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Bill Coates (1917-1997) : Associate Artist

Bill Coates was born in Hove, Sussex, England. After taking an M.A. at Worcester College, Oxford, he studied composition and history at the Royal College of Music, studied musicology at Cambridge, and collaborated with Thurston Dart in transcribing and editing Jacobean Consort Music (vol. 9 of Musica Brittanica). He lived in India for 3 years, studying both Hindustani and Karnatak (north and south) classical musics. He has also lived in Italy for 17 months and Burma for 10 months.

He gradually came to realise the impoverishing effects that confining ourselves to 12 equal notes to the octave has had on Western music. And, while appreciating the various ways in which shades of notes are treated in non-European musics, he decided to work towards extending our Western equal temperament from 12 to 31 notes in each octave. When he had come to understand that, mathematically speaking, 31 is the best of equal temperaments, he undertook composition in it. He made frequent visits to Holland, where support for 31 is strong; he often played on the 31-note, 2-manual organ at Haarlem (with 31-note pedals!); and commissioned and possessed an Archiphone - the electronic organ permanently tuned to 31 equal notes in each octave.

Bill Coates held seminars and classes, lecturing on the history, in the theory and practice of 31-note music in a number of universities and schools of music, and also gave broadcasts on the BBC, Radio London, and on NSW and Victorian radio. He wrote Archiphone compositions for voices, string instruments, flute, bassoon, recorder, trombone and bowed psaltery in this temperament.

Bill Coates died on the 6th of February, 1997.