Passage #440: 10 February 2018

Competing Scales

The establishment of 440 Hz as a standard concert pitch was an attempt to rein in the pitch inflation that was running wild in 19th century Europe. It was an artifact of the orchestra setting. Musicians and instrument manufacturers, always looking to stand out among so many voices, were progressively tuning their instruments higher and higher in order to sound "brighter" than their competitors, so that year by year, the scales crept upward, eventually reaching pitches at which strings would snap and vocalists would strain to hit the highest notes. Various attempts were made to define a standard reference tone, but the most successful was the Stuttgart Conference of 1834, which defined A above middle C as 440 Hz, which is today the most widely-recognized concert pitch.

So it is with this ride, in which we try to establish some unifying theme in the features of the San Bernardino Valley. We will examine the various scales* that the Inland Empire presents to us--huge wires above, great channels below, looming mountains beyond, all juxtaposed with buildings of various incongruent shapes and sizes in the middle--and try to harmonize them using the instrument at our disposal, that is to say: the bicycle.

*Well, yes, technically, the establishment of a standard pitch is a matter of tuning rather than scale, but that's harder to work into a good pun/metaphor for a bike ride, isn't it? This announcement is late enough as it is; can you just roll with us on this one?

Route Map

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