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Tone cluster

Tone cluster

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A tone cluster is a musical chord
Chord (music)
A chord in music is any harmonic set of two–three or more notes that is heard as if sounding simultaneously. These need not actually be played together: arpeggios and broken chords may for many practical and theoretical purposes be understood as chords...

 comprising at least three consecutive tones in a scale
Musical scale
In music, a scale is a sequence of musical notes in ascending and descending order. Most commonly, especially in the context of the common practice period, the notes of a scale will belong to a single key, thus providing material for or being used to conveniently represent part or all of a musical...

. Prototypical tone clusters are based on the chromatic scale
Chromatic scale
The chromatic scale is a musical scale with twelve pitches, each a semitone apart. On a modern piano or other equal-tempered instrument, all the half steps are the same size...

, and are separated by semitone
Semitone
A semitone, also called a half step or a half tone, is the smallest musical interval commonly used in Western tonal music, and it is considered the most dissonant when sounded harmonically....

s. For instance, three adjacent
Steps and skips
In music, a step, or conjunct motion, is a linear or successive interval between two pitches which are consecutive scale degrees. Any larger interval is called a skip , or disjunct motion...

 piano keys
Musical keyboard
A musical keyboard is the set of adjacent depressible levers or keys on a musical instrument, particularly the piano. Keyboards typically contain keys for playing the twelve notes of the Western musical scale, with a combination of larger, longer keys and smaller, shorter keys that repeats at the...

 (such as C, C, and D) struck simultaneously produce a tone cluster. Variants of the tone cluster include chords comprising consecutive tones separated diatonically
Diatonic scale
In music theory, a diatonic scale is a seven note, octave-repeating musical scale comprising five whole steps and two half steps for each octave, in which the two half steps are separated from each other by either two or three whole steps...

, pentatonically
Pentatonic scale
A pentatonic scale is a musical scale with five notes per octave in contrast to a heptatonic scale such as the major scale and minor scale...

, or microtonally
Microtonal music
Microtonal music is music using microtones—intervals of less than an equally spaced semitone. Microtonal music can also refer to music which uses intervals not found in the Western system of 12 equal intervals to the octave.-Terminology:...

. On the piano, such clusters often involve the simultaneous striking of successive white or black keys.

The early years of the twentieth century saw tone clusters elevated to central roles in pioneering works by ragtime
Ragtime
Ragtime is an original musical genre which enjoyed its peak popularity between 1897 and 1918. Its main characteristic trait is its syncopated, or "ragged," rhythm. It began as dance music in the red-light districts of American cities such as St. Louis and New Orleans years before being published...

 artists Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton
Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe , known professionally as Jelly Roll Morton, was an American ragtime and early jazz pianist, bandleader and composer....

 and Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin was an American composer and pianist. Joplin achieved fame for his ragtime compositions, and was later dubbed "The King of Ragtime". During his brief career, Joplin wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas...

. In the 1910s, two classical avant-gardists, composer-pianists Leo Ornstein
Leo Ornstein
Leo Ornstein was a leading American experimental composer and pianist of the early twentieth century...

 and Henry Cowell
Henry Cowell
Henry Cowell was an American composer, music theorist, pianist, teacher, publisher, and impresario. His contribution to the world of music was summed up by Virgil Thomson, writing in the early 1950s:...

, were recognized as making the first extensive explorations of the tone cluster. During the same period, Charles Ives
Charles Ives
Charles Edward Ives was an American modernist composer. He is one of the first American composers of international renown, though Ives' music was largely ignored during his life, and many of his works went unperformed for many years. Over time, Ives came to be regarded as an "American Original"...

 employed them in several compositions that were not publicly performed until the late 1920s or 1930s. Composers such as Béla Bartók
Béla Bartók
Béla Viktor János Bartók was a Hungarian composer and pianist. He is considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century and is regarded, along with Liszt, as Hungary's greatest composer...

 and, later, Lou Harrison
Lou Harrison
Lou Silver Harrison was an American composer. He was a student of Henry Cowell, Arnold Schoenberg, and K. P. H. Notoprojo Lou Silver Harrison (May 14, 1917 – February 2, 2003) was an American composer. He was a student of Henry Cowell, Arnold Schoenberg, and K. P. H. Notoprojo Lou Silver Harrison...

 and Karlheinz Stockhausen
Karlheinz Stockhausen
Karlheinz Stockhausen was a German composer, widely acknowledged by critics as one of the most important but also controversial composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Another critic calls him "one of the great visionaries of 20th-century music"...

 became proponents of the tone cluster, which feature in the work of many 21st-century classical composers. Tone clusters play a significant role, as well, in the work of free jazz
Free jazz
Free jazz is an approach to jazz music that was first developed in the 1950s and 1960s. Though the music produced by free jazz pioneers varied widely, the common feature was a dissatisfaction with the limitations of bebop, hard bop, and modal jazz, which had developed in the 1940s and 1950s...

 musicians such as Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
Cecil Percival Taylor is an American pianist and poet. Classically trained, Taylor is generally acknowledged as one of the pioneers of free jazz. His music is characterized by an extremely energetic, physical approach, producing complex improvised sounds, frequently involving tone clusters and...

 and Matthew Shipp
Matthew Shipp
Matthew Shipp is an American pianist, composer and bandleader.Shipp was raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and began playing piano at six years old. His mother was a friend of trumpeter Clifford Brown....

.

In most Western music, tone clusters tend to be heard as dissonant
Consonance and dissonance
In music, a consonance is a harmony, chord, or interval considered stable, as opposed to a dissonance , which is considered to be unstable...

. Clusters may be performed with almost any individual instrument on which three or more notes can be played simultaneously, as well as by most groups of instruments or voices. Keyboard instrument
Keyboard instrument
A keyboard instrument is a musical instrument which is played using a musical keyboard. The most common of these is the piano. Other widely used keyboard instruments include organs of various types as well as other mechanical, electromechanical and electronic instruments...

s are particularly suited to the performance of tone clusters because it is relatively easy to play multiple notes in unison on them.

Music theory and classification



Prototypical tone clusters are chords of three or more adjacent notes on a chromatic scale
Chromatic scale
The chromatic scale is a musical scale with twelve pitches, each a semitone apart. On a modern piano or other equal-tempered instrument, all the half steps are the same size...

, that is, three or more consecutive pitches
Pitch (music)
Pitch is an auditory perceptual property that allows the ordering of sounds on a frequency-related scale.Pitches are compared as "higher" and "lower" in the sense associated with musical melodies,...

 each separated by only a semitone
Semitone
A semitone, also called a half step or a half tone, is the smallest musical interval commonly used in Western tonal music, and it is considered the most dissonant when sounded harmonically....

. Three-note stacks based on diatonic
Diatonic scale
In music theory, a diatonic scale is a seven note, octave-repeating musical scale comprising five whole steps and two half steps for each octave, in which the two half steps are separated from each other by either two or three whole steps...

 and pentatonic
Pentatonic scale
A pentatonic scale is a musical scale with five notes per octave in contrast to a heptatonic scale such as the major scale and minor scale...

 scales
Musical scale
In music, a scale is a sequence of musical notes in ascending and descending order. Most commonly, especially in the context of the common practice period, the notes of a scale will belong to a single key, thus providing material for or being used to conveniently represent part or all of a musical...

 are also, strictly speaking, tone clusters. However, these stacks involve intervals
Interval (music)
In music theory, an interval is a combination of two notes, or the ratio between their frequencies. Two-note combinations are also called dyads...

 between notes greater than the half-tone gaps of the chromatic kind. This can readily be seen on a keyboard, where the pitch of each key is separated from the next by one semitone (visualizing the black keys as extending to the edge of the keyboard): Diatonic scales—conventionally played on the white keys—contain only two semitone intervals; the rest are full tones. In Western musical traditions, pentatonic scales—conventionally played on the black keys—are built entirely from intervals larger than a semitone. Commentators thus tend to identify diatonic and pentatonic stacks as "tone clusters" only when they consist of four or more successive notes in the scale. In standard Western classical music
Classical music
Classical music is the art music produced in, or rooted in, the traditions of Western liturgical and secular music, encompassing a broad period from roughly the 11th century to present times...

