A few days ago I saw a post saying "music is just very loud math". This may be true sometimes, and may be the driving force for many kinds of music. It is an understandable perspective for more STEM inclined people.


I think music is something that speaks to you. When I want to write and/or perform music that speaks to an audience, I have to think of music as a language.

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I should elaborate.

When I say "music is something that speaks to you", I mean that quite literally. The way our brains actually hear music, it is very close to how we process speech and language.

Speech in particular is interesting because there's a layer of nuance that goes beyond the pure semantics. Inflection, prosody, etc. These are things that pop up in music, and in my experience as a musical performer, were at the heart of what made that music "work".

It's been said that Shakespeare used blank verse as a tool for the actor (not the audience). It was said to closely resemble naturalistic speech, and helped actor remember the lines. I see mathematics in relation to music in a similar way. It can be a helpful tool for the composer or even the performer, but it's a means to an end.

Speech and language isn't a means to an end either, but I find it to be a more potent tool.

@paul have you considered that language is also math

@paul flip it on its head, math is just very abstract music

@paul I now think of math(s) as silent music, and thus: useless

@paul The beauty of music is it can be expressed in numbers but making emotions from the numbers? Not yet...

@mxtthxw the danger of this line of thought is that it tends to oversimplify and distort music when it is structured this way. Specifically, you end up with a representation of music that tends to be way more discrete than it is in reality because music is a very continuous medium.

Remember, notes have traditionally been just that... notes. Instructions for a human performer to interpret and turn into a musical performance. There is a lot of unwritten things that happens between the page and the sound waves in the air, and it's a very important consideration.

@paul Also it's extremely culturally dependent. To take a relevant example from my own practise: If I see two eights notes, followed by a quarter note, followed by a half note, not only is the articulation (long eights/half notes, short quarter) culturally dependent, but also the rhythm (in a jazz chart, eights are swung) and the dynamics (half notes are almost always some form of fp into crescendo in a lot of big band music) @mxtthxw

@paul And this is even before talking about scales and modes and tunings and timbre and instrumentation and ornamentation and so on. @mxtthxw

@pettter @paul @mxtthxw

Took me a long time to realise that the score is not the music!

@kat coming from a largely classical background, I often struggle getting my head out of the page when using sheet music.

@pettter @mxtthxw

Yes! I think learning to play in a classical tradition involves trying to recreate something from the score
and over many years and getting "scored" on how well you do it..

For me though it was seeing chord charts written by guitar players.. as a piano player.. and having to try to work out what they were trying to say over what they had written

@pettter @mxtthxw

@kat "scoring" is a great word to use haha. In auditions, I was often quite literally scored on how well I played a piece.

Interpretation is a big part of the classical tradition, and it's usually not something you get to until you've sunk a fair bit of time into it. Bach is an interesting example of this, because he actually wrote very little instructions in his original manuscripts. My teacher once told me to never play Bach at an audition because your judges will always disagree with your interpretation, no matter how well you play it.

Jazz has more of an upfront emphasis on finding your own voice I think. It's not something they hold off on like in the classical world. I too had similar epiphanies when I started getting into jazz and learning how to get comfortable with charts.

@pettter @mxtthxw

@pettter @paul Just a single string's fixed between two points is complex. The harmonic balance will vary based on where and how it is plucked, with a soft part of the finger, with the nail, a pick etc etc etc..

@mxtthxw @pettter to this day, we are still unsure what timbre is or how to talk about it. Officially, we know it's not frequency or amplitude. Things like timbre taxonomy are still ongoing areas of research.

@paul @mxtthxw Eh, I'd say we know what it is in the same sense that we know what colours are in that it is a combination of a whole bunch of things, that people are good at picking out and understanding both timbre and colour, and that the mechanism we do that is somewhat obscure, and that their relation to physical properties is pretty far from straightforward.

@paul *eights notes _can_ be swung I should say.

And they can be swung to different degrees

@pettter @mxtthxw swung eighths have a lot in common with blank verse found in poetry, perhaps most famously utilized by Shakespeare. It's been said that Shakespeare encapsulates the entire range of the human condition. So, as a composer, I'm much more keen to draw from that as a source of inspiration than idk thinking about swing as some kind of ratio?

Agreed. The last part I said tongue in cheek. A performance is so incredibly complex I can't even how many parameters would need consideration and that's for a solo performance. Add a group dynamic. Well that's just woooaaahh.

@paul Indeed and agreed. One can expose the mathematics of music, and I imagine that the machines will one day make music which can drive human emotion, and some of the algorithms may even exist now. But I will suggest that those that use that, once developed, will incur great and terrible consequence. Soul-less yet powerful music, like synthetic crack cocaine, is a serious nightmare.

@paul I think music is math, but only because I believe *everything* is math. (ala Max Tegmark and Stephen Wolfram) 😁

@williamfields my frustration that I have is that this is correct, but often I don't see people go far enough. I've seen countless "math is music" blogs posts and articles that start with overtone series, derive the just temperament scale, then equal temperament... and then right about there things start to fizzle to a halt.

"No! Keep going!" That's what I want to say them. Get to the bottom of it. You've only just scratched the surface.

@paul definitely seems to be true in the west (happy speech being major, sad speech being minor, angry speech being loud etc), although in the east things can be.. different

@sean_ae my focus isn't necessarily on the emotional context of speech, just the kinds of nuance that emphasize and shape the way words are said in a phrase. microtimings, pitch inflection, etc, are mechanics that could be interesting to apply to computer music. Speech engines have been doing that forever. But we'd call that "phrasing" instead of "prosody".

@paul yeah ofc, microtimings have been a thing in electronic music for a bit now, it got super popular just after jay dilla died and you had the whole wonky scene springing up around the idea - mostly people (eg flylo) using computers to do what dilla had been doing naturally. but even before that if you check out an sp-1200 carefully the timing on it is actually slightly weird and is one of the reasons it sounds so 'right'. even the DMX has it - partly thru the grid being so open but also the fact it had very subtle inbuilt delays on the different sounds. there's a whole art / way of approaching this within hip hop production (since funk got broken down and analysed via people looping stuff up in the late 80s) that ended up with logic audio shipping with included groove templates for famous drummers.

@sean_ae wow I appreciate the insights! I have some things to check out now...

@sean_ae I should mention that I've mostly been thinking about this stuff in the context of melody and procedurally generated lyrical performance. If there are things I should check out there, please let me know!

@paul yeah i'm more of a beats guy really but if anything springs to mind i will. i'd say check flying lotus because he really pushed the grid in every direction on a lot of his elements, but you might not find it that interesting, it's mostly loops etc

@sean_ae I don't know flying lotus too well, but I'll give it another listen. Loops and beats are great! I'd love to gain more intuition about that kind of stuff.

@paul you probably know this already (obvious ref point really) but i always found this timing on this to be super-exquisite

@paul if u wanna get into loops there are worse places to start than this
style scott's drumming is next level timing-wise, super subtle. and sly dunbar, esp the stuff sly and robbie did with grace jones in the early 80s is super delicate and precise
both big personal favs.
there are a ton of funk examples i could post but if i start on that i'll be here all day, i gotta get back to tracking :D

@paul @sean_ae For microtiming in melody then you should really listen to a lot of Jazz piano. You can find the whole range from experimental (e.g. Cecil Taylor), to pretty tonal (50s/60s stuff).

Lot of good Japanese jazz pianists work in this vein too for some reason.

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