How Music, Math, Architecture, and Goosebumps Combine


Right at this second, I’m sitting in silence.  It’s merely because I’m waiting for my Blind Guardian CD to copy into the computer so I can play it, but it’s tough going – while I know in mere minutes I shall have music, the quivery anticipation is combining with my natural abhorrence of silence to make me a little fidgety.

The CD-Rom drive clicks open.  I put the CD away.  I hit play.  And an orchestra takes me up and we’re soaring.

There went my hair.  I feel my scalp prickle.  Later, when hearing a particularly poetic verse or an unusual juxtaposition of instruments, I might get chills, lose my breath, find my fingers faltering on the keyboard as sound transports me from this world into theirs.

Turns out you can tell a lot about a person’s personality by gauging their reaction to music:

Los Angeles, CA (December 7, 2010) Most people feel chills and shivers in response to music that thrills them, but some people feel these chills often and others feel them hardly at all. People who are particularly open to new experiences are most likely to have chills in response to music, according to a study in the current Social Psychological and Personality Science (published by SAGE). Researchers Emily Nusbaum and Paul Silvia of University of North Carolina at Greensboro asked students about how often they felt chills down their spine, got goose bumps, or felt like their hair was standing on end while listening to music. They also measured their experience with music, and five main dimensions of personality: extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. Of all these dimensions, only openness to experience was related to feeling chills. People high in openness are creative, curious about many things, have active imaginations and like to play with ideas, and they much more frequently feel chills in response to music. 

Hee.  That’s me.  That’s Brian Romans, too, and I’d imagine it’s a lot of you, my darlings.

But that little article’s a mere warm-up to the other delight Brian found us.  Prepare to think of music in a way you may have never thought of it before – as math and architecture:

WHILE auditing a musical composition class in 1940s Paris, Iannis Xenakis showed his work to his instructor, the great composer Arthur Honegger. “This is not music,” Honegger informed the young man, and he was right. It was architecture.

At the time, Xenakis was working in Le Corbusier’s studio, calculating the load-bearing capacity of concrete for low-income housing. His interest in music, and his recognition that music and architecture were both manifestations of mathematics, impelled him to see the geometric figures on his drawing board in terms of sound – and to set them in musical notation.

[snip]

 Xenakis’s breakthroughs in music and architecture were deeply intertwined. Asked by Le Corbusier to design a pavilion commissioned by the Dutch Philips Corporation for the 1958 World’s Fair, Xenakis began by considering the internal acoustics, and realised that the optimal design would be based on hyperbolic paraboloids.

[snip]

The concept, first fully explored in his orchestral piece Metastasis, was to construct the composition on the musical equivalent of the Philips Pavilion cables: straight lines intersecting to define sweeping curves. In place of cables, Xenakis used glissandi, lines of rising pitch each assigned to a different instrument. In both the pavilion and the musical composition, he was “interested in the question of whether it was possible to get from one point to another without breaking the continuity”, he later said.

Remarkable, no?  Most of us are vaguely aware of the math-music connection, but I doubt many people could look at architectural drawings and see literal rather than metaphorical music.  Though, if you’ve ever read a book called Spaces Speak, Are You Listening? you might be a bit more prepared.

Oh, and for those wondering if, oh, say, geology can also be made music, the answer is yes.  Yes, it can:

Mt. Etna is Singing

I love this kind of thing, love seeing disparate things brought together, seemingly unrelated entities merged into a seamless whole.  It makes the world fresh and fascinating.

It even gives me goosebumps, on occasion.

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