 practice, all tone clusters are classifiable as secundal
Secundal
In music or music theory, secundal is the quality of a chord made from seconds, and anything related to things constructed from seconds such as counterpoint. Secundal chords are often referred to more generally as tone clusters, especially when non-diatonic...

 chords—that is, they are constructed from minor second
Minor second
In modern Western tonal music theory a minor second is the interval between two notes on adjacent staff positions, or having adjacent note letters, whose alterations cause them to be one semitone or half-step apart, such as B and C or C and D....

s (intervals of one semitone), major second
Major second
In Western music theory, a major second is a musical interval spanning two semitones, and encompassing two adjacent staff positions . For example, the interval from C to D is a major second, as the note D lies two semitones above C, and the two notes are notated on adjacent staff postions...

s (intervals of two semitones), or, in the case of certain pentatonic clusters, augmented second
Augmented second
In classical music from Western culture, an augmented second is an interval produced by widening a major second by a chromatic semitone. For instance, the interval from C to D is a major second, two semitones wide, and both the intervals from C to D, and from C to D are augmented seconds, spanning...

s (intervals of three semitones). Stacks of adjacent microtonal
Microtonal music
Microtonal music is music using microtones—intervals of less than an equally spaced semitone. Microtonal music can also refer to music which uses intervals not found in the Western system of 12 equal intervals to the octave.-Terminology:...

 pitches also constitute tone clusters.

In tone clusters, the notes are sounded fully and in unison, distinguishing them from ornamented
Ornament (music)
In music, ornaments or embellishments are musical flourishes that are not necessary to carry the overall line of the melody , but serve instead to decorate or "ornament" that line. Many ornaments are performed as "fast notes" around a central note...

 figures involving acciaccaturas and the like. Their effect also tends to be different: where ornamentation is used to draw attention to the harmony
Harmony
In music, harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches , or chords. The study of harmony involves chords and their construction and chord progressions and the principles of connection that govern them. Harmony is often said to refer to the "vertical" aspect of music, as distinguished from melodic...

 or the relationship between harmony and melody
Melody
A melody , also tune, voice, or line, is a linear succession of musical tones which is perceived as a single entity...

, tone clusters are for the most part employed as independent sounds. While, by definition, the notes that form a cluster must sound at the same time, there is no requirement that they must all begin sounding at the same moment. For example, in R. Murray Schafer
R. Murray Schafer
Raymond Murray Schafer is a Canadian composer, writer, music educator and environmentalist perhaps best known for his World Soundscape Project, concern for acoustic ecology, and his book The Tuning of the World...

's choral Epitaph for Moonlight (1968), a tone cluster is constructed by dividing each choir section (soprano/alto/tenor/bass) into four parts. Each of the sixteen parts enters separately, humming a note one semitone lower than the note hummed by the previous part, until all sixteen are contributing to the cluster.

Tone clusters have generally been thought of as dissonant musical textures, and even defined as such. As noted by Alan Belkin, however, instrumental timbre
Timbre
In music, timbre is the quality of a musical note or sound or tone that distinguishes different types of sound production, such as voices and musical instruments, such as string instruments, wind instruments, and percussion instruments. The physical characteristics of sound that determine the...

 can have a significant impact on their effect: "Clusters are quite aggressive on the organ, but soften enormously when played by strings (possibly because slight, continuous fluctuations of pitch in the latter provide some inner mobility)." In his first published work on the topic, Henry Cowell
Henry Cowell
Henry Cowell was an American composer, music theorist, pianist, teacher, publisher, and impresario. His contribution to the world of music was summed up by Virgil Thomson, writing in the early 1950s:...

 observed that a tone cluster is "more pleasing" and "acceptable to the ear if its outer limits form a consonant interval." Tone clusters also lend themselves to use in a percussive manner. Historically, they were sometimes discussed with a hint of disdain. One 1969 textbook defines the tone cluster as "an extra-harmonic clump of notes."

Notation and execution



In his 1917 piece The Tides of Manaunaun
The Tides of Manaunaun
The Tides of Manaunaun is a short piano piece by American composer Henry Cowell . It was composed in 1917, originally serving as a prelude to a theatrical production, The Building of Banba...

, Cowell introduced a new notation for tone clusters on the piano and other keyboard instruments. In this notation, only the top and bottom notes of a cluster, connected by a single line or a pair of lines, are represented. This developed into the solid-bar style seen in the image on the right. Here, the first chord—stretching two octave
Octave
In music, an octave is the interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency. The octave relationship is a natural phenomenon that has been referred to as the "basic miracle of music", the use of which is "common in most musical systems"...

s from D2 to D4—is a diatonic (so-called white-note) cluster, indicated by the natural sign below the staff. The second is a pentatonic (so-called black-note) cluster, indicated by the flat sign; a sharp sign would be required if the notes showing the limit of the cluster were spelled as sharps. A chromatic cluster—black and white keys together—is shown in this method by a solid bar with no sign at all. In scoring the large, dense clusters of the solo organ work Volumina in the early 1960s, György Ligeti
György Ligeti
György Sándor Ligeti was a composer of contemporary classical music. Born in a Hungarian Jewish family in Transylvania, Romania, he briefly lived in Hungary before becoming an Austrian citizen.-Early life:...

, using graphical notation, blocked in whole sections of the keyboard.

The performance of keyboard tone clusters is widely considered an "extended technique
Extended technique
Extended techniques are performance techniques used in music to describe unconventional, unorthodox, or non-traditional techniques of singing, or of playing musical instruments to obtain unusual sounds or instrumental timbres....

"—large clusters require unusual playing methods often involving the fist, the flat of the hand, or the forearm. Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Sphere Monk was an American jazz pianist and composer considered "one of the giants of American music". Monk had a unique improvisational style and made numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire, including "Epistrophy", "'Round Midnight", "Blue Monk", "Straight, No Chaser"...

 and Karlheinz Stockhausen
Karlheinz Stockhausen
Karlheinz Stockhausen was a German composer, widely acknowledged by critics as one of the most important but also controversial composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Another critic calls him "one of the great visionaries of 20th-century music"...

 each performed clusters with their elbows; Stockhausen developed a method for playing cluster glissandi with special gloves. Don Pullen
Don Pullen
Don Pullen was an American jazz pianist and organist. Pullen developed a strikingly individual style throughout his career. He composed masterworks ranging from blues to bebop and modern jazz...

 would play moving clusters by rolling the backs of his hands over the keyboard. Boards of various dimension are sometimes employed, as in the Concord Sonata
Piano Sonata No. 2 (Ives)
The Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord, Mass., 1840–60 by Charles Ives, commonly known as the Concord Sonata, is one of the composer's best-known and most highly regarded pieces....

 (ca. 1904–19) of Charles Ives
Charles Ives
Charles Edward Ives was an American modernist composer. He is one of the first American composers of international renown, though Ives' music was largely ignored during his life, and many of his works went unperformed for many years. Over time, Ives came to be regarded as an "American Original"...

; they can be weighted down to execute clusters of long duration. For works such as his Piano Concerto (1985) and Grand Duo (1988), Lou Harrison
Lou Harrison
Lou Silver Harrison was an American composer. He was a student of Henry Cowell, Arnold Schoenberg, and K. P. H. Notoprojo Lou Silver Harrison (May 14, 1917 – February 2, 2003) was an American composer. He was a student of Henry Cowell, Arnold Schoenberg, and K. P. H. Notoprojo Lou Silver Harrison...

's scores call for the use of an "octave bar," a wooden device especially crafted for cluster playing.

Before the 1900s


The earliest example of tone clusters in a Western music composition thus far identified is in the second movement of Heinrich Biber's Battalia à 10 (1673) for string ensemble, which calls for several diatonic clusters. An orchestral diatonic cluster occurs also in the representation of chaos in the opening of Jean-Féry Rebel
Jean-Féry Rebel
Jean-Féry Rebel was an innovative French Baroque composer and violinist.-Biography:Rebel , a son of the singer Jean Rebel, a tenor in Louis XIV's private chapel, was a child violin prodigy. He became, at the age of eight, one of his father's most famous musical offspring. Later, he was a student...

