[Smt-talk] Gravity (Was: Car names)

Gary Karpinski garykarp at music.umass.edu
Tue Jul 31 19:36:48 PDT 2012

Christopher Bonds wrote,

> is the concept of "up and down" in music universal and innate, or is it something we have learned by association?

I address this and related issues in part of an article forthcoming in MTO. Look for it soon in an inbox near you. In the meantime, let me point list readers to the following article, which gives many examples of non-vertical metaphors for the pitch domain in other cultures:

Eitan, Zohar and Renee Timmers. 2010. “Beethoven’s Last Piano Sonata and Those Who Follow Crocodiles: Cross-Domain Mappings of Auditory Pitch in a Musical Context.” Cognition 114: 405–422. [http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2009.10.013]

I think Christopher's question is best answered by the 'Are'are people of the Solomon Islands. They use the word “siho” (which means “to go down”) for what we would call “higher” pitches, and the word “hane” (which means “to go up”) for what we would call “lower” pitches:

Zemp, Hugo. 1979. “Aspects of ’Are’are Musical Theory.” Ethnomusicology 23: 5–48. [http://www.jstor.org/stable/851336]

And many thanks to Eric Nichols for pointing out Steve Larson's "musical forces" (and Steve's book Musical Forces) in relation to the recent queries about gravity in music.

Gary S. Karpinski
Coordinator of Music Theory
Department of Music and Dance
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003
garykarp at music.umass.edu

On Jul 29, 2012, at 11:57 PM, Eric Nichols <epnichols at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hi all,
>   I'll admit I haven't been reading most of this discussion, but after the mention of "gravity" in the latest post, I feel obliged to mention Steve Larson's "Musical Forces" as important reading on this topic:
> http://www.amazon.com/Musical-Forces-Metaphor-Meaning-Interpretation/dp/0253356822/ref=la_B002P9ZLSA_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343597441&sr=1-1
> Best,
> Eric Nichols
> Ph.D. Candidate, Indiana University
> On Jul 29, 2012, at 11:54 AM, Thomas Noll <noll at cs.tu-berlin.de> wrote:
>> Dear Donna, dear Colleagues,
>> I wonder wether this metaphor can be made productive without provoking a thought-terminating controversy about the incorruptibility of a natural law on the one hand and the freedom in musical creativity on the other. To prevent that cliché right from the start it might be useful to first acknowledge that Newtonian mechanics provides high explanatory power for the study of dance, say. This pertains to purely mechanical limb movements and - on a psychological meta-level - it also pertains to the experience and the mechanical expertise of the body/mind of the dancer. One could say, that this level of Newtonian expertise provides a medium wherein choreographic creativity develops. 
>> I think that it is worthwhile to search for an analogous medium (within the human mind), wherein musical creativity develops. The "gravity"-metaphor is maybe too special, though, for a productive transfer to music. Hamilton's mathematical formulation of classical mechanics has been proven to be more flexible in many regards. It is therefore a better candidate for the description of a dynamics expertise that is exemplified in our body/minds. Paragraph [139] of "Modes, the Height-Width Duality, and Handschin’s Tone Character"  suggests a very first speculative link:
>> http://www.mtosmt.org/issues/mto.11.17.1/mto.11.17.1.clampitt_and_noll.html   
>> The idea is that musical tone relations are organized in pairs of conjugated variables, such as tone height and tone width (Handschin's Tone character). We support our argument also with a side glance to surprising findings in neuro-acoustics. 
>> At this year's John Clough symposium in Yale I sketched a hypothesis about the interaction of modal tone relations with those of counterpoint. It includes the interpretation of the subsemitonium modi (musica ficta) in the standard cadence as a "thrust reversal" of the tone character. This hypothesis enriches the grammatical interpretation of the cadence by the assumption of some psychological trick. A lot of work has to be done to nail this hypothesis down. Nevertheless I mention it here to challenge your statement that "we seem to be less successful" in defying gravity with sound.
>> Sincerely
>> Thomas Noll                  
>>> In response to a private response, I'd like to clarify my previous post: Since most things on planet Earth (e. g., automobiles) are subject to gravity's laws and work with them in order to 'defy' them, is sound also subject to gravity? Or is this 'just' a metaphor? If sound is affected by gravity, how (no need to repeat Schenker)? And how can/should we work with it when we create and analyze? Someone once said, "If an architect builds a faulty building, people are killed and he/she goes to jail--when someone writes a bad piece of music, fortunately, no one goes to jail (at least not post-Stalin)."
>>> So perhaps these questions are inconsequential? Not answering them allows people to employ themselves, right? (Someone else once said to me, "Oh well, who cares? Not caring gives us something to do.") But, for whatever reasons, it matters to me and I would really appreciate some good answers! 
>>> Best,
>>> Donna Doyle
>>> Queens College
>>> Flushing, NY 11367
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