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While, by definition, the notes that form a cluster must sound at the same time, there is no requirement that they must all begin sounding at the same moment. Murray Schafer's choral Epitaph for Moonlight (1968), a tone cluster is constructed by dividing each choir section (soprano/alto/tenor/bass) into four parts.
Each of the sixteen parts enters separately, humming a note one semitone lower than the note hummed by the previous part, until all sixteen are contributing to the cluster.
The performance of keyboard tone clusters is widely considered an "extended technique"—large clusters require unusual playing methods often involving the fist, the flat of the hand, or the forearm.
Thelonious Monk and Karlheinz Stockhausen each performed clusters with their elbows; Stockhausen developed a method for playing cluster glissandi with special gloves.
On the piano, such clusters often involve the simultaneous striking of neighboring white or black keys.
Tone clusters play a significant role, as well, in the work of free jazz musicians such as Cecil Taylor and Matthew Shipp.
For instance, three adjacent piano keys (such as C, C, and D) struck simultaneously produce a tone cluster.
Variants of the tone cluster include chords comprising adjacent tones separated diatonically, pentatonically, or microtonally.
In Western musical traditions, pentatonic scales—conventionally played on the black keys—are built entirely from intervals larger than a semitone.
Commentators thus tend to identify diatonic and pentatonic stacks as "tone clusters" only when they consist of four or more successive notes in the scale.
In tone clusters, the notes are sounded fully and in unison, distinguishing them from ornamented figures involving acciaccaturas and the like.