's 1737–38 ballet Les Elémens. From the next century-and-a-half, only a few more examples have been identified, none calling for more than a fleeting instance of the form. These are mostly in French programmatic compositions for the harpsichord or piano that represent cannon fire with clusters, for example in works by François Dandrieu (Les Caractères de la guerre, 1724), Michel Corrette
Michel Corrette
Michel Corrette was a French organist, composer and author of musical method books.-Life:Corrette was born in Rouen, Normandy. His father, Gaspard Corrette, was an organist and composer. Corrette served as organist at the Jesuit College in Paris from about 1737 to 1780. It is also known that he...

 (La Victoire d'un combat naval, remportée par une frégate contre plusieurs corsaires réunis, 1780), Claude-Bénigne Balbastre
Claude-Bénigne Balbastre
Claude Balbastre was a French composer, organist and harpsichordist. He was one of the most famous musicians of his time.-Life:Claude Balbastre was born in Dijon in 1724...

 (March des Marseillois, 1793), Pierre Antoine César (La Battaille de Gemmap, ou la prise de Mons, ca. 1794), Bernard Viguerie (La Bataille de Maringo, pièce militaire et hitorique, for piano trio, 1800), and Jacques-Marie Beauvarlet-Charpentier (Battaille d'Austerlitz, 1805).

The next known composition after Charpentier's to feature several clusters—though not, in this case, specifically notated—is the solo piano piece Battle of Manassas, written in 1861 by "Blind Tom" Bethune
Blind Tom Wiggins
Thomas "Blind Tom" Wiggins was an African American autistic savant and musical prodigy on the piano. He had numerous original compositions published and had a lengthy and largely successful performing career throughout the United States...

 and published in 1866. The score instructs the pianist to represent cannon fire at various points by striking "with the flat of the hand, as many notes as possible, and with as much force as possible, at the bass of the piano." In 1887, Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Verdi
Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian Romantic composer, mainly of opera. He was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century...

 became the first notable composer in the Western tradition to write an unmistakable chromatic cluster: the storm music with which Otello
Otello
Otello is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Arrigo Boito, based on Shakespeare's play Othello. It was Verdi's penultimate opera, and was first performed at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, on February 5, 1887....

 opens includes an organ cluster (C, C♯, D) that also has the longest notated duration of any scored musical texture known. Still, it was not before the second decade of the twentieth century that tone clusters assumed a recognized place in Western classical music practice.

In classical music of the early 1900s



"Around 1910," Harold C. Schoenberg writes, "Percy Grainger
Percy Grainger
George Percy Aldridge Grainger , known as Percy Grainger, was an Australian-born composer, arranger and pianist. In the course of a long and innovative career he played a prominent role in the revival of interest in British folk music in the early years of the 20th century. He also made many...

 was causing a stir by the near–tone clusters in such works as his Gumsuckers March." In 1911, what appears to be the first published classical composition to thoroughly integrate true tone clusters was issued: Tintamarre (The Clangor of Bells), by Canadian composer J. Humfrey Anger (1862–1913).

Within a few years, the radical composer-pianist Leo Ornstein
Leo Ornstein
Leo Ornstein was a leading American experimental composer and pianist of the early twentieth century...

 became one of the most famous figures in classical music on both sides of the Atlantic for his performances of cutting-edge work. In 1914, Ornstein debuted several of his own solo piano compositions: Wild Men's Dance (aka Danse Sauvage; ca. 1913–14), Impressions of the Thames (ca. 1913–14), and Impressions of Notre Dame (ca. 1913–14) were the first works to explore the tone cluster in depth ever heard by a substantial audience. Wild Men's Dance, in particular, was constructed almost entirely out of clusters . In 1918, critic Charles L. Buchanan described Ornstein's innovation: "[He] gives us masses of shrill, hard dissonances, chords consisting of anywhere from eight to a dozen notes made up of half tones heaped one upon another."

Clusters were also beginning to appear in more pieces by European composers. Isaac Alb%C3%A9niz's use of them in Iberia (1905–8) may have influenced Gabriel Fauré
Gabriel Fauré
Gabriel Urbain Fauré was a French composer, organist, pianist and teacher. He was one of the foremost French composers of his generation, and his musical style influenced many 20th century composers...

's subsequent piano writing. Joseph Horowitz
Joseph Horowitz
Joseph Horowitz is an American cultural historian whose seven books mainly deal with the institutional history of classical music in the United States. As a producer of concerts, he has played a pioneering role in promoting thematic programming and new concert formats...

 has suggested that the "dissonant star clusters" in its third and fourth books were particularly compelling to Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen was a French composer, organist and ornithologist, one of the major composers of the 20th century. His music is rhythmically complex ; harmonically and melodically it is based on modes of limited transposition, which he abstracted from his early compositions and improvisations...

, who called Iberia "the wonder of the piano." The Thomas de Hartmann
Thomas de Hartmann
Thomas Alexandrovich de Hartmann September 21, 1885March 28, 1956 was a Russian composer and prominent student and collaborator of George Gurdjieff.-Biography:...

 score for Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Kandinsky
Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky was an influential Russian painter and art theorist. He is credited with painting the first purely-abstract works. Born in Moscow, Kandinsky spent his childhood in Odessa. He enrolled at the University of Moscow, studying law and economics...

's stage show The Yellow Sound
The Yellow Sound
The Yellow Sound is an experimental theater piece originated by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky. Created in 1909, the work was first published in The Blue Rider Almanac in 1912....

 (1909) employs a chromatic cluster at two climactic points. Alban Berg
Alban Berg
Alban Maria Johannes Berg was an Austrian composer. He was a member of the Second Viennese School with Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, and produced compositions that combined Mahlerian Romanticism with a personal adaptation of Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique.-Early life:Berg was born in...

's Four Pieces for clarinet and piano (1913) calls for clusters along with other avant-garde keyboard techniques. Claude Debussy
Claude Debussy
Claude-Achille Debussy was a French composer. Along with Maurice Ravel, he was one of the most prominent figures working within the field of impressionist music, though he himself intensely disliked the term when applied to his compositions...

's 1915 arrangement for solo piano of his Six Epigraphes Antiques (1914), originally a set of piano duets, includes tone clusters in the fifth piece, Pour l'Egyptienne. Richard Strauss
Richard Strauss
Richard Georg Strauss was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his Lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems and orchestral works, such as Death and Transfiguration, Till...

's An Alpine Symphony (1915) "starts and ends with the setting sun—a B flat minor chord cluster slowly built down."

Though much of his work was made public only years later, Charles Ives
Charles Ives
Charles Edward Ives was an American modernist composer. He is one of the first American composers of international renown, though Ives' music was largely ignored during his life, and many of his works went unperformed for many years. Over time, Ives came to be regarded as an "American Original"...

 had been exploring the possibilities of the tone cluster—which he referred to as the "group chord"—for some time. In 1906–7, Ives composed his first mature piece to extensively feature tone clusters, Scherzo: Over the Pavements. Orchestrated for a nine-piece ensemble, it includes both black- and white-note clusters for the piano. Revised in 1913, it would not be recorded and published until the 1950s and would have to wait until 1963 to receive its first public performance. During the same period that Ornstein was introducing tone clusters to the concert stage, Ives was developing a piece with what would become the most famous set of clusters: in the second movement, "Hawthorne," of the Concord Sonata
Piano Sonata No. 2 (Ives)
The Piano Sonata No. 2, Concord, Mass., 1840–60 by Charles Ives, commonly known as the Concord Sonata, is one of the composer's best-known and most highly regarded pieces....

 (ca. 1904–15, publ. 1920, prem. 1928, rev. 1947), mammoth piano chords require a wooden bar almost fifteen inches long to play. The gentle clusters produced by the felt- or flannel-covered bar represent the sound of far-off church bells . Later in the movement, there are a series of five-note diatonic clusters for the right hand. In his notes to the score, Ives indicates that "these group-chords...may, if the player feels like it, be hit with the clenched fist." Between 1911 and 1913, Ives also wrote ensemble pieces with tone clusters such as his Second String Quartet and the orchestral Decoration Day and Fourth of July, though none of these would be publicly performed before the 1930s.

