Music Is Math

December 19, 2010

Big thanks to the Behance Network for turning me on to the amazing work of Tatiana Plakhova, whose series “Music Is Math” is a meditation on the mathematical nature of sound, expressed in exciting and complex visualizations. Her work is