The Chymical Wedding

Today Minimum Labyrinth releases The Chymical Wedding, a six-hour album setting a reading (by Robert Kingham) of a strange alchemical text from the early 1600s to a continuous musical soundtrack (by me).

Back in 2019 I taught a course on early modern alchemical texts that culminated with the Fama Fraternitatis, which is a sort of companion-piece to The Chymical Wedding. The course was a bit of a gamble but I was struck by how rich and interesting those texts are, despite being a long way away from most of us culturally and philosophically. And Robert had read Yates's The Rosicrucian Enlightenment before that; we knew we wanted to do something with this material, and The Chymical Wedding is just a really great read.

I'd like to use this blog post to say a few things here about the music that are probably too nerdy to put anywhere else.


The piece has a rather operatic scale, with the action naturally falling into seven days. These days have very different lengths: if Day 1 is 1 Unit long, the lengths are 1, 2, 3, 2, 1, 2, 1. I don't know the significance of this pattern but I'm certain it's deliberate on the part of the author. We wanted to keep to this pattern, with one Unit in this case being about half an hour. Each day's music is through-composed without breaks, except that due to its length we broke Day 3 into Part 1 and Part 2.

Most of the runtime is narration with accompanying music, but I gave each Day an instrumental section at the start. Following the operatic theme, these are a long "overture" to Day 1, somewhat shorter "entr'actes" for Days 3, 4 and 6 and shorter again "intermezzi" for the other days. Each day also has one or more instumental "interludes" breaking up the narration. Each day ends quite abruptly; we want you to go straight on to the next one if you can.


I very much wanted to capture the dream-like strangeness of the text. It isn't frightening -- and in many places it's very funny -- but it's definitely weird. The author's soul is in real peril but the overall tone is sunny and optimistic in a way only really deranged things seem to be. Christian finds himself transported to an alien world in which things work according to unfamiliar rules, where he must exert great caution but also be willing to take (largely uncalculated, incalculable) risks. So it was important to create a musical language that could give that feeling without sounding like a horror movie soundtrack, and non-standard tunings seemed to be a nice solution.

Day 1 is mostly in 12EDO, but over its course we gradually transition away from that and never return to it except in a few very brief glimpses.

Day 2 uses something called Pyramid Down 12, nicknamed "Divorce Cake" (pyramid_down.scl in Scala). Day 4 uses Tau on Side Opposite (t-side2.scl in Scala). I know nothing at all about either of these, I just liked the way they sounded for this project. If someone reading this does know anything about them I'd be delighted to hear about it.

(Since Day 3 is so long, I decided to combine various different tunings used on the other days. It also has a rather swirling, chaotic character that I thought suited that approach pretty well.)

Day 5 is in Zeta Centauri (zeta12.scl), which is attributed to Margo Schulter. I don't know much about this one either, and Schulter's research is above my pay grade, but she seems to be particularly interested in historical medieval tunings. I don't think this is that, though. I'm currently working on a new, long album of electronic music in this tuning.

Day 6 is in the extended 9EDO I wrote about here. This is a very tough tuning to love as its relentlessly dissonant, but it's also capable of extremely interesting effects.

Day 7 is in a superposition of 5EDO and 7EDO (i.e. just a scale made of all the notes in both tunings). I was going to have it resolve back to 12EDO at the end but these are such beautiful tunings that it ended up being unnecessary.

[Aside: Tuning theory is rather complicated and mostly seems to be aimed at trying to build temperaments that give very "pure" versions of certain intervals (usually thirds). This goal is of literally no interest to me at all -- especially for this project, where I was looking for far-out Baroque alchemical weirdness -- so I haven't taken the time to learn it. I know I ought to and maybe a future project will provide the necessary motivation. Of all the tuning-related stuff I've looked at, I've found William Sethares's the most appealing.]


I wanted to pull together some influences from classical modernism, '70s psychedelic jazz-rock and '90s electronic music but the end result isn't any of those things.

There are very few "beats" but much of the time it's moving along according to an unmetred pulse that's almost always there. The music does switch into a more rhythmic mode occasionally but mostly the pulse is suggested rather than stated.

Spectralist influences are also in evidence, and the presence of multiple tunings make big, closely-voiced chords especially delicious; this is something I intend to explore further. Effectively, a lot of the time the harmony is just a static all-the-notes-at-once chord. It's locally modal -- occasionally doing its best to invoke a hint of '70s Miles, Alice Coltrane and Terry Riley as well as 90s electronica -- but globally atonal and there's no "harmony" to speak of.

I knew that the likely audience for the project would come for the text rather than the music, so I couldn't make many assumptions about what they'd be familiar with. So I've had an interesting challenge trying to find a path through the possibilities that is alien and dreamlike but also accessible without playing down to anyone. Of course, in the end I found my way as usual; by just making music I liked and hoping some other people will like it too.


There are a good many different instruments on the album. My main tools for microtonal music are the Novation Peak, Modartt's Pianoteq and Lounge Lizard from AAS. The percussion is mostly Battery but there are some appearances from various Alan Vista instruments as well.

At its heart, The Chymical Wedding is a work of Christian piety. So I knew I wanted plenty of bells, harps and choirs. Pianoteq is great for bells and harps, as you might expect from the approach they're taking. I thought a pipe organ would be nice but in the end it didn't fit; I'm looking forward to Organteq supporting microtuning in the future; Modartt have promised it in a future update, at which point I'll be looking for an excuse to make an organ album. I also love Lounge Lizard's ability to morph between a thick, warm Rhodes and a tinkly little bell, a feature I made much use of.

I also wanted to suggest the operatic theme by suggesting "classical" instrumentation here and there, for which I used Kontakt libraries such as the Alpine stuff and Voxos. I wouldn't want to attempt "realistic" scoring with this approach but it was ideal for this project and some of the glitches and limitations turned out to be really inspiring. I also used some of the Big Tick and Biptunia VSTs here and there. Probably a couple of other things I'm forgotting too.

Not many VSTs -- and almost no hardware synths -- support alternative tunings. It would be great if we could fix that in future. This was literally the tipping-point for me buying my Peak; it's the only hardware synth in production that supports full microtuning as far as I know (of course, it helps that it sounds great). MIDI 2.0 is likely to change everything in that regard.

That's all for now

You can find the album on all the main platforms (iTunes, Spotify, Amazon etc). We like Bandcamp because we can easily upload extras like track descriptions, extra images etc. Whichever platform you prefer, please help spread the word if you like it; we rely almost 100% on word of mouth with this stuff.