Tag Archives: Theory

Ornette Coleman and harmolodics


In an interview, Ornette Coleman discussed the musical philosophy and compositional/improvisational method that he called harmolodics.

“Harmolodics is a base of expanding the melody, the harmonic structure, the rhythm, and above all the free improvised structure of a composition beyond what they would be if they were just played as a regular 2-5-1 structure, or if they were played with the concept of a melody having a certain arrangement to know when to start and stop.”

“If a word means something else in another language, and it’s spelled and sounds the same, that’s very harmolodic. So, when you’re able to play like that, it expresses what sounds could be if they weren’t programmed to represent a certain territory. It has to do with what you base a concept of unity on. Unity in Europe comes from shared territories, not like America where unity is created out of shared conditions.”

“Harmolodics doesn’t change something from its original state. It expresses the information a melody has within its structure without taking it apart to find out why its sounds that way.”

Quoted in “Dialing up Ornette” by Bill Shoemaker (JazzTimes XXV/10 [December 1995] pp. 42–44).

Today would have been Coleman’s 90th birthday! Above, performing in 2008 (photo by Frank Schindelbeck; below, a performance from Coleman’s harmolodic funk period.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers, Theory

Novelty and influence in classical piano music


While innovation is crucial for novel and influential achievements, quantifying these qualities in creative works remains a challenge. An information-theoretic framework for computing the novelty and influence of creative works based on their generation probabilities reflects the degree of uniqueness of their elements in comparison with other works.

Applying this formalism to a high-quality, large-scale data set of classical piano compositions–works of significant scientific and intellectual value–spanning several centuries of musical history, represented as symbolic progressions of chords, a study found that the enterprise’s developmental history can be characterized as a dynamic process composed of the emergence of dominant, paradigmatic creative styles that define distinct historical periods. These findings can offer a new understanding of the evolution of creative enterprises based on principled measures of novelty and influence.

This according to “Novelty and influence of creative works, and quantifying patterns of advances based on probabilistic references networks” by Doheum Park, Juhan Nam, and Juyong Park (EPJ data science IX/2 [2020]).

Many thanks to Marc Abrahams of Improbable Research for bringing this to our attention!

Above, two illustrations from the article (click to enlarge); below, Chopin’s prelude in A Major, op. 28, no.7, which provides the basis for the second illustration.

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Filed under Curiosities, Science

Busnois, Tinctoris, and “L’homme armé”


Antoine Busnois’s Missa “L’homme armé” commits one notational error after another—at least according to Johannes Tinctoris.

As several scathing passages in his Proportionale musices attest, Tinctoris abhorred Busnois’s mensural innovations. And yet Busnois’s notational choices, while certainly idiosyncratic, were also arguably justifiable: the composer was merely finding ways of recording novel musical ideas that had no agreed-upon notational solutions.

Tinctoris’s response to Busnois was not limited to the criticisms in his theoretical treatises. Tinctoris the composer responded far more comprehensively, and at times with far greater sympathy for Busnois’s practice, in his own Missa “L’homme armé”. He echoed Busnois’s Mass notationally, in that he treated it as an example of what not to do; his response was also deeply musical, in that he tackled similar technical problems as a means of achieving analogous contrapuntal effects.

Tinctoris’s and Busnois’s settings need to be understood in the context of 15th-century Masses, one in which composers were not necessarily content to work within the system but invented new ways of writing to create new sounds. In doing so, mere composers could sometimes achieve significance as theorists. Taken together, the L’homme armé Masses of Busnois and Tinctoris raise a range of historiographical issues that invite us to reassess the figure of the theorist-composer.

This according to “Composing in theory: Busnoys, Tinctoris, and the L’homme armé tradition” by Emily Zazulia (Journal of the American Musicological Society LXXI/1 [spring 2018] pp. 1–73).

This year we celebrate the 590th anniversary of Busnois’s birth! (His exact birthdate is unknown.)

Above, the version of L’homme armé that Busnois used as his cantus firmus, from I-NapBN MS VI.E.40 (with editorial markings); below, the Kyrie from his Missa “L’homme armé” followed by the corresponding movement from Tinctoris’s work.

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Filed under Curiosities, Renaissance

F, the keynote of nature


In The voice of the silence (1889), Helena Blavatsky (above) designated the pitch F as the keynote of nature. Blavatsky’s authority was Benjamin Silliman, a Professor of chemistry at Harvard; his source was probably The music of nature (1832) by William Gardiner. Beethoven’s sixth symphony had already established F as the favored “pastoral” key.

Blavatsky’s prestige perpetuated the designation among Theosophists, and it remains a popular New Age concept, though some maintain that the correct note is F sharp. Several musicologists have suggested ingenious rationales for the idea that F is a fundamental keynote.

This according to “Is there a keynote of nature?” by Joscelyn Godwin, an essay included in Esotericism, religion, and nature (East Lansing: Association for the Study of Esotericism, 2009, pp. 53–71).

Below, another endorsement of the natural power of F.

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Filed under Curiosities, Theory

RILM Editor wins Outstanding Dissertation Award

Former RILM Editor Woo Shingkwan (胡成筠) has just won the International Musicological Society’s 2018 Outstanding Dissertation Award for The ceremonial music of Zhu Zaiyu.

Zhu Zaiyu (1536–1611) was a mathematician, physicist, music theorist, choreographer, and composer; he is particularly remembered today for creating the theory of 12-tone equal temperament.

Congratulations to our former colleague! Above, a page from the dissertation.

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Filed under Asia, RILM, RILM news, Theory