[Smt-talk] Pitch height metaphor [Was Gravity]

Huron, David huron.1 at osu.edu
Thu Aug 2 08:32:35 PDT 2012

For those interested in further details regarding the pitch-height metaphor let me draw attention to my
video lecture (42 minutes) on the web, entitled "The Pitch-Height Metaphor"  https://vimeo.com/34747210<https://vimeo.com/34747210.>
This lecture reviews much of the pertinent experimental literature. There is a study guide that accompanies
this lecture, and I'd be happy to mail that to anyone who writes me personally.

David Huron
Ohio State University
huron.1 at osu.edu

From: smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org [smt-talk-bounces at lists.societymusictheory.org] on behalf of Nicolas Meeùs [nicolas.meeus at paris-sorbonne.fr]
Sent: Tuesday, July 31, 2012 12:14 PM
To: Christopher Bonds
Cc: smt-talk at lists.societymusictheory.org
Subject: Re: [Smt-talk] Gravity (Was: Car names)

Curt Sachs writes, in one of his books, that descending motion is more common, in all musics of the world, than ascending one. He does not say, however, how common it is to describe such motion as 'descending'. In general, though, melodies end at the pitch at which they began: they can but descend what they first climbed. the 'descending' effect probably results from the fact that they go up by leaps and come down by conjunct steps.
    There is an interesting paper on the verticalization of pitch in Western music by M. E. Duchez in Acta musicologica 51/1, 1979. She indicates that the verticalization by no means is universal and that it appeared slowly and lately in the West (after the 9th century). The verticalization of pitch may be the consequence (rather than the cause) of the vertical disposition in notation. It does not seem to have existed in Latin (or Greek), where pitches were described as acutus (oxus) and gravis (barus). For some time, no clear distinction was made between pitch and intensity ('musica alta' was loud, not high).
    In harmonic music, singing in just intonation tends to shift pitch. With respect to the cycle of fifths (Pythagorean tuning) taken as reference, the pitch shifts down a comma for each ascending major or descending minor third, and the reverse. Think of a neo-Riemannian network and of the change of line corresponding to 3d-relations: horizontal lines are a comma apart in just intonation. Tonal harmonic progressions tend to shift down – one of the reasons why a capella choirs shift down: they sing too much in tune!

Nicolas Meeùs
Université Paris-Sorbonne

Le 30/07/2012 03:23, Christopher Bonds a écrit :
A quick comment. Seems like success in relating any kind of musical event to gravity depends on the answers to a couple of questions. First, whether descending intervals, stepwise lines, root progressions, etc., generally always create a sense of closure or at least a lessening of tension; and if so, are these style and culture independent? Second, if so, could there be other explanations for this phenomenon? Third, if some sort of relationship could be established between the physical law and gravity, what effect, if any, will Einstein's general theory of relativity have on musical perception, now or in some future time? Finally, is the concept of "up and down" in music universal and innate, or is it something we have learned by association?

(For the record, my personal thinking is that the musical brain has learned to associate higher and lower pitches with up and down in space. Maybe because low sounds are associated with heavier objects, which seem to be tending downward more seriously than lighter objects (although they accelerate at the same rate when falling.))

Christopher Bonds
Wayne State College (retired)

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