In the work of Henry Cowell



In June 1913, a sixteen-year-old Californian with no formal musical training wrote a solo piano piece, Adventures in Harmony, employing "primitive tone clusters." Henry Cowell
Henry Cowell
Henry Cowell was an American composer, music theorist, pianist, teacher, publisher, and impresario. His contribution to the world of music was summed up by Virgil Thomson, writing in the early 1950s:...

 would soon emerge as the seminal figure in promoting the cluster harmonic technique. Ornstein abandoned the concert stage in the early 1920s and, anyway, clusters had served him as practical harmonic devices, not as part of a larger theoretical mission. In the case of Ives, clusters comprised a relatively small part of his compositional output, much of which went unheard for years. For the intellectually ambitious Cowell—who heard Ornstein perform in New York in 1916—clusters were crucial to the future of music. He set out to explore their "overall, cumulative, and often programmatic effects."

Dynamic Motion (1916) for solo piano, written when Cowell was nineteen, has been described as "probably the first piece anywhere using secundal chords independently for musical extension and variation." Though that is not quite accurate, it does appear to be the first piece to employ chromatic clusters in such a manner. A solo piano piece Cowell wrote the following year, The Tides of Manaunaun
The Tides of Manaunaun
The Tides of Manaunaun is a short piano piece by American composer Henry Cowell . It was composed in 1917, originally serving as a prelude to a theatrical production, The Building of Banba...

 (1917), would prove to be his most popular work and the composition most responsible for establishing the tone cluster as a significant element in Western classical music . (Cowell's early piano works are often erroneously dated; in the two cases above, as 1914 and 1912, respectively.) Assumed by some to involve an essentially random—or, more kindly, aleatoric
Aleatoric music
Aleatoric music is music in which some element of the composition is left to chance, and/or some primary element of a composed work's realization is left to the determination of its performer...

—pianistic approach, Cowell would explain that precision is required in the writing and performance of tone clusters no less than with any other musical feature:

Tone clusters...on the piano [are] whole scales of tones used as chords, or at least three contiguous tones along a scale being used as a chord. And, at times, if these chords exceed the number of tones that you have fingers on your hand, it may be necessary to play these either with the flat of the hand or sometimes with the full forearm. This is not done from the standpoint of trying to devise a new piano technique, although it actually amounts to that, but rather because this is the only practicable method of playing such large chords. It should be obvious that these chords are exact and that one practices diligently in order to play them with the desired tone quality and to have them absolutely precise in nature.

Historian and critic Kyle Gann
Kyle Gann
Kyle Eugene Gann is an American professor of music, critic and composer born in Dallas, Texas. As a critic for The Village Voice and other publications he has been a supporter of progressive music including such Downtown movements as postminimalism and totalism.- As composer :As a composer his...

 describes the broad range of ways in which Cowell constructed (and thus performed) his clusters and used them as musical textures, "sometimes with a top note brought out melodically, sometimes accompanying a left-hand melody in parallel."

Beginning in 1921, with an article serialized in The Freeman, an Irish cultural journal, Cowell popularized the term tone cluster. While he did not coin the phrase, as is often claimed, he appears to have been the first to use it with its current meaning. During the 1920s and 1930s, Cowell toured widely through North America and Europe, playing his own experimental works, many built around tone clusters. In addition to The Tides of Manaunaun, Dynamic Motion, and its five "encores"—What's This (1917), Amiable Conversation (1917), Advertisement (1917), Antinomy (1917, rev. 1959; frequently misspelled "Antimony"), and Time Table (1917)—these include The Voice of Lir (1920), Exultation (1921), The Harp of Life (1924), Snows of Fujiyama (1924), Lilt of the Reel (1930), and Deep Color (1938). Tiger (1930) has a chord of 53 notes, probably the largest ever written for a single instrument until 1969. Along with Ives, Cowell wrote some of the first large-ensemble pieces to make extensive use of clusters. The Birth of Motion (ca. 1920), his earliest such effort, combines orchestral clusters with glissando. "Tone Cluster," the second movement of Cowell's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1928, prem. 1978), employs a wide variety of clusters for the piano and each instrumental group . From a quarter-century later, his Symphony No. 11 (1953) features a sliding chromatic cluster played by muted violins.

In his theoretical work New Musical Resources (1930), a major influence on the classical avant-garde for many decades, Cowell argued that clusters should not be employed simply for color:

In harmony it is often better for the sake of consistency to maintain a whole succession of clusters, once they are begun; since one alone, or even two, may be heard as a mere effect, rather than as an independent and significant procedure, carried with musical logic to its inevitable conclusion.

In later classical music



In 1922, composer Dane Rudhyar
Dane Rudhyar
Dane Rudhyar , born Daniel Chennevière, was an author, modernist composer and humanistic astrologer. He was the pioneer of modern transpersonal astrology.-Biography:...

, a friend of Cowell's, declared approvingly that the development of the tone cluster "imperilled [the] existence" of "the musical unit, the note." While that threat was not to be realized, clusters began to appear in the works of a growing number of composers. Already, Aaron Copland
Aaron Copland
Aaron Copland was an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later in his career a conductor of his own and other American music. He was instrumental in forging a distinctly American style of composition, and is often referred to as "the Dean of American Composers"...

 had written his Three Moods (aka Trois Esquisses; 1920–21) for piano—its name an apparent homage to a piece of Leo Ornstein's—which includes a triple-forte
Dynamics (music)
In music, dynamics normally refers to the volume of a sound or note, but can also refer to every aspect of the execution of a given piece, either stylistic or functional . The term is also applied to the written or printed musical notation used to indicate dynamics...

 cluster. The most renowned composer to be directly inspired by Cowell's demonstrations of his tone cluster pieces was Béla Bartók
Béla Bartók
Béla Viktor János Bartók was a Hungarian composer and pianist. He is considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century and is regarded, along with Liszt, as Hungary's greatest composer...

, who requested Cowell's permission to employ the method. Bartók's First Piano Concerto
Piano Concerto No. 1 (Bartók)
The Piano Concerto No. 1 , Sz. 83, BB 91 of Béla Bartók was composed in 1926. It is about 23 to 24 minutes long.-Background:For almost three years, Bartók had composed little. He broke that silence with several piano works, one of which was the piano concerto...

, Piano Sonata
Piano Sonata (Bartók)
The Piano Sonata BB 88 of Béla Bartók was composed in 1926. It is tonal, but is highly dissonant. It uses the piano in a percussive fashion.The work is in three movements, with the following tempo indications:*Allegro moderato...

, and Out of Doors
Out of Doors (Bartók)
Out of Doors is a set of five piano solo pieces, Sz. 81, BB 89, written by Béla Bartók in 1926. Out of Doors is among the very few instrumental compositions by Bartók with programmatic titles...

 (all 1926), his first significant works after three years in which he produced little, extensively feature tone clusters.

In the 1930s, Cowell's student Lou Harrison
Lou Harrison
Lou Silver Harrison was an American composer. He was a student of Henry Cowell, Arnold Schoenberg, and K. P. H. Notoprojo Lou Silver Harrison (May 14, 1917 – February 2, 2003) was an American composer. He was a student of Henry Cowell, Arnold Schoenberg, and K. P. H. Notoprojo Lou Silver Harrison...

 utilized keyboard clusters in several works such as his Prelude for Grandpiano (1937). At least as far back as 1942, John Cage
John Cage
John Milton Cage Jr. was an American composer, music theorist, writer, philosopher and artist. A pioneer of indeterminacy in music, electroacoustic music, and non-standard use of musical instruments, Cage was one of the leading figures of the post-war avant-garde...

, who also studied under Cowell, began writing piano pieces with cluster chords; In the Name of the Holocaust, from December of that year, includes chromatic, diatonic, and pentatonic clusters. Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen
Olivier Messiaen was a French composer, organist and ornithologist, one of the major composers of the 20th century. His music is rhythmically complex ; harmonically and melodically it is based on modes of limited transposition, which he abstracted from his early compositions and improvisations...

's Vingt regards sur l'enfant Jésus
Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus
Vingt regards sur l'enfant-Jésus is a collection of pieces by the French composer Olivier Messiaen for solo piano. The French title translates into English roughly as "Twenty gazes/contemplations on the infant Jesus"...

