Thursday, April 08, 2010

James Tenney and the Theory of Everything: How multidimensional musical space can be a model for the multidimensional physical universe

The following is a scan of my article in Musicworks Magazine #99 (Winter 2007) Musicworks is a fantastic magazine out of Southern Ontario for 'curious ears' featuring 'explorations in sound.' Go buy a current issue. The magazine is fascinating, intelligent, and eclectic.

James Tenney was the brilliant and influential theorist and composer who taught for many years at York University. He was one of the 'big' theorists of music in the sense of rethinking the very fundamentals of music, of understanding the 'new physics' of music, the quantum universe of harmony. His far-reaching and insightful understanding of music was an inspiring influence on many in contemporary music, and I count myself one of the lucky people who had the opportunity to study with him.


Justin said...

An important difference between the physical universe and music: The physical universe has no memory, or at least no dependence upon memory, according to our mathematical models of the universe. Theories of physics - at least all the ones I am aware of, including string theory - represent dynamic systems - the future, in so far as the future is determined, is determined by a single moment. This is not the case of music, is so far as music has a complex syntax.

gary barwin said...

Interesting point, Justin. I don't know though. I think that things in the physical universe are predicated on previous events. How did things get into the pre-existent 'state'? The universe relies on the pre-existent grammar of the various forces (strong, weak, gravity, electro-magnetic, etc.) So, I'd argue for the universe having a complex syntax as well. Also, since we're talking human perception, I think that every perception beyond our first is dependent on memory.

In order to understand the universe, we examine it as a series of processes, or a series of cross-sections in 'time' (or at various states) which then move into their future. This is how we consider music. It, too, is a dynamic system, I believe.

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