Saturday, July 08, 2006

String Theory

It's been WAY too long since I've posted - sorry!

But when I saw this tidbit on, I just had to come here and share my outrage.

Princeton Theorist Dmitri Tymoczko has devised what MSNBC is calling a "Theory of Everything" for music. Yes, it's that bad right from the start. Working with non-Euclidian geometry, he's developed an analytical methodology that shows that Chopin's Prelude in E minor is constructed of lines that don't move much. While Schenker himself proposed a similar conclusion, Schenker was looking at the voice leading and Dmitri's work proposes that the Prelude utilizes 4-dimesional hypercubes - a completely different model, I'd say.

The problem I have is that MSNBC jumps straight from Dmitri's work to a musicial unification theory - which Tymoczko himself never suggests.

I'm being a little harsh, but I bristle at the suggestion of unification theory. Scientists have been working on this idea for centuries in many fields, and it doesn't even hold for human origin (traced to 7 at last check I believe). Is it a large leap from a unification theory to the construction of "perfect" music? What then to our art? Will it be forever judged by one model of aesthetics and not by "personal taste" (whatever that is)? I'm happy to report, however, that I saw no instance of the word "authenticity" or "authentic". There is still hope.

UPDATE: I've been mulling over this post for a while and those of you that have read it might notice some edits. I want to make it clear that my outrage is directed at MSNBC, not Dmitri specifically. Thanks, readers, for pointing out my mistakes and rather quick rush to judgement.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't know if you clicked the link to the online version of his paper. First sentence reads, "Western music lies at the intersection of two seemingly independent disciplines: harmony and counterpoint." Only an idiot or a Princeton professor could claim with a straight face that these are independent. Most musicians are taught from the beginning that these are two sides of the same coin--you simply cannot have one without the other.
Fourth paragraph reads, "Musically, the chroma [i.e. pitch-class / letter name] of a note is often more important than its octave." See how quickly that "often" is abandoned--replaced with an unwritten "normally"--and this type of "voice leading" theory runs wild trying to normalize all music from a completely unsupported premise.

7/09/2006 11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Theories of everything are simultaneously theories of nothing.

7/12/2006 11:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For more on Tymoczko, see


8/08/2006 12:28 AM  

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