 (1944), often described as the most important solo piano piece of the first half of the twentieth century, employs clusters throughout. They would feature in numerous subsequent piano works, by a wide range of composers. Karlheinz Stockhausen
Karlheinz Stockhausen
Karlheinz Stockhausen was a German composer, widely acknowledged by critics as one of the most important but also controversial composers of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Another critic calls him "one of the great visionaries of 20th-century music"...

 and George Crumb
George Crumb
George Crumb is an American composer of contemporary classical music. He is noted as an explorer of unusual timbres, alternative forms of notation, and extended instrumental and vocal techniques. Examples include seagull effect for the cello , metallic vibrato for the piano George Crumb (born...

 are among those who have employed them frequently. The piano part of the second movement of Joseph Schwantner
Joseph Schwantner
Joseph C. Schwantner is a Pulitzer Prize winning American composer and educator and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was awarded the 1970 Charles Ives Prize....

's song cycle Magabunda (1983) has perhaps the single largest chord ever written for an individual instrument: all 88 notes on the keyboard.

While tone clusters are conventionally associated with the piano, and the solo piano repertoire in particular, they have also assumed important roles in compositions for chamber groups and larger ensembles. Robert Reigle identifies Croatian composer Josip Slavenski
Josip Štolcer-Slavenski
Josip Štolcer-Slavenski was a Yugoslav composer and professor at the Music Academy in Belgrade.-Early life:...

's organ-and-violin Sonata Religiosa (1925), with its sustained chromatic clusters, as "a missing link between Ives and [György] Ligeti
György Ligeti
György Sándor Ligeti was a composer of contemporary classical music. Born in a Hungarian Jewish family in Transylvania, Romania, he briefly lived in Hungary before becoming an Austrian citizen.-Early life:...

." Bartók employs both diatonic and chromatic clusters in his Fourth String Quartet
String Quartet No. 4 (Bartók)
The String Quartet No. 4 by Béla Bartók was written from July to September, 1927 in Budapest.The work is in five movements:#Allegro#Prestissimo, con sordino#Non troppo lento#Allegretto pizzicato#Allegro molto...

 (1928). The sound mass
Sound mass
In contrast to more traditional musical textures, sound mass composition "minimizes the importance of individual pitches in preference for texture, timbre, and dynamics as primary shapers of gesture and impact." Developed from the modernist tone clusters and spread to orchestral writing by the late...

 technique in such works as Ruth Crawford Seeger
Ruth Crawford Seeger
Ruth Crawford Seeger , born Ruth Porter Crawford, was a modernist composer and an American folk music specialist.-Life:...

's String Quartet
String Quartet (Crawford-Seeger)
Ruth Crawford's String Quartet is "regarded as one of the finest modernist works of the genre" . The composition or piece is in four untitled movements.-First Movement:The first movement is a fine example of twelve-tone study...

 (1931) and Iannis Xenakis
Iannis Xenakis
Iannis Xenakis was a Romanian-born Greek ethnic, naturalized French composer, music theorist, and architect-engineer. He is commonly recognized as one of the most important post-war avant-garde composers...

's Metastasis
Metastasis (Xenakis composition)
Metastasis, also Metastaseis or Métastassis, is an orchestral work for 61 musicians by Iannis Xenakis. His first major work, it was written in 1953-54 after his studies with Olivier Messiaen and is 8 minutes in length...

 (1955) is an elaboration of the tone cluster. In one of the most famous pieces associated with the sound mass aesthetic, Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki
Krzysztof Penderecki , born November 23, 1933 in Dębica) is a Polish composer and conductor. His 1960 avant-garde Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima for string orchestra brought him to international attention, and this success was followed by acclaim for his choral St. Luke Passion. Both these...

's Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima
Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima
Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima is a musical composition for 52 string instruments, composed in 1960 by Krzysztof Penderecki , which took third prize at the Grzegorz Fitelberg Composers' Competition in Katowice in 1960...

 (1959), for fifty-two string instruments, the quarter-tone clusters "see[m] to have abstracted and intensified the features that define shrieks of terror and keening cries of sorrow." In 1961, Ligeti wrote perhaps the largest cluster chord ever—in the orchestral Atmosphères
Atmosphères
Atmosphères is a piece for full orchestra, composed by György Ligeti in 1961. It is noted for eschewing conventional melody and metre in favor of dense sound textures...

, every note in the chromatic scale over a range of five octave
Octave
In music, an octave is the interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency. The octave relationship is a natural phenomenon that has been referred to as the "basic miracle of music", the use of which is "common in most musical systems"...

s is played at once (quietly). Ligeti's organ works make extensive use of clusters. Volumina (1961–62), graphically notated, consists of static and mobile cluster masses, and calls on many advanced cluster-playing techniques.

The eighth movement of Messiaen's oratorio
Oratorio
An oratorio is a large musical composition including an orchestra, a choir, and soloists. Like an opera, an oratorio includes the use of a choir, soloists, an ensemble, various distinguishable characters, and arias...

 La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ
La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ
La Transfiguration de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ is a work written between 1965 and 1969 by Olivier Messiaen. It is based on the Jesus transfiguring on a mountain according to the report of the Synoptic Gospels. The writing is on a very large scale; the work requires around 200 performers...

 (1965–69) features "a shimmering halo of tone-cluster glissandi" in the strings, evoking the "bright cloud" to which the narrative refers . In Morton Feldman
Morton Feldman
Morton Feldman was an American composer, born in New York City.A major figure in 20th century music, Feldman was a pioneer of indeterminate music, a development associated with the experimental New York School of composers also including John Cage, Christian Wolff, and Earle Brown...

's Rothko Chapel (1971), "Wordless vocal tone clusters seep out through the skeletal arrangements of viola, celeste, and percussion." Aldo Clementi
Aldo Clementi
-Life:Aldo Clementi was born in Catania, Italy. He studied the piano, graduating in 1946. His studies in composition began in 1941, and his teachers included Alfredo Sangiorgi and Goffredo Petrassi. After receiving his diploma in 1954, he attended the Darmstadt summer courses from 1955 to 1962...

's chamber ensemble piece Ceremonial (1973) evokes both Verdi and Ives, combining the original extended-duration and mass cluster concepts: a weighted wooden board placed on an electric harmonium
Harmonium
A harmonium is a free-standing keyboard instrument similar to a reed organ. Sound is produced by air being blown through sets of free reeds, resulting in a sound similar to that of an accordion...

 maintains a tone cluster throughout the work. Judith Bingham's Prague (1995) gives a brass band the opportunity to create tone clusters. Keyboard clusters are set against orchestral forces in piano concertos such as Einojuhani Rautavaara
Einojuhani Rautavaara
Einojuhani Rautavaara is a Finnish composer of contemporary classical music, and is one of the most notable Finnish composers after Jean Sibelius.-Life:...

's first (1969) and Esa-Pekka Salonen
Esa-Pekka Salonen
Esa-Pekka Salonen is a Finnish orchestral conductor and composer. He is currently Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London and Conductor Laureate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.-Early career:...

's (2007), the latter suggestive of Messiaen. The choral compositions of Eric Whitacre
Eric Whitacre
Eric Whitacre is an American composer, conductor and lecturer. He is one of the most popular and performed composers of his generation. In 2008, the all-Whitacre choral CD Cloudburst became an international best-seller, topping the classical charts and earning a Grammy nomination...

 often employ clusters.

Three composers who made frequent use of tone clusters for a wide variety of ensembles are Giacinto Scelsi
Giacinto Scelsi
Giacinto Scelsi , Count of Ayala Valva was an Italian composer who also wrote surrealist poetry in French....

, Alfred Schnittke
Alfred Schnittke
Alfred Schnittke ; November 24, 1934 – August 3, 1998) was a Russian and Soviet composer. Schnittke's early music shows the strong influence of Dmitri Shostakovich. He developed a polystylistic technique in works such as the epic First Symphony and First Concerto Grosso...

