"Xenharmonic" refers to a musical system or tuning that goes beyond the conventional Western equal temperament by using non-standard divisions of the octave. In xenharmonic systems, intervals and pitches are not restricted to the traditional 12-tone equal temperament, allowing for a broader and more diverse range of harmonic relationships.
The term "xenharmonic" comes from the Greek words "xenos", meaning "foreign", and "harmonia", meaning "harmony". It describes musical systems that explore harmonic possibilities outside the constraints of the standard Western tuning system.
Traditional Western music employs the equal temperament system, which divides the octave into 12 equal intervals (half steps), resulting in the well-known 12-note chromatic scale. However, xenharmonic music ventures into alternate tuning systems that use divisions of the octave with different ratios and intervals. These alternative tunings can result in novel harmonic relationships, unique sonorities, and unusual scales that may not fit within the framework of traditional tonality.
Xenharmonic compositions often feature microtones, non-standard intervals, and a wider variety of scales, which can create distinct and otherworldly sounds. Musicians and composers who explore xenharmonic music seek to break free from the limitations of traditional Western tuning and to explore new realms of harmonic and tonal possibilities.
Xenharmonic music has gained interest among composers, experimental musicians, and those interested in pushing the boundaries of musical expression. It allows for innovative exploration of soundscapes and can lead to the discovery of novel ways to convey emotion and meaning through music.