The Chamber Tone is a note within a scale for which the pitch is defined in absolute physical value terms, as cycles per second.
Most instruments have built-in scales, but can be tuned to a variety of chamber tones. Knowing the chamber tone and the scale, the absolute pitch of any of the notes on the scale can be determined.
Chosing a chamber tone used to be up to the composer, but has become standardized more recently at 440 Hz for an equal temperament “A”.
This has had numerous advantages; orchestras no longer needed to re-tune their instruments for every piece, and for this reason pieces of multiple composers could be combined in one concert. Composers no longer needed to worry about chosing a chamber tone, unless they wanted to. Difficult-to-tune instruments such as pianos could freely play with any other orchestra insrument. And a group of instrumentalists who never played together before could come to a session with tuned instruments and expect to sound good together immediately. Instrument builders could focus on making their instruments sound best and last longest tuned at the standard chamber tone, which has given rise to much improvement in instrument quality at lower cost of manufacturing.
In electronic music, however, these advantages are much less important.
Digital synthesizers generally perform equally well and last equally long at any pitch, and tuning it takes the amount of time required to type in the chamber tone. The singing voice, another important aspect of much electronic music, can naturally adapt to any chamber tone as well. And since there are generally fewer people involved in the creation of electronic music, ease of adaption is less of an issue as well.
Having freed the chamber tone from pratical considerations, we now stand in the face of the question of what to do with this freedom.
The most convincing general answer I have come up with is to chose the chamber tone to make the music sound better.
But since music is based on intervals, can an absolute value such as the chamber tone even have any impact? Aren’t all chamber tones created equal?
Very little scientific research has been done in this area. My own listening tests seem to support that a simple synthesizer groove seems to affect me emotionally in a somewhat different way depending on the chamber tone used. I suspect this is because an absolute chamber tone is still heard relative to other sounds and rhythms we are exposed to in our everyday lives.
There are very slow rhythms, such as the change of day and night, and very fast ones, such as the speed of light. Then there are the one in-between, like the sounds of birds and animals, the wind, the flowing of traffic, horns, sirens, and household objects. The most constant ones, however, seem to be the slow and fast ones. Then there is the rhythm of the music itself. In any case, in order to be able to re-use the Western musical system, it makes sense to chose a chamber tone that is relatively close to the standard one.
There are two interesting existing approaches that relate the chamber tone to the turning of the earth, and differ only in how the transposing from very slow to the musical range is performed.
The first simply takes the frequency of the earth, which is one day, and transposes it upward using octaves until one arrives in the musical range. The chamber tone arrived at through this method is 432Hz.
The second does the same thing, but holds that only using octaves doesn’t work well over very large distances, and recommends using other overtones as well. Adding additional intervals to the transposition process, such as pure thirds and one pure fifth, one can arrive at a chamber tone of 450Hz.
Playing the synthesizer groove with a chamber tones of 432 Hz, I got a very soothing and relaxing effect. Playing the same groove at 450Hz had a more active, invigorating effect. Both tones lacked a certain subtle harshness the groove at 440Hz seemed to have.
Until I come up with something better, I chose 450Hz for its active, invigorating properties, and adapt the speed of the song so the chamber tone is one of its overtones.