—both of whom often worked with them in microtonal contexts—and Lou Harrison. Scelsi employed them for much of his career, including in his last large-scale work, Pfhat (1974), which premiered in 1986. They are found in works of Schnittke's ranging from the Quintet for Piano and Strings (1972–76), where "microtonal strings fin[d] tone clusters between the cracks of the piano keys," to the choral Psalms of Repentance (1988). Harrison's many pieces featuring clusters include Pacifika Rondo (1963), Concerto for Organ with Percussion (1973), Piano Concerto (1983–85), Three Songs for male chorus (1985), Grand Duo (1988), and Rhymes with Silver (1996). With his partner William Colvig
William Colvig
William Colvig was an electrician and amateur musician who was the partner for 33 years of composer Lou Harrison, whom he met in San Francisco, California in 1967...

, Harrison developed a device to facilitate high-speed keyboard cluster performance:

the "octave bar," a flat wooden device approximately two inches high with a grip on top and sponge rubber on the bottom, with which the player strikes the keys. Its length spans an octave on a grand piano. The sponge rubber bottom is sculpted so that its ends are slightly lower than its center, making the outer tones of the octave sound with greater force than the intermediary pitches. The pianist can thus rush headlong through fearfully rapid passages, precisely spanning an octave at each blow.

In jazz



Tone clusters have been employed by jazz
Jazz
Jazz is a musical style that originated at the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States. It was born out of a mix of African and European music traditions. From its early development until the present, jazz has incorporated music from 19th and 20th...

 artists in a variety of styles, since the very beginning of the form. Around the turn of the twentieth century, Storyville
Storyville
Storyville was the red-light district of New Orleans, Louisiana, from 1897 through 1917. Locals usually simply referred to the area as The District.-History:...

 pianist Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton
Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe , known professionally as Jelly Roll Morton, was an American ragtime and early jazz pianist, bandleader and composer....

 began performing a ragtime
Ragtime
Ragtime is an original musical genre which enjoyed its peak popularity between 1897 and 1918. Its main characteristic trait is its syncopated, or "ragged," rhythm. It began as dance music in the red-light districts of American cities such as St. Louis and New Orleans years before being published...

 adaptation of a French quadrille
Quadrille
Quadrille is a historic dance performed by four couples in a square formation, a precursor to traditional square dancing. It is also a style of music...

, introducing large chromatic tone clusters played by his left forearm. The growling effect led Morton to dub the piece his "Tiger Rag" . In 1909, Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin was an American composer and pianist. Joplin achieved fame for his ragtime compositions, and was later dubbed "The King of Ragtime". During his brief career, Joplin wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas...

's deliberately experimental "Wall Street Rag" included a section prominently featuring notated tone clusters—apparently the first published work in the history of Western music with a cluster sequence. The fourth of Artie Matthews
Artie Matthews
Artie Matthews was a songwriter, pianist, and ragtime composer.Artie Matthews was born in Braidwood, Illinois; his family moved to Springfield, Illinois in his youth. He learned to play piano, mostly popular songs and light classics, until he heard ragtime played by a pianist named Banty Morgan...

's Pastime Rags (1913–20) features dissonant right-hand clusters. Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Sphere Monk was an American jazz pianist and composer considered "one of the giants of American music". Monk had a unique improvisational style and made numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire, including "Epistrophy", "'Round Midnight", "Blue Monk", "Straight, No Chaser"...

, in pieces such as "Introspection" (1946) and "Off Minor" (1947), uses clusters as dramatic figures within the central improvisation and to accent the tension at its conclusion. They are heard on Art Tatum
Art Tatum
Arthur "Art" Tatum, Jr. was an American jazz pianist and virtuoso who played with phenomenal facility despite being nearly blind.Tatum is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time...

's "Mr. Freddy Blues" (1950), undergirding the cross-rhythms
Polyrhythm
Polyrhythm is the simultaneous sounding of two or more independent rhythms.Polyrhythm in general is a nonspecific term for the simultaneous occurrence of two or more conflicting rhythms, of which cross-rhythm is a specific and definable subset.—Novotney Polyrhythms can be distinguished from...

. By 1953, Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck
David Warren "Dave" Brubeck is an American jazz pianist. He has written a number of jazz standards, including "In Your Own Sweet Way" and "The Duke". Brubeck's style ranges from refined to bombastic, reflecting his mother's attempts at classical training and his improvisational skills...

 was employing piano tone clusters and dissonance in a manner anticipating the style free jazz
Free jazz
Free jazz is an approach to jazz music that was first developed in the 1950s and 1960s. Though the music produced by free jazz pioneers varied widely, the common feature was a dissatisfaction with the limitations of bebop, hard bop, and modal jazz, which had developed in the 1940s and 1950s...

 pioneer Cecil Taylor
Cecil Taylor
Cecil Percival Taylor is an American pianist and poet. Classically trained, Taylor is generally acknowledged as one of the pioneers of free jazz. His music is characterized by an extremely energetic, physical approach, producing complex improvised sounds, frequently involving tone clusters and...

 would soon develop. The approach of hard bop
Hard bop
Hard bop is a style of jazz that is an extension of bebop music. Journalists and record companies began using the term in the mid-1950s to describe a new current within jazz which incorporated influences from rhythm and blues, gospel music, and blues, especially in the saxophone and piano...

 pianist Horace Silver
Horace Silver
Horace Silver , born Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silva in Norwalk, Connecticut, is an American jazz pianist and composer....

 is an even clearer antecedent to Taylor's use of clusters. During the same era, clusters appear as punctuation marks in the lead lines of Herbie Nichols
Herbie Nichols
Herbie Nichols , was an American jazz pianist and composer who wrote the jazz standard "Lady Sings the Blues". Obscure during his lifetime, he is now highly regarded by many musicians and critics.-Life:...

. In "The Gig" (1955), described by Francis Davis as Nichols's masterpiece, "clashing notes and tone clusters depic[t] a pickup band at odds with itself about what to play." Recorded examples of Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was an American composer, pianist, and big band leader. Ellington wrote over 1,000 compositions...

's piano cluster work include "Summertime" (1961) and ...And His Mother Called Him Bill (1967).

In jazz, as in classical music, tone clusters have not been restricted to the keyboard. In the 1930s, the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra
Jimmie Lunceford
James Melvin "Jimmie" Lunceford was an American jazz alto saxophonist and bandleader in the swing era.-Biography:...

's "Stratosphere" included ensemble clusters among an array of progressive elements. The Stan Kenton Orchestra
Stan Kenton
Stanley Newcomb "Stan" Kenton was a pianist, composer, and arranger who led a highly innovative, influential, and often controversial American jazz orchestra. In later years he was widely active as an educator....

's April 1947 recording of "If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight," arranged by Pete Rugolo
Pete Rugolo
Pietro "Pete" Rugolo was an Italian-born jazz composer and arranger.-Life and career:Rugolo was born in San Piero Patti, Sicily, Italy. His family emigrated to the United States in 1920 and settled in Santa Rosa, California...

, features a dramatic four-note trombone cluster at the end of the second chorus. As described by critic Fred Kaplan, a 1950 performance by the Duke Ellington Orchestra features arrangements with the collective "blowing rich, dark, tone clusters that evoke Ravel." In the early 1960s, arrangements by Bob Brookmeyer
Bob Brookmeyer
Robert Brookmeyer is an American jazz valve trombonist, pianist, arranger, and composer.-Biography:Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Brookmeyer first gained widespread public attention as a member of Gerry Mulligan's quartet from 1954 to 1957. He later worked with Jimmy Giuffre...

 and Gerry Mulligan
Gerry Mulligan
Gerald Joseph "Gerry" Mulligan was an American jazz saxophonist, clarinetist, composer and arranger. Though Mulligan is primarily known as one of the leading baritone saxophonists in jazz history – playing the instrument with a light and airy tone in the era of cool jazz – he was also...

 for Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band employed tone clusters in a dense style bringing to mind both Ellington and Ravel. Eric Dolphy
Eric Dolphy
Eric Allan Dolphy was an American jazz alto saxophonist, flutist, and bass clarinetist. On a few occasions he also played the clarinet and baritone saxophone. Dolphy was one of several multi-instrumentalists to gain prominence in the 1960s...

