Racer Sessions

Sundays, 8-10pm at Cafe Racer in Seattle, WA

Steve Treseler - December 5th, 2010


This Racer Session will examine the important relationships between natural acoustics and music. This study is not purely mathematical or theoretical; it has profound musical value. I don’t have an extended composition to perform—instead I will give a presentation with several live and recorded examples. Thanks to Beth Fleenor and David Balatero for assisting! Now for a few teasers:

· C# and Db aren’t actually the same pitch.

· The perfect octave is the only true interval on the piano—every other interval is out of tune by design.

· The circle of fifths doesn’t exist in nature—it is the product of human invention.

· Small speakers and earbuds aren’t large enough to produce bass frequencies. The bass notes are being created by your inner ear—it’s a phenomenon called “phantom bass.“

My session will investigate these intriguing topics and more. I will begin by introducing the harmonic series and the differences between equal temperament and just intonation. Equal temperament is the modern tuning system that you are familiar with. Just intonation is the system of pure harmonic tuning that provides perfectly pure intervals. The study of pure intonation allows musicians to connect on a visceral level with the natural elements of resonance. It will sharpen your ears and intonation and allow you to explore more profound consonance and dissonance in your improvisations. (Just intonation is not the same as quarter-tones or other tuning systems, which are extensions of equal temperament.) 

Beth Fleenor and I will demonstrate a psycho-acoustic phenomenon known as resultant tones (also known as combination tones, phantom bass, difference tones, and missing fundamental). By playing combinations of tones, two instruments can produce an eerie third voice.

Throughout the session Beth, David, and I will demonstrate many of these concepts live, and I will play recorded examples from a barbershop quartet, Tuvan throat singers, and my album.

Here is a brief introduction to the harmonic series I wrote—highly recommended reading before the session:


I was introduced to many of these concepts by a book called Harmonic Experience: Tonal Harmony from its Natural Origins to its Natural Expression by W.A. Mathieu. It is my musical bible. If you are intrigued by anything in the session and want to dive deeper, get this book. 


These Wikipedia articles are actually really good!

Missing Fundamental Phenomenon and Combination Tones



Just Intonation

This article is very heady; the Mathieu book explores these same concepts in a more experiential and organic way.


Feel free to contact me through my website www.stevetres.com if you have any questions before or after the session.