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Topic: Music Reduced to Beautiful Math

  1. #1

    Music Reduced to Beautiful Math

    Found this article:
    Music Reduced to Beautiful Math

    Interesting concept, but like most news today any actual useful meaning is hopelessly diluted in an attempt to make the article "lay friendly". I tend to believe that the blame should fall squarely on the journalists, but some of the quotes clearly give the impression that the researchers are only outsiders looking in on the world of music. The both premises and conclusions seem fundamentally flawed - classical music equals three-note chords and jazz equals four-note chords? I sure hope this is just journalistic error and not the real basis of the study.

    - David

  2. #2

    Re: Music Reduced to Beautiful Math

    This is just a lot of hogwash. A lot of "researchers" today are looking for excuses to get grant money, or for a subject for their masters thesis, or just for a way to justify their own intellectual importance. And so they investigate the most absurd ideas and come to the most ridiculous conclusions.

    As my great great grandfather, the noted Alexandre Varbirski would say, "This is doo-doo."

  3. #3

    Re: Music Reduced to Beautiful Math

    I saw some of this work about a year ago. It's interesting, but ultimately doesn't cover as much territory as they think it does. It makes several very big assumptions about music, reducing what they find important to be solely harmonic content based on simple chords in a well-tempered 12-note-per-octave scale.

    There may be some universal mathematical truth behind music, but it certainly would include more than such a small subset of possible harmonies.

    Still, the images and mapping are interesting to me. I just want them to realize that they are no closer to understanding harmony than they were before this work.
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  4. #4

    Re: Music Reduced to Beautiful Math

    Reductionism in music is always a questionable activity. When done to the point of absurdity, even more so.

    The only reason they find classical music looks cone-shaped and jazz pyramid-like is because they found it convenient to model it that way. I suppose they modeled dyads as a Möbius strip simply because major intervals become minor and vice-versa when inverted, plus the Möbius strip is nerd-friendly. (Every cool modeling project uses at least one Möbius strip ). And what does “futzing around on a piano” have to do with the Möbius strip or fingering problems? "Knowing that there's a good mathematical reason for that is deeply satisfying."

    “But music is coming closer to pure truth. People who talk about mathematics say the same thing — it's not necessarily about anything, it's just truth."

    Well, it’s a nice sentiment, but nonsensical. Music is definitely the most abstract of the arts, but I don’t think “truth” has much to do with it. Math on the other hand is based on a rigorous logic, so to the extent the basic premises and ensuing logic are truthful, math is truth.

    "One of the really exciting things about this research is that it allows us to see commonalities among a much wider range of musicians," Tymoczko said. "In some sense, Bach and the Beatles are really exploiting the same geometrical features. In that sense they're not radically different."

    Well, yes they're both basically major/minor tonal, though the Beatles are a lot bluesier and modal in spots. This sounds more like lack of discernment in their modeling than any great revelation.

    "You certainly see large trends," Tymoczko said. "Over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries people start exploring a wider variety of geometrical spaces. There's a general push toward increasing complexity and sophistication. They move from the three-dimensional cone to the four-dimensional space."

    In other words, the same conclusion any basic music history class would impart. It's always interesting to find new ways of visualizing or analyzing music, but one would hope that they would reveal something new and useful. However, I fail to see how the further extension of harmonic practice into the upper natural overtone series in any way involves moving from "three-dimensional cone" to "four-dimensional space".

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