the Virtual Monochord: about

why is it called "the Virtual Monochord"?

Since it is perfectly real and has a whole bunch of strings (that's a programming joke), the name is something of a, well, misnomer. Since the days of Pythagoras, experimenters with musical scales and tunings have used simple stringed instruments called monochords to play and compare pitches. These instruments, which are technically members of the zither family, consist of one or more strings stretched between two bridges: additional movable bridges are used to change the pitch of some strings in realation to the others. Presumably, the first such beasts had one string. Most commonly, two strings are used: one a reference pitch and the other a changing test pitch. You can simulate this effect on the Virtual Monochord by entering scores of the form "2/1 3/1 6/1", etc. The "/1" will create a drone of the reference pitch.

Reading about alternate tunings (such as those in traditional Asian musics, or those developed by composer Harry Partch) can be frustrating without something like a monochord at hand. While they are not difficult to make (see Bart Hopkins book mentioned in the next section for an example), they aren't a perfect solution; without a whole fleet of them it can be difficult to compare multiple intervals across multiple tunings. And without a lot of precise measuring and calibration, it can be tricky to use a monochord to compare, the pitch 20:11 and 11:6.

The Virtual Monochord has a few advantages over the traditional form:

The biggest disadvantage is that it's currently not very portable, as you need a web browser and the Internet at hand; I'm told that there are a few spots left that are without such things..

where did you find your information on scales and tunings?

This is an endlessly complex topic, and I will readily admit I am a novice; in fact, the original audience for whom I built the Virtual Monochord was myself. however, a few books stand out in my mind as having really sparked my interest in tunings:

These books and many others are available through Bart Hopkin's excellent Experimental Musical Instrument web site.

how accurate are the generated pitches?

That's a good question, and I am still researching the answer. The frequencies are calculated to eight decimal places. There is some slight error due to floating point calculation rounding error, but it should be effectively negligible. What I am uncertain about is the accuracy of the csound software used to generate the audio tones. If anyone has information on this, please let me know.

how did you make it?

The Virtual Monochord is developed and operated entirely with freely available open source software, with one exception noted below.

The web application is written in the Perl programming language. It consists of a cgi script and associated set of class modules. The audio files are created by the csound program. The primary development environment is the Emacs editor from the GNU project.

The site runs on the Apache web server under the Linux operating system.

What little artwork there is was developed using Adobe Photoshop.

If you are interested in the technical details of the site, or would like a copy of the code, please contact me.

what's next?

my ToDo list includes:

who made this?

i did. it's part of the unusual musics project, which is in turn part of the sudden sound studio web site.