Inner Voice

Marc Sabat

Inner Voice has been performed in Montréal and Muncie…

In a letter to Cipriano de Rore dated around 1563, the Venetian mathematician Giambattista Benedetti proposed a quantitative measure of relative consonance, associated with musical intervals represented as frequency ratios. In a slightly modified form, it was adopted by James Tenney as a measurement he called “harmonic distance”, which describes the shortest path between two pitches in his “harmonic space”. This quantity is based on the constituent prime factors of a ratio; it summarises or encapsulates the potentially melodic or contrapuntal network of connections that could make a given interval salient.

For some years, in my composing I have been fascinated by the tension between systematically generated sequences of pitches in extended JI and my intuitive invention of brief, fleeting phrases based on their at times far-flung harmonic relationships. In making “Inner voice”, I began by exploring possibilities of algorithmically ordering two and three note aggregates by increasing relative dissonance. In addition to harmonic distance, which does not take spectral fusion into account, I drew on Tenney’s “intersection” measure (the aggregate’s composite spectrum up to its lowest common partial is compared again the complete harmonic series up to that point). Furthermore, I devised a measure of “compactness”, which compares the harmonic series segment spanned by the chord with the actual number of sounding pitches. Correlating these three quantities and scaling them through trial and error eventually produced an output ordering that I found potentially appealing and interesting, favouring (for example) a certain degree of overtonal/undertonal symmetry (i.e. treating major and minor triads as proximal), while not undervaluing the “consonant” rich fusion sonorities of higher prime overtonal structures.

As I began to compose this material, I decided to maintain a constant pitch-height for each framing dyad while the third, middle voice (the “inner voice”) moved around. This register was determined by psychoacoustically centring each triad between periodicity pitch and common partial, then averaging across the chords within a given framing dyad. In this way the tonal space across a common dyad unfolds in a logical, strict progression, but the shift when the outer notes change is often by a nearly irrational step, for which I sought 13-limit JI enharmonic equivalents whenever feasible. I found the paradoxical discontinuities within a nominally JI space inspiring and beautiful, and began to compose small phrases establishing the regions and changes. The form begins at the triple unison and gradually fans outward until it reaches the framing interval 3/2. Working on the music, however, I somehow have the impression it might just go on and on, a galaxy continually spiraling outward, entropy increasing.

Inner voice is formed in three parts, subtitled “tighten”, “widen”, and “still”. The music fans out from a tuning of the guitar scordatura (focussing the unisons and septimal chords), moving through a series of gradually widening three tone aggregates, series of chords in waves of increasing relative dissonance, until reaching and remaining within the frame of a perfect fifth.



  • March 17, 2022, Focus: Focus: Marc Sabat, La Sala Rossa, Montréal (Québec)

Inner Voice

  • Marc Sabat
  • Year of composition: 2020-21
  • Instrumentation: electric guitar, string quartet and processing
  • Commission: Seth Josel, with support from the CCA
  • Trailer: Marc Sabat: Inner Voice; Focus: Focus: Marc Sabat; March 2022
10 Augu 2020
7:30 pm
In person
New York City (New York, USA)
17 Marc 2022
8:00 pm
Série QB
In person
Montréal (Québec)
18 Marc 2022
No audience
Montréal (Québec)
19 Marc 2022
7:30 pm
Online event
Muncie (Indiana, USA)