All posts by Dr J. Harry Whalley

Dr J. Harry Whalley is a tutor at the Reid School of Music, at the University of Edinburgh. His practice led research focuses on relationships between music and music theory and wider subject areas. His PhD thesis investigated the concept of a tangled hierarchy as outlined in Douglas Hofstadter 1979 book ‘Gödel, Escher, Bach’ and how this might be mapped onto a music composition process. Dr Whalley is currently working on the use of music and dramaturgy as a means to highlight contemporary issues in academic bioethics.

Six things that I REALLY like about music

1. Music is Simple

Striking a bell creates a beautiful resonance; it swells and then fades to silence. Bizarrely, we find the experience beautiful. Music really is so simple. Make things vibrate and enjoy the consequence, that’s it! Overanalyse it and miss the point?

Now for an analysis:

Much of our western harmonic system can be thought of in terms of the harmonic series, which is simply whole number multiples of a common fundamental frequency.

An Octave – 1/2 (yes, pedants it’s the reciprocal)
A Perfect 5th – 2/3
A Perfect 4th – 3/4
A Major 3rd – 4/5

Don’t let yourself be fooled by the language in Ramou’s Treaties on Harmony (1722) or the The Lydian chromatic concept of tonal organization for improvisation (Russell, 1961), underneath are simple primary-school fractions.

Composers and musicians from Mongolian throat singers to Nigel Osborne understand this powerful simplicity and utilise it with varying degrees of consciousness and sub-consciousness. It seems we are innately tuned in to these ratios that nature has handed us. Nevertheless, simple systems give rise to emergent complexity.

Continue reading Six things that I REALLY like about music

Share Button

Transformations and their musical counterparts.

This post is written in Binary Form.

When thinking about the relationship between numbers and music, often what first springs to mind are the proportional differences between the physical objects that generate musical intervals on which harmony and melody is so often based. The famous story of the blacksmith’s workshop and Pythagoras is sometimes used to illustrate this. Pythagoras was said to have been walking past a workshop where the sound of anvils of different weights were being struck, with each weight producing a different tone. Sounding together the result was consonant or stable. Upon investigation Pythagoras, it is said, realised that the pleasing aural result was accompanied by the pleasing integer proportion between the weights of the hammers, 6, 8, 9 and 12.

When one considers music in its own isolated discipline bubble, it might seem that it has a unique place beside mathematics (historically, music forms a pillar of the quadrivium alongside geometry, astronomy and athematic). However, perhaps the real power lies in the hands of numbers, and their ability to describe nature and her patterns.

“Numbers are a universal medium for the embedding of patterns of any sort, and that for that reason, statements seemingly about numbers alone can in fact encode statements about other universes of discourse”

Douglas Hofstadter, in his forward to Gödel’s Proof (Revised Edition)

Continue reading Transformations and their musical counterparts.

Share Button