[Smt-talk] Harmonics

CARSON FARLEY ccfarley at embarqmail.com
Tue Jul 22 14:03:48 PDT 2014

Regarding the discussion on harmonics . . . If I pick up my guitar or bass I can produce strong harmonics - octave and flat 7th in-between the 3rd fret. If I touch directly over the 3rd fret the 5th is produced. If I touch over the 4th fret the major third is produced. If I touch over the 5th fret the octave is again produced. If I touch over the 7th fret the 5th is produced again. As I move higher up the neck towards the bridge I can produce more harmonics that duplicate the harmonics mentioned as well as new ones. These harmonics are composite elements of the fundamental, no? The difference (for musical instruments) of string density for the range of musical instruments in our culture and others produce the same results. In that regard, there is a physics of sound that is ubiquitous and universal, just as there are predictable properties of light, gravity and atomic structure. Forgive me if I have not used the correct technical terminology for harmonics, overtones, partials, etc. But are harmonics and overtones not composite elements of a fundamental tone/sound/pitch inherent in that phenomena? Art is an abstract matter and creativity is a vast pallet of infinite possibilities, but what is wrong with considering the physics of sound as a starting point for musical composition? It appears to me that in the history of Western Music and Art rationality, deconstruction, analytical investigation as well as proximity to science and technology are hallmarks of our tradition. If theorists have spent the last two thousand years discussing the division of the monochord and fleshing out the math and proportions it proves my point. Not every composer is going to be involved in the physical properties of sound nor should they be. But it seems strange to me that in the 21st century after the post tonal era we are not more interested in the microcosm of sound. CERN is where the frontier of particle physics is being researched and our current knowledge of the universe, physics, astrophysics is for the most part evolving as we understand the phenomena of events, particles at the microcosm level. I suggest that this is fertile territory for music as well. The decentralization of tonality happened at the same time as the general theory of relativity was decentralizing a central reference point in physics - that is not a coincidence. 

Carson Farley 
University of Washington Alumnus
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