's bass clarinet solos would often feature "microtonal clusters summoned by frantic overblowing." Critic Robert Palmer called the "tart tone cluster" that "pierces a song's surfaces and penetrates to its heart" a specialty of guitarist Jim Hall
Jim Hall (musician)
James Stanley Hall is an American jazz guitarist.-Biography:Educated at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Hall moved to Los Angeles where he began to attract national, and then international, attention in the late 1950s...

's.

Clusters are especially prevalent in the realm of free jazz. Cecil Taylor has used them extensively as part of his improvisational method since the mid-1950s. Like much of his musical vocabulary, his clusters operate "on a continuum somewhere between melody and percussion." One of Taylor's primary purposes in adopting clusters was to avoid the dominance of any specific pitch. Leading free jazz composer, bandleader, and pianist Sun Ra
Sun Ra
Sun Ra was a prolific jazz composer, bandleader, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher known for his "cosmic philosophy," musical compositions and performances. He was born in Birmingham, Alabama...

 often used them to rearrange the musical furniture, as described by scholar John F. Szwed:

When he sensed that [a] piece needed an introduction or an ending, a new direction or fresh material, he would call for a space chord, a collectively improvised tone cluster at high volume which "would suggest a new melody, maybe a rhythm." It was a pianistically conceived device which created another context for the music, a new mood, opening up fresh tonal areas.

As free jazz spread in the 1960s, so did the use of tone clusters. In comparison with what John Litweiler describes as Taylor's "endless forms and contrasts," the solos of Muhal Richard Abrams
Muhal Richard Abrams
Muhal Richard Abrams is an American educator, administrator, composer, arranger, clarinetist, cellist, and jazz pianist in the Free jazz medium. Abrams compresses both contemporary and traditional ideas into lean, elegant pieces.- Biography :Abrams attended DuSable High School in Chicago...

 employ tone clusters in a similarly free, but more lyrical, flowing context. Guitarist Sonny Sharrock
Sonny Sharrock
Warren Harding "Sonny" Sharrock was an American jazz guitarist. He was once married to singer Linda Sharrock, with whom he sometimes recorded and performed....

 made them a central part of his improvisations; in Palmer's description, he executed "glass-shattering tone clusters that sounded like someone was ripping the pickups out of the guitar without having bothered to unplug it from its overdriven amplifier." Pianist Marilyn Crispell
Marilyn Crispell
Marilyn Crispell is an American jazz pianist and composer.-Biography:Crispell studied classical piano and composition at the New England Conservatory of Music. She has been a resident of Woodstock, NY since 1977 when she came to study and teach at Karl Berger's Creative Music Studio...

 has been another major free jazz proponent of the tone cluster, frequently in collaboration with Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton
Anthony Braxton is an American composer, saxophonist, clarinettist, flautist, pianist, and philosopher. Braxton has released well over 100 albums since the 1960s...

, who played with Abrams early in his career. Since the 1990s, Matthew Shipp
Matthew Shipp
Matthew Shipp is an American pianist, composer and bandleader.Shipp was raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and began playing piano at six years old. His mother was a friend of trumpeter Clifford Brown....

 has built on Taylor's innovations with the form. European free jazz pianists who have contributed to the development of the tone cluster palette include Gunter Hampel
Gunter Hampel
Gunter Hampel is a German jazz vibraphonist, clarinettist, saxophonist, flautist, pianist and composer born in Göttingen, Germany, perhaps best-known for his album "The 8th of July 1969" that included fellow musicians Anthony Braxton, Willem Breuker and Jeanne Lee...

 and Alexander von Schlippenbach
Alexander von Schlippenbach
Alexander von Schlippenbach is a German jazz pianist and composer.-Biography:...

.

Don Pullen
Don Pullen
Don Pullen was an American jazz pianist and organist. Pullen developed a strikingly individual style throughout his career. He composed masterworks ranging from blues to bebop and modern jazz...

, who bridged free and mainstream jazz, "had a technique of rolling his wrists as he improvised—the outside edges of his hands became scarred from it—to create moving tone clusters," writes critic Ben Ratliff. "Building up from arpeggio
Arpeggio
An arpeggio is a musical technique where notes in a chord are played or sung in sequence, one after the other, rather than ringing out simultaneously...

s, he could create eddies of noise on the keyboard...like concise Cecil Taylor outbursts." In the description of Joachim Berendt
Joachim-Ernst Berendt
Joachim-Ernst Berendt was a German music journalist, book author and producer specialized on Jazz.-Life:...

, Pullen "uniquely melodized cluster playing and made it tonal. He phrases impulsively raw clusters with his right hand and yet embeds them in clear, harmonically functional tonal chords simultaneously played with the left hand." John Medeski
John Medeski
Anthony John Medeski is an American jazz keyboards player and composer. Medeski is a veteran of New York's 1990s avant-garde jazz scene and is known popularly as a member of Medeski Martin & Wood...

 employs tone clusters as keyboardist for Medeski, Martin, and Wood, which mixes free jazz elements into its soul jazz
Soul jazz
Soul jazz is a development of jazz incorporating strong influences from blues, soul, gospel and rhythm and blues in music for small groups, often an organ trio featuring a Hammond organ.- Overview :Soul jazz is often associated with hard bop. Mark C...

/jam band
Jam band
-Ambiguity:By the late 1990s use of the term jam band also became ambiguous. An editorial at jamband.com suggested that any band of which a primary band such as Phish has done a cover of be included as jam band. The example was including New York post-punk band Talking Heads after Phish performed...

 style.

In popular music


Like jazz, rock and roll
Rock and roll
Rock and roll is a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s, primarily from a combination of African American blues, country, jazz, and gospel music...

 has made use of tone clusters since its birth, if characteristically in a less deliberate manner—most famously, Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis is an American rock and roll and country music singer-songwriter and pianist. An early pioneer of rock and roll music, Lewis's career faltered after he married his young cousin, and he afterwards made a career extension to country and western music. He is known by the nickname 'The...

's live-performance piano technique of the 1950s, involving fists, feet, and derrière. Since the 1960s, much drone music
Drone music
Drone music is a minimalist musical style that emphasizes the use of sustained or repeated sounds, notes, or tone-clusters – called drones. It is typically characterized by lengthy audio programs with relatively slight harmonic variations throughout each piece compared to other musics...

, which crosses the lines between rock, electronic
Electronic music
Electronic music is music that employs electronic musical instruments and electronic music technology in its production. In general a distinction can be made between sound produced using electromechanical means and that produced using electronic technology. Examples of electromechanical sound...

, and experimental music
Experimental music
Experimental music refers, in the English-language literature, to a compositional tradition which arose in the mid-20th century, applied particularly in North America to music composed in such a way that its outcome is unforeseeable. Its most famous and influential exponent was John Cage...

, has been based on tone clusters. On The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground was an American rock band formed in New York City. First active from 1964 to 1973, their best-known members were Lou Reed and John Cale, who both went on to find success as solo artists. Although experiencing little commercial success while together, the band is often cited...

's "Sister Ray
Sister Ray
Sister Ray may mean one of the following:* "Sister Ray", 1968 song by The Velvet Underground* A fictional enormous laser cannon in the video game Final Fantasy VII* Sister Ray , a punk rock band from Youngstown, Ohio...

," recorded in September 1967, organist John Cale
John Cale
John Davies Cale, OBE is a Welsh musician, composer, singer-songwriter and record producer who was a founding member of the experimental rock band The Velvet Underground....

 uses tone clusters within the context of a drone
Drone (music)
In music, a drone is a harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment where a note or chord is continuously sounded throughout most or all of a piece. The word drone is also used to refer to any part of a musical instrument that is just used to produce such an effect.-A musical effect:A drone...

; the song is apparently the closest approximation on record of the band's early live sound. Around the same time, Doors
The Doors
The Doors were an American rock band formed in 1965 in Los Angeles, California, with vocalist Jim Morrison, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, drummer John Densmore, and guitarist Robby Krieger...

 keyboardist Ray Manzarek
Ray Manzarek
Raymond Daniel Manzarek, Jr., better known as Ray Manzarek , is an American musician, singer, producer, film director, writer, co-founder and keyboardist of The Doors from 1965 to 1973, Nite City from 1977–1978 and Manzarek-Krieger since 2001.Manzarek is listed #4 on Digital Dreamdoor's "100...

 began introducing clusters into his solos during live performances of the band's hit "Light My Fire
Light My Fire
"Light My Fire" is a song by The Doors which was recorded in August 1966 and released the first week of January 1967 on the Doors' debut album. Released as a single in April, it spent three weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and one week on the Cash Box Top 100, nearly a year after...

