Friday, July 17, 2009

The Birth of the Blues: How Physics Underlies Music

We don't see this type of article often - I certainly don't remember reading something like this before. So that in itself deserves some mention here. :)

"The birth of the blues: how physics underlies music" was written by Murray Gibson, one of the Associate Laboratory Directors at Argonne Nat'l Lab. The article appeared online on June 30, 2009, so if the IoP policy of making papers available for free during the first 30 days, you should be able to access it at the IoP website here.

Abstract: Art and science have intimate connections, although these are often underappreciated. Western music provides compelling examples. The sensation of harmony and related melodic development are rooted in physical principles that can be understood with simple mathematics. The focus of this review is not the better known acoustics of instruments, but the structure of music itself. The physical basis of the evolution of Western music in the last half millennium is discussed, culminating with the development of the 'blues'. The paper refers to a number of works which expand the connections, and introduces material specific to the development of the 'blues'. Several conclusions are made: (1) that music is axiomatic like mathematics and that to appreciate music fully listeners must learn the axioms; (2) that this learning does not require specific conscious study but relies on a linkage between the creative and quantitative brain and (3) that a key element of the musical 'blues' comes from recreating missing notes on the modern equal temperament scale. The latter is an example of 'art built on artifacts'. Finally, brief reference is made to the value of music as a tool for teaching physics, mathematics and engineering to non-scientists.

I haven't finished reading it (it's 17 pages long!).


1 comment:

Michael F. Martin said...

Music is a wonderful way to teach Fourier analysis. Our ears are graphic equalizers!

I wish accountants, or at least the people who made accounting rules, understood Fourier analysis.