THE SEVENTH DRAGON: THE RIDDLE OF EQUAL TEMPERAMENT by Anita Sullivan (Metamorphous: $12.95; 104 pp., illustrated). Piano tuner Anita Sullivan confronts "the riddle of equal temperament" in this inconclusive meditation and gives only half an answer. The riddle asks a practical and a philosophical question. How does one find "the still place," the place where all the sounds "fall through the floor?" Sullivan's way is to become an invisible listener, the Seventh Dragon of Japanese folklore. Enigmatically she listens for the silences between pairs of notes. When she has pushed and pulled them into silence, she has "set a temperament."
Nature, however, does not temper the notes of the scale to produce music; man does. Which temperament we choose depends on the answer to the philosophical question, "What is music?" To Sullivan, composed music is man's invention, and the harmonies he employs both define and confine it. She would give up this enforced consonance for a music that is "silence beyond song," played on an infinite untempered harmonic scale. Pythagoras listened for it, but the "silence beyond song" could not be heard by man.
Sullivan's work is itself a tempered thing. Its "Intervals" give lectures on acoustics, tuning hammers and pin blocks, the diatonic scale, mathematical purity and the meaning of equal temperament. Interspersed are "Monologues" on how to find the center, the still place. Meanwhile, technical ideas float freely, and metaphors lighted as sparklers struggle to illumine our idea of music. The book is neither a paean to music nor an indictment of the 12-tone scale, yet it manages to convey a feeling. Like much contemporary music, however, it is more an indulgence than a piece to be listened to.