The Geometry of Music

The Telegraph reports that three music professors – Clifton Callender at Florida State University, Ian Quinn at Yale University, and Dmitri Tymoczko at Princeton University – have devised a new way of analyzing and categorizing music to reduce musical works to their mathematical essence. The trio has outlined a method called “geometrical music theory” that they say can turn music into shapes.

“To me,” Prof Tymoczko says “the most satisfying aspect of this research is that we can now see that there is a logical structure linking many, many different musical concepts. To some extent, we can represent the history of music as a long process of exploring different symmetries and different geometries.”

“Our methods are not so great at distinguishing Aerosmith from the Rolling Stones,” Tymoczko said. “But they might allow you to visualise some of the differences between John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Paul McCartney’s tunes tend to look more traditional, John Lennon’s tunes tend to be a little more “rock” – violating more of the traditional rules.

“The whole point of making these geometric spaces is that, at the end of the day, it helps you understand music better. Having a powerful set of tools for conceptualizing music allows you to do all sorts of things you hadn’t done before,” said Tymoczko.

“You could create new kinds of musical instruments or new kinds of toys,” he said. “You could create new kinds of visualisation tools – imagine going to a classical music concert where the music was being translated visually. We could change the way we educate musicians. There are lots of practical consequences that could follow from these ideas.”

This “geometrical music theory” sounds interesting. If you know anything more about this new approach to musical analysis, let me know in the comments.

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