The Connection Between Music And Physics

The Connection Between Music And Physics

Although superbly framed by the private and philosophical John’s bit was subtitled “a love tune” the topics he explores concerning the connection between physics and music return to the early Greeks, and therefore are as outdated as the areas themselves.

It moved me a musicologist to compose something from the opposite side, to fulfill my scientific colleague at the center at an insecure conversation about the contrasts between both worlds.

For the majority of us, music has the capability to reach us directly. The temptation would be always to talk of music as a speech : the idea of music as a sort of “speech of these emotions” is pervading, centuries old, and has some limited empirical experimental aid.

However, this runs contrary to an age old belief : that audio is a natural law. The medieval idea of “music of the spheres” held the motion of these celestial bodies that which we describe as astrophysics was, in origin, musical : the planets go in the skies based on principles of stability and resonance, using a set of ordinary Pythagorean ratios regulating both music and cosmology.

Highs And Lows

Physics permeates the terminology we use to describe songs, and the concepts we use to comprehend it. For example we speak about “high” and “low” musical pitch, and possibly without realising how profoundly metaphorical this really is.

There’s absolutely no elevation to musical pitch : “large” pitches are due to faster vibrations compared to “non” pitches.

And still, the idea of musical elevation makes sense if we consider the energy conditions of their audio. If, as in the excerpt below from Puccini’s opera Toscawe hear a soprano maintain a top B level (as at 2:40 to the recording under), we’re conscious that she’s sustaining a high profile state, which has to eventually unwind.

The pitch seems spent with all the kinetic energy necessary to make it (obviously, in Tosca’s situation she’s a literal experience with the power of gravity, but that is another story).

Singers, brass and wind players expend power to attain “elevation”, whilst series players, keyboardists, guitarists and the rest work no more difficult to get the high notes compared to low.

Yet, perhaps due to the centrality of the individual voice into all songs, this concept of fighting musical “gravity” is omnipresent, whether at a Paganini violin concerto or a Jimi Hendrix guitar solo, in accordance with the movie below.

It Doesn’t Come Down Just Everywhere.

This notion of magnetic appeal into a pitch has been arguably the single most significant characteristic of Western audio between 1600 and 1900, and even music afterwards.

This might be a feature of Western songs, but in different civilizations musics, the notion of a point of fascination is often much stronger, as in the case below from traditional Indian songs.

Not all music has a tonic, a fixed point of reference in 1908 at Vienna Arnold Schoenberg famously freed from the principle together with all the “atonal” finishing movement of the second string quartet (according to the movie below), thus heralding a fresh and controversial musical era.

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