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Posted by on Nov 18, 2012 in The Lattice, The Notes | 0 comments

Compound Notes

Multiplying the tonic by 2, 3 and 5 creates the octave, fifth and third respectively. The ear hears these intervals very well. We can easily sing them. Each one has a feel, a sort of harmonic flavor, that makes a fifth a fifth and a third a third.

It turns out that the ear can also easily hear compounds, that is, combinations of these low primes. Combining 2 with anything else simply puts it in another octave. But when you combine 3 and 5, or 3 and another 3, you get entirely new flavors. Here’s an example:

The final note is an octave plus a major second above the tonic — a major ninth. Its ratio is (3/2) x (3/2), or 9/4. It has a haunting sound, to me, a different beauty certainly. A new crayon in the box.

Next: The Major Seventh

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Posted by on Nov 17, 2012 in The Lattice | 0 comments

The Tonic Major Chord

The tonic is the center of the lattice. A drone note on the tonic establishes the center of that particular musical universe.

Adding a major third and a perfect fifth (5/4 and 3/2) further reinforces the center and starts to carve out some territory on the map.

This is the tonic major chord:

In my view, the tonic major helps the ear grab onto the center, by adding two notes that point directly at it. The ear has more information to work with.

The mind has amazing real time mathematical ability. Maybe a more accurate way to say this is that the mind has an amazing ability to quickly analyze and predict physical phenomena. The physical phenomena can be described by math. I don’t think the mind is working with arithmetic calculations at blinding speed, like a computer. It’s more of a massively parallel, holistic analog processor, that achieves a similar result.

Willie Mays used to catch fly balls with his back to the plate. Here’s a famous one:

Mays watches the ball start its flight, calculates the parabola it will follow (fine tuned by the conditions that day), and sets out at top speed for the spot, 400+ feet deep in center field, where he knows it’s going to land. He doesn’t (can’t!) look at the ball until it’s almost upon him. Marvelous.

So the ear hears a note, another one at 3x the frequency (remember octaves don’t count, 3/2 works like 3/1 in this regard), and another one at 5x. All three notes are direct signposts, pointing exactly at the tonic. Here we are, says the mind.

This may be why the equal-tempered major third gives me that slight queasy feeling. The tonic is the tonic, all right, but that equal-tempered third doesn’t point right at it! It’s close enough that the ear correctly identifies it, but it’s actually pointing at a note about 1% sharp of the tonic, and something sounds subtly off, like day-old sushi.

Here it is again: pure third, ET third, pure third. The middle note, the ET third, has a ratio of about 5.04/4.

JI3 vs ET3

Is it slight tonal vertigo? Where is home?

Next: Compound Notes

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Posted by on Nov 16, 2012 in Recordings | 0 comments

Real Girl

I’ve added a new recording to the Audio page. It’s the first time I’ve consciously written a song using the lattice. The chord progression is especially influenced by how it appears visually. I was moving colored bits of glass around throughout the process, aiming for beauty, tension and resolution. The music tells a small story, of a journey around the map.

The lattice seems to create a connection between the auditory and the visual. The forms and movements are beautiful, like chess moves are beautiful. The auditory beauty tracks somehow with the visual beauty. How it looks can be used to predict how it will sound.

Real Girl:realgirl5

 

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Posted by on Nov 15, 2012 in The Lattice | 4 comments

The Lattice

In 1739, the great mathematician Leonhard Euler published something he called a Tonnetz, German for “tone network.” It looked like this:

Euler’s Tonnetz organizes the notes into a matrix, instead of a scale. Moving down and to the left represents motion by an interval of a fifth (V) in musical space. Down and to the right shows movement by a major third (III).

The lattice has been rediscovered and redrawn many times over the years. One of my favorites is the Duodenarium of Alexander Ellis, which showed up in his appendix to Helmholtz’s pioneering book, On the Sensations of Tone, in the late 1800’s.

Now we’re talkin’! C is at the center. The fifths go up and down, and thirds from left to right, leading to a square grid.

One of W. A. Mathieu’s innovations in Harmonic Experience is to slant the axes and make them line up with the musical staff:

Seriously, if this blog interests you, please get a copy of this book. I have no stake in you doing this, except that I believe the more broadly understood this man’s work is, the more great music will be made.

I’ve been messing around with the lattice for a year and a half now, and I’ve morphed it into a form that suits my own musical work.

Further slanting the thirds axis to 60 degrees makes it a hexagonal lattice, and for me the relationships between the notes become more intuitive. The major chord is now, appropriately, a stable-looking triangle. And a new axis appears, northwest to southeast: movement by minor thirds. I follow Mathieu’s example and show this one with a dotted line, because it isn’t a direct move: the minor third is a third down and a fifth up, a compound move on the lattice — a major (sorry) insight into the nature of the minor third. Much more on that one later.

Japanese mathematician Shohé Tanaka drew a hexagonal tone lattice in the 1800’s. I haven’t been able to find a picture.

Movement to the right represents multiplication by 3, that is, up a fifth. Up and to the right means you’ve multiplied by 5, up a major third. Left means division by 3, down a fifth. Down left is division by 5, down a major third. The tonic, 1, is at the center (below left of center in this portion). The grid goes out to infinity. This is the region encompassed by Flying Dream, which in fact covers most of the territory I’ve found useful so far, a major reason I chose that song for the video.

Next: The Tonic Major Chord

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Posted by on Nov 14, 2012 in The Lattice | 0 comments

Harmonic Space

Now to relate all this to the lattice in the video.

Listening to music is like going on a journey. Most tonal music starts by establishing a center, or basic note, and a basic harmonic framework for the song, such as a major or minor mode. A few melody notes, and a beginning chord, and you have some idea of the space in which the journey will be occurring. Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra (of 2001 fame) is a great example. The famous opening section, called “Sunrise,” gives an extremely clear sense of home. You know exactly where you are, sonically.

By the way, it’s fun to hum this while using an electric toothbrush.

The piece goes on to travel away from this home, and back again, many times. The journey takes place in a space of some sort, an auditory environment.

But what might this space look like? One way to visualize music is staff notation:

It’s beautiful, and if I know how to read it, it will tell me what the music sounds like. It doesn’t do such a good job of showing me why music sounds the way it does. Neither staff notation, nor the 12-tone scale, gives me a particularly clear idea of how music works. Why would this be restful and sonorous:

major

While this, though beautiful in a different way, has tremendous tension? Sounds like the villain (or the cat) is about to pop out and scare you.

aug

Okay, okay, here’s the resolution:major

Aaahh.

If I know a lot about music theory, I can interpret the notation and come up with explanations. The second example is an augmented chord, and yes it sounds like that. But why, Mom, wh-wh-why?

Next: The Lattice

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