The Bohlen Pierce Clarinet – a Very Short Introduction

The Bohlen Pierce Clarinet – a Very Short Introduction

The Bohlen-Pierce clarinet project was initialised by prof. Georg Hajdu at Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg. The Bohlen-Pierce clarinet (BP clarinet) uses an alternative harmonic scale and was first built in 2007 by the Canadian clarinetist and woodwind maker Stephen Fox, Toronto.

TBPlogo010he Bohlen-Pierce scale (BP scale) was discovered in the 1970s and 1980s by three persons independently from each other. The first one to investigate the scale was the German microwave and communication engineer Heinz Bohlen in Hamburg. Several years later, another microwave and communication electronics engineer, John Robinson Pierce, found the same scale in California, USA. Also, the Dutch software engineer Kees van Prooijen worked on the same stuff.

In difference to the traditional western music scale which is based on the octave, divided into 12 more or less even steps, the Bohlen-Pierce scale uses the duodecime as its returning interval, dividing it into 13 steps, according to various mathematical considerations. The result is an alternative harmonic system that opens new possibilities to contemporary and futuristic music.

In March 2008, the Bohlen Pierce clarinet was premiered by Stephen Fox and Tilly Kooyman (Ensemble tranSpectra) in Guelph, Canada. The pieces „Wanderer“ and „Calypso“ for two BP clarinets were performed.

The very first concert in Europe presenting Bohlen-Pierce clarinets, with a program containing works by Hamburg composers, took place on 13th June 2008 in Hamburg Germany. The interpreters were, amongst others, the clarinetists Anna Bardeli and Nora-Louise Müller. Pieces were by Hajdu, Hamel, Lemke, Stahnke, Schwenk).

Please visit these websites to learn more about this fascinating scale!

me and my Microtonality

‘it gives me freedom, I can access the notes in between the cracks, it is good for real improvisation and it sounds great’ are just a few of my answers to the question how I came into the world of fretless guitar. I didn’t know much about tuning theories or temperaments, I only learned about the 12 tone equal temperament. Not why and how, only that. Microtones are only to be found in Indian Raga and Arabic Maqam music is a common thought here in the Dutch academic music system, and you should go to the Rotterdam World Music Academy to study it.

My main interest at that time was Jazz and by the time I got interested in the fretless guitar, I already had a Bachelor of Arts. But I started to listen to Arabic and Indian music and even bought a book or two about the musical practices of these regions. Alas, I never became a real student of this material.

Then I found out about Joe Maneri whose recorded music is informed by his microtonal theories and compositions which use 72 equal temperament, the equal division of the octave in 72 parts, although he doesn’t confine himself to that temperament in performance: “We don’t use theories when we play. We can’t. We are those things. If they took X-rays of us, you would see all of the music inside”. This idea really inspired me, I contacted the Boston Microtonal Society and ordered his book ‘Preliminary Studies in the Virtual Pitch Continuum’, which explores this 72 equal temperament. But alas, I never became a real student of his material.

I wanted to wait for my 10-string to be finished to continue my quest. Since the tuning of the open strings will be based on pure intervals, Just Intonation might be the next step.

Shall I ever become a real student of this material?

to be continued…


fret 1 |fret|
verb ( fretted , fretting )
1 [ intrans. ] be constantly or visibly worried or anxious : she fretted about the cost of groceries | [with clause ] I fretted that my fingers were so skinny.
• [ trans. ] cause (someone) worry or distress.

2 [ trans. ] gradually wear away (something) by rubbing or gnawing : the bay’s black waves fret the seafront.
• form (a channel or passage) by rubbing or wearing away.

• [ intrans. ] flow or move in small waves : soft clay that fretted between his toes.

noun [in sing. ] chiefly Brit.
a state of anxiety or worry.

ORIGIN Old English fretan [devour, consume,] of Germanic origin; related to Dutch vreten and German fressen, and ultimately to FOR- and EAT .

fret 2
1 Art & Architecture: a repeating ornamental design of interlaced vertical and horizontal lines, such as the Greek key pattern.
2 Heraldry: a device of narrow diagonal bands interlaced through a diamond.
verb ( fretted , fretting ) [ trans. ] [usu. as adj. ] ( fretted)
decorate with fretwork : intricately carved and fretted balustrades.
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French frete ‘trelliswork’ and freter (verb), of unknown origin.


fret 3
each of a sequence of bars or ridges on the fingerboard of some stringed musical instruments (such as the guitar), used for fixing the positions of the fingers to produce the desired notes.


verb ( fretted , fretting ) [ trans. ] [often as adj. ] ( fretted)
1 provide (a stringed instrument) with frets.
2 play (a note) while pressing the string down against a fret : fretted notes.

fretless adjective

ORIGIN early 16th cent.: of unknown origin.