note from second performance (Señor Recital)

In Eighty-one ninth chords you will hear 81 ninth chords, each one a different type. I tried in the piece to let them be themselves but also connect them. Since composing it I read in Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet (an autistic savant who sees and feels certain things when thinking about certain numbers) of nine as a number of particular immensity to him. This is exactly what it does here—phrases of length 2 or 8 feel even; 3 or 9 is ever a stretch.

Recording here:

Update: new recording made with Pianoteq is featured on effluve ana moontense.

Score here:

Udderbot sextet no. 1

Udderbot sextet no. 1 “Three Shavings off the Infinite Block of Goodness” was written in 2005, when the udderbot hadn’t been christened yet and was called a “slide bottle”. In a didactic fashion, each movement takes a different approach to mediating between, on the one hand, the difficulties of learning this instrument for the first time and, on the other hand, the ease of composing for this instrument for the first time.

A final edition of the score is available here; instructions on making your own udderbot are available at A video is coming soon, we all hope.

Studio recordings of movements I and III:

Recordings of the premiere live performance are at the Fun with Xenharmonicity archive.

De-quinin’ for two clarinets

Thie piece was written for Maiko Sasaki in 2006. Of the two clarinets, one must be tuned flat by 33¢. Composing this piece, I pondered how to make interested uses of the intervals of 36-equal when only 24 of them were available. Listening to this piece, one can evaluate to what extent it is possible to precisely detune a clarinet by that amount, given that the tuning of the clarinet is not actually 12-equal.

Whenever composing for two instruments of similar timbre, my temptation to treat them like one single über-instrument is strong. Many passages in De-quinin’ are one- or two-part textures in which a contiguous line is formed by alternation between clarinets. The final section’s speedy hockets are tricky to do in live performance, and if done successfully will begin to sound like a third instrument, not clarinet at all.

The title for this piece came from a 20-consonant poem I composed:

zap!  be a vat of mayo,
ajar. whack!
de-quinin' ex-glass.

“De-quinin'” refers to the quine, in computer programming, a program which produces its own source code as an output.

The score to De-quinin’ looks like this. The audio to one clarinet part is available here.

“Stuck” for string quartet

A large bit of my self-description, for much of my composing life, involves being stuck.  So much so tht “Stuck” ended up the title of this work, in an effort to shake the ascription from myself once and for all.

The working title for this string quartet was “Rhythmic MOS Study”, which accurately describes at least the first section of it.  A nineteen-pulse rhythmic period decays one pulse at a time, in three different parts with three different generators. I began an explanation of this theory over there, and don’t know when I’ll finish it.

It was written for the Ensø Quartet, who read an early draft in a few different sessions, which I then stitched together for the only remotely representative recording of the work (file currently in archive)

Dear string quartets,

This piece wants you!

The score is available for download; parts are available on request.