Vi Hart, explores the nature of randomness and pattern, using Stravinsky’s 12-tone music as a starting-point and rocketing through constellations, the nature of reality.

Twelve Tones

hat tip boingboing

Category: Mathematics, Music, Weekend

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8 Responses to “Twelve Musical Tones”

  1. RW says:


    Thanks, I’m sharing that one.

  2. J. Wenger says:

    Along a similar path, a friend has been investigating a “Pi Base 12 song”. He’s up to 72 digits…check it out on youtube if you’re interested.

  3. dumdedumdum says:

    Schoenberg’s 12 tone music. Stravinsky was something else

  4. Frwip says:

    How do you break free from tonal conventions?

    The answer is easy : you don’t.

    You can break away from of the 12 tones scale and use 24 or 17 intervals or whatever and even unequal scales as most 12 tones scales used in the West were until …, Well, you can “blame” it on Bach. Plenty of musical traditions have done so. But you can’t break free of tonality proper, the fact that musical sequence have to follow certain “conventions” to be pleasant to the ear and memorable.

    Tonality is not an arbitrary convention, imposed upon our brains by the legacy of culture. It’s there, in your brain, in the physics of acoustic waves and probably in the anatomic structures of our inner ears.

    Music has spent pretty much the entire 20th century trying to break free of tonality and a century later, even the most academically minded musicians are coming to the same conclusion. Atonalism is a complete, utter failure. No, no one whistles Stockhausen while showering. People just don’t connect cognitively with the music. Listening to Stockhausen is a purely passive experience that doesn’t activate cognitive discrimination, the ability to create expectation, sense and meaning (strong connections there with our very human preference for storytelling vs. cold analysis of data).

    For those who understand French, you can watch a conference on that precise subject by musician and composer Jérôme Ducros, given last year at the College de France. It’s pretty damning (and very funny) for those who purport the endless plasticity of the human brain and that it’s just a matter of training. It’s not, and Ducros bears a flamethrower to this notion.

    • MikeNY says:

      Good post.

      ITA about Atonalism: it’s an arid intellectual exercise to me — and ugly.

      • Frwip says:

        Well, it’s not a complete wasteland.

        There are many good compositions in those veins.

        Consider Ligeti for instance, and not just for Lux Aeterna (Kurbick’s 2001). Take a fairly early piece, Movement 7 of his Musica Ricercata. A very simple piece (but written in the early 50s, so not so trivial), yet a really interesting one in how he uses (rare) dissonances within a very regular structure to articulate his composition.

        The thing is that Ligeti actually cared about the listener’s experience. His pursuit was aesthetic and he knew to avoid the complacency of transgression for the sake of transgression. Same reason why some modern sculptors will survive the centuries – people like Calder or Brancusi – while the future is much more questionable for, say, Jeff Koons …

      • MikeNY says:

        I don’t really know Ligeti — but you’ve piqued my interest. I adore Calder, and I share your reservations about Koons. Thx.

  5. Frilton Miedman says:

    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen other work by her, the randomness & rapidness of creative genius in action, combining seemingly unrelated subjects that most would overlook to unlock new potential forms of logic.

    At around 22 minutes, where she harmonizes in increments of rearranged tonal half-steps – I find myself wondering – why not retune the piano and concoct a 1/3rd tone 18 note scale & redefine the church modes according to it, then try the same thing?

    We might learn that half notes represent the way tones harmonize as the brain perceives it.

    I’d wager the structure of music is more an evolution based on human perception, not accidental, but maybe more that slicing tones into smaller tonal increments is less recognizable to the brain, and greater tonal spreads are too crude for creativity within the audible spectrum.

    I also love her rapid fire sarcasm that forces you to mute background noise rather than miss it – “…also, he was a horse-faced Fascist.” “…and lobbyists that take advantage of Congress…”, “I’d just slowly count to thirteen, and then stop..” (to fend off “Zombie Schoenberg”)