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Brass Fingerboard, Brass Tubes, a Microtonal Journey

Kewti is a trio comprising Tom Fryer, electric fretless guitar, Adrian Sherriff, bass
trombone and Adam King, drumkit and percussion. The role of composer is
shared equally between Fryer and Sherriff. Kewti has performed numerous
concerts over the last two years primarily in Jazz venues.They have also given a
master-class for tertiary students at a local university. The initial premise behind
Kewti was to construct a body of work utilising quartertones and other non 12-
tone tuning systems and to explore this through improvisation. The name Kewti
comes from the abbreviation QT for quartertone. The linguistic leap to the use of
the spelling “Kewti” arose out of the wish to have an unusual but recognisable
name that reflected the intention behind the ensemble.
The fretless guitar and trombone are particularly suited to the realisation of non-
western tunings. Neither instrument is limited to playing only the 12 discrete
pitches of the western scale. The articulation of alternative tunings has
demanded an extension of standard technique with unusual fingerings and
positions on the guitar and the use of half slide positions on the trombone. The
drummer performs on a standard drum kit, which is augmented by an array of
exotic percussion drawn from various cultures, in particular metallophones from
The following discussion will limit itself to the pitched instruments of the
ensemble, the fretless guitar and bass trombone.

The music performed by Kewti is highly rhythmic in its design. The musicians
have all studied specialised music from other cultures and these influences are
evident in the compositions. The strongest cultural influences being from the
African, Indian, Indonesian, and Middle Eastern traditions. The use of poly-
rhythm and cross-rhythm, coupled with the unusual scales, creates an exciting
and unique tapestry for improvisatory excursions. All of the compositions
employ odd meters, some use one meter throughout whereas in others the
meter changes rapidly, creating unstable and distinctive phrasing.

The scales used in the compositions (apart from the middle eastern scale Rast
and its second mode) have been created by Fryer and Sherriff. The choice of
these particular modes was arrived at empirically through the use of
improvisation and immersion in the new tonalities.

The scales are presented starting from C to aid comparison, the actual tonal
centre varies between compositions. (The use of ‘qt’ to designate quartertone
will be employed in the description of the following scales)
8-note equidistant
C D qt # Eb E qt # F# G qt # A B qt flat C

This mode is comprised entirely of steps of 150 cents. This can be visualised by
dividing a minor third in half. The mode contains two diminished seventh chords
separated by the generating interval of 150 cents.

Pentatonic modes
c) C E qt flat F G B qt flat C

d) C E qt flat F qt # G B qt flat C

e) C D qt # F qt # G B qt flat C

Heptatonic Modes
f) C E qt flat E F G A# B qt flat C

g) C D E qt flat F G A B qt flat C

(Similar to the Middle Eastern mode Rast)

h) C D qt flat Eb F G A qt flat Bb C

(Name unknown but equivalent to the second mode of Rast)

A typical Kewti composition consists of unison melodies and improvisational

sections. An example is Addis Abbaba (Fryer). The meter used throughout is 7/8
but this is disguised considerably by the placement of the three quaver grouping.
The refrain consisting of four bars is grouped:

|3 2 2 | 2 3 2 | 2 2 3 | 3 2 2 |

This displacement of the three quaver group creates an ambiguity in the meter
but the unifying link is the underlying 7/8.

Addis Abbaba begins with the refrain, then alternates five melodic strands of
different lengths. Following this there is an improvisational section where the
melodic instruments take turns improvising on the mode, accompanied by the
drummer and non-soloist using the refrain as an ostinato, essentially using the
traditional Jazz format of Head Solos Head. The restatement of the melody omits
the refrain and the melodic sections are played consecutively.

The ensemble Kewti has proven to be a successful vehicle for its members.
Allowing them to explore microtonal music, through composition and
improvisation. The use of trombone and fretless guitar is well suited to the
microtonal world as both instruments have great flexibility of pitch. The cultural
influences underpinning Kewti range from Africa to Indonesia via the Middle
East. These cultures provide ongoing inspiration both on a spirtual and musical
level. The use of poly and cross rhythms creates excitement and tension within
the music. Through its short career Kewti has created an exciting amalgam of
diverse influences. The highly dynamic and virtuoso performances have been
extremely well received by the public and peers alike.