."

Kraftwerk
Kraftwerk
Kraftwerk is an influential electronic music band from Düsseldorf, Germany. The group was formed by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider in 1970, and was fronted by them until Schneider's departure in 2008...

's self-titled 1970 debut album
Kraftwerk (album)
Kraftwerk is the first album by German electronic band Kraftwerk. It was released in Germany in 1970, and produced by Konrad "Conny" Plank.-Background:...

 employs organ clusters to add variety to its repeated tape sequences. In 1971, critic Ed Ward
Ed Ward (writer)
Edmund P. "Ed" Ward is an American writer and radio commenter, known since 1986 as the "rock-and-roll historian" for NPR's program Fresh Air and one of the original founders of Austin's South by Southwest music festival....

 lauded the "tone-cluster vocal harmonies" created by Jefferson Airplane
Jefferson Airplane
Jefferson Airplane was an American rock band formed in San Francisco in 1965. A pioneer of the psychedelic rock movement, Jefferson Airplane was the first band from the San Francisco scene to achieve mainstream commercial and critical success....

's three lead singers, Grace Slick
Grace Slick
Grace Slick is an American singer and songwriter, who was one of the lead singers of the rock groups The Great Society, Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Starship, and was a solo artist, for nearly three decades, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s...

, Marty Balin
Marty Balin
Marty Balin is an American musician. He is best known as the founder and one of the lead singers of the psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane.-Early life:Martyn Buchwald was born in Cincinnati, Ohio...

, and Paul Kantner
Paul Kantner
Paul Lorin Kantner is an American rock musician, known for co-founding the psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane and its spin-off band Jefferson Starship.- Overview :...

. Tangerine Dream
Tangerine Dream
Tangerine Dream is a German electronic music group founded in 1967 by Edgar Froese. The band has undergone many personnel changes over the years, with Froese being the only continuous member...

's 1972 double album Zeit
Zeit
Zeit is the third album by the German electronic music group Tangerine Dream. A double LP, it was the first release featuring Peter Baumann, who joined Chris Franke and Edgar Froese.-Overview:...

 is replete with clusters performed on synthesizer. In later rock practice, the D add9 chord characteristic of jangle pop
Jangle pop
Jangle pop is a genre of alternative rock from the mid-1980s that "marked a return to the chiming or jangly guitars and pop melodies of the '60s" bands such as The Byrds, with their electric twelve-string guitars and power pop song structures. Mid-1980s jangle pop was a non-mainstream "pop-based...

 involves a three-note set separated by major seconds (D, E, F♯), the sort of guitar cluster that may be characterized as a harp effect.

Tone clusters are often used in the scoring
Film score
A film score is original music written specifically to accompany a film, forming part of the film's soundtrack, which also usually includes dialogue and sound effects...

 of horror and science-fiction films. For a 2004 production of the play Tone Clusters by Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates is an American author. Oates published her first book in 1963 and has since published over fifty novels, as well as many volumes of short stories, poetry, and nonfiction...

, composer Jay Clarke
Ash Black Bufflo
Ash Black Bufflo, sometimes spelled Buffalo, is the professional name of Portland-based music composer and experimental musician Jay Clarke. He composes music for feature-length films, short films, documentaries, and dance and theater projects...

—a member of the indie rock bands Dolorean
Dolorean
Dolorean is an American band based in Portland, Oregon. They have, at times, acted as the backing band for Damien Jurado. Their current line-up is: Al James, guitar/vocals; Jay Clarke, organ/piano; Ben Nugent, drums/percussion/vocals; James Adair, bass; and Emil Amos, guitar.-Hiatus:After the...

 and The Standard
The Standard
The Standard is an English free newspaper of Hong Kong with a daily circulation of 231,018. It was called the Hong Kong Standard and changed to HKiMail during the Internet boom, but it changed back to The Standard in 2001....

—employed clusters to "subtly build the tension", in contrast to what he perceived in the cluster pieces by Cowell and Ives suggested by Oates: “Some of it was like music to murder somebody to; it was like horror-movie music”.

Use in other music


In traditional Japanese gagaku
Gagaku
Gagaku is a type of Japanese classical music that has been performed at the Imperial Court in Kyoto for several centuries. It consists of three primary repertoires:#Native Shinto religious music and folk songs and dance, called kuniburi no utamai...

, the imperial court music, a tone cluster performed on shō (a type of mouth organ
Free reed aerophone
A free reed aerophone is a musical instrument where sound is produced as air flows past a vibrating reed in a frame. Air pressure is typically generated by breath or with a bellows.- Operation :...

) is generally employed as a harmonic matrix
Matrix (music)
In music, especially folk and popular music, a matrix is an element of variations which does not change. The term was derived from use in musical writings and from Arthur Koestler's The Act of Creation, who defines creativity as the bisociation of two sets of ideas or matrices...

. Yoritsune Matsudaira
Yoritsune Matsudaira
was a Japanese composer of contemporary classical music.Matsudaira was descended, on his father's side of the family, from the Matsudaira clan, related to the Tokugawa clan who ruled Japan as shogun during the Edo Period , and on his mother's side of the family from the Fujiwara family, who were...

, active from the late 1920s to the early 2000s, merged gagakus harmonies and tonalities with avant-garde Western techniques. Much of his work is built on the shōs ten traditional cluster formations. Lou Harrison's Pacifika Rondo, which mixes Eastern and Western instrumentation and styles, mirrors the gagaku approach—sustained organ clusters emulate the sound and function of the shō. Traditional Korean court and aristocratic music employs passages of simultaneous ornamentation on multiple instruments, creating dissonant clusters; this technique is reflected in the work of twentieth-century Korean German composer Isang Yun
Isang Yun
Isang Yun was a Korean-German composer originally from Korea. According to his official publisher's Boosey & Hawkes biography of him, he was granted political asylum by West Germany, eventually becoming a naturalised German citizen, following his abduction and torture in 1967 by the South Korean...

.

Several East Asian free reed instruments
Free reed aerophone
A free reed aerophone is a musical instrument where sound is produced as air flows past a vibrating reed in a frame. Air pressure is typically generated by breath or with a bellows.- Operation :...

, including the shō, were modeled on the sheng
Sheng
Sheng can refer to:* Sheng * Beijing opera#Sheng, the main role in Beijing opera* Sheng , a slang dialect of the Swahili language* Province , an administrative division of China, called sheng in Mandarin...

, an ancient Chinese folk instrument later incorporated into more formal musical contexts. Wubaduhesheng, one of the traditional chord formations played on the sheng, involves a three-pitch cluster. Malayan
Peninsular Malaysia
Peninsular Malaysia , also known as West Malaysia , is the part of Malaysia which lies on the Malay Peninsula. Its area is . It shares a land border with Thailand in the north. To the south is the island of Singapore. Across the Strait of Malacca to the west lies the island of Sumatra...

 folk musicians employ an indigenous mouth organ that, like the shō and sheng, produces tone clusters. The characteristic musical form played on the bin-baja, a strummed harp of central India
Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh , often called the Heart of India, is a state in central India. Its capital is Bhopal and Indore is the largest city....

's Pardhan people, has been described as a "rhythmic ostinato
Ostinato
In music, an ostinato is a motif or phrase, which is persistently repeated in the same musical voice. An ostinato is always a succession of equal sounds, wherein each note always has the same weight or stress. The repeating idea may be a rhythmic pattern, part of a tune, or a complete melody in...

on a tone cluster."

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External links

  • Leo Ornstein Scores several scores, including Wild Men's Dance, featuring tone clusters
  • "New Growth from New Soil" 2004–5 master's thesis on Cowell with detailed consideration of his use of tone clusters (though both The Tides of Manaunaun and Dynamic Motion are misdated); by Stephanie N. Stallings

Listening