Jason Eckardt

I am constantly inspired by the rich harmonic possibilities offered by microtonal intervals and the facility with which today’s players can perform them. Aesthetically, I am drawn to a variety of microtonal music, ranging from ethnic music (gagaku, gamelan, and pansori) to the composed works of Michael Finnissy, Harry Partch, and Tristan Murail.My use of microtonal intervals has always been structural, rather than ornamental. Tangible harmonic relationships are created by Mod24 interval-class invariances within pitch-class set types manipulated in various ways. Thee pitch-class sets are then distinguished on the musical surface using other parameters: rhythm, timbre, register, articulation, and amplitude.The choice of pitch-class set types is determined by a generating set from which subsets and supersets are created. By imbuing these smaller and larger derived sets with all or some of the intervallic content of the generating set, the harmonic environment of the work is characterized by the emphasis or suppression of certain interval classes. Sets are articulated musically by exploiting changes in musical parameters from gesture to gesture, phrase to phrase, and section to section. This encourages the perception of related grouping structures on local and global levels.

My choice of generating sets and their subsets and supersets is determined by my own perceptions and degrees of similarity among the derived sets. With regard to quartertonal intervals, I avoid interval classes that produce “perfect” intervals (fourths, fifths, octaves, excepting unisons) raised or lowered by a quartertone. I prefer quartertones around seconds, thirds, sixths, and sevenths. (I avoid quartertonal intervals that occur between these two types of intervals, such as major thirds raised by a quartertone or a minor sixth lowered by a quartertone, as well.) My preferences stem from the fact that my ear is easily drawn toward semitonal perfect intervals when they are raised or lowered by microtones; the microtonal variants somehow seem like distortions of the perfect intervals. I do not experience this with other intervals. I can only anecdotally posit that this results from of my perception of the imperfections of the equal-tempered tuning system and the prevalence of perfect intervals in the lower portion of the overtone series.

Despite the technical accomplishment of musicians dedicated to performing microtonal works, some microtonal figures are still impractical on traditional instruments. Additionally, I do not want to discard the timbral vitality of keyboard and percussion instruments simply because they are limited to semitones. To address these issues, I often create two groups of pitch-class sets as the harmonic material for my works: one semitonal and one quartertonal. These are also related by interval class content; semitonal sets are often subsets of larger-cardinality quartertonal sets. By interchanging the two kinds of sets within passages, I achieve a harmonic continuity that facilitates rapid figurations in the instruments in all registers, while successfully integrating semitonal instruments when I choose to use them.

Jason Eckardt (b. 1971) played guitar in jazz and metal bands until, upon first hearing the music of Webern, he immediately devoted himself to composition. Since then, his music has been influenced by his interests in perceptual complexity, the physical and psychological dimensions of performance, political activism, and the natural world. He has been recognized through commissions from Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood, the Koussevitzky and Fromm Foundations, the Guggenheim Museum, Chamber Music America, The New York State Music Fund, Meet the Composer, the Oberlin Conservatory, and percussionist Evelyn Glennie; fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, Fondation Royaumont, the MacDowell and Millay Colonies, the Fritz Reiner Center, the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, and the Yvar Mikhashoff Trust; and awards from the League/ISCM, Deutschen Musikrat-Stadt Wesel, the Aaron Copland Fund, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Alice M. Ditson Fund, ASCAP, the University of Illinois, and Columbia University.

Eckardt’s music has been heard on festivals including the Festival d’Automne á Paris, Darmstadt, IRCAM-Resonances, the ISCM World Music Days, Voix Nouvelles, Musik im 20. Jahrhundert, Currents in Musical Thought-Seoul, and the International Bartók Festival. An active promoter of new music, Eckardt is a co-founder and the Executive Director of Ensemble 21, the contemporary music group in New York City. Mode has released two portrait CD’s, “Out of Chaos” and, most recently, “Undersong.” Additional recordings have been released on the CRI, Albany, Helicon, Capstone, Innova, Urlicht, Amp, Revello, and Metier labels. His complete catalog is published by Carl Fischer. He teaches composition at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center and Brooklyn College and lives in the  Catskill Mountains.

Jason Eckardt website


Rachel Rudich, alto flute; Michael Finkel, cello