Coming to terms with harmony
Harmony, along with melody, is one of the building blocks of Western music. Harmony is what happens when notes are played or performed at the same time, whereas melody is a succession of notes. To put it another way, melody is the horizontal aspect to music, whereas harmony is the vertical.
We need to be more precise because not all notes played at the same time can be regarded as harmony. The notes should be consonant, meaning they are agreeable – they are perceived as going together well. Of course, consonance is subjective, so opinions are constantly shifting about what is consonant and what is dissonant.
Harmonies should also be of different pitch, so when notes are played or sung in unison, that’s not really harmony. The same goes for when the same notes are played or sung one or more octaves above or below each other. Which takes us to the first example.
This piece is essentially a drone – ‘a harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment where a note or chord is continuously sounded throughout most or all of a piece.’ According to Harry Sword, whose book Monolithic Undertow: In Search of Sonic Oblivion was released in 2020, the drone is the most ancient of all musical forms: ‘From the womb – where the rushing of maternal blood is heard loud and clear at 88 decibels – through myriad historical, spiritual and subcultural pathways, our connection to the drone runs deep.‘
While drones can be harmonic, my example, no more than a quick sketch, uses just one note, E. Why E? Well, I’m a guitarist, first and foremost, and guitarists love the note E – so much, in fact, that 2 of the 6 strings on a guitar are tuned to that note! Jimi Hendrix reputedly spent hours at a time just picking at an E chord.
To hear the Es extending across all of eight octaves, you’ll need a decent set of headphones or speakers.
I used the following instruments to generate the Es: Arkhis (5 instances), TRK-01 Bass, Vocalise, and Analog Dreams, all from Native Instruments.