E-minors and String Theory

As mentioned before, one of my favorite short stories is John Cheever's descriptive "Geometry of Love." In Cosmic Log, Alan Boyle brings us the Geometry of Music.

Boyle writes that Princeton music theorist Dmitri Tymoczko has a lot to say about the relationship between music and another kind of string theory.

...math makes it easier to understand objectively what great musicians and composers do in their head. 'When you sit down to interact with a piano, you're actually interacting with a non-Euclidean space, because there are many different ways you can play a C-major chord on a piano,' Tymoczko said....

Tymoczko has done up a QuickTime movie of a particularly tricky Chopin piano prelude in E-minor (Opus 28, No. 4) to illustrate how the orbifold works.

'This prelude is mysterious,' he explained in a Princeton news release. 'While it uses traditional harmonies, they are connected with nonstandard chord progressions that people have had trouble describing. However, when you plot the chord movement in geometric space, you can see Chopin is moving along very short lines, staying primarily within one region.'

"Have trouble describing." I wonder how many other plotted mysteries will turn out to be "primarily within one region?"

I'm in awe of theorists like Dmitri Tymoczko, who can make the deep connections between the math of music and orbifolds. I'm just as impressed with people like Alan Boyle, who can describe the deep connections for the average person -- it's for that reason that one of the people I'm most looking forward to hearing at the ideaFestival in October is K.C. Cole.


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