Well-tempered descriptions

Ebony and ivory
live together in imperfect harmony
Side by side on a well-tempered keyboard.


Wikipedia says this about musical temperament:

In musical tuning, a temperament is a tuning system that slightly compromises the pure intervals of just intonation to meet other requirements. … Temperament is especially important for keyboard instruments, which typically allow a player to play only the pitches assigned to the various keys, and lack any way to alter pitch of a note in performance. Historically, the use of just intonation, Pythagorean tuning and meantone temperament meant that such instruments could sound “in tune” in one key, or some keys, but would then have more dissonance in other keys.


Not only musical tuning but ideology can be well-tempered and made to harmonize (albeit imperfectly) with other worldviews — if it will compromise slightly.

A principled refusal to compromise on ideals means that one’s own worldview enjoys perfect self-consistency, but any other ideal will produce beliefs that clash with it and produce sour notes.

Is it a coincidence that well-tempered tuning makes just intonation less pure in order to allow different otherwise incompatible keys to coexist?


A well-tempered social description is one that makes slight adjustments to a shared story to allow it to be compatible with multiple perspective.

To those who seek perfectly just intonation within one “correct” key, well-tempered tuning looks ungainly, ugly, arbitrary and flawed. But when you look at the problem of tuning pluralistically and ask how multiple keys can exist on a single instrument, the small compromises made for the sake of many keys appears grandly perfect and ideological perfection looks narrow and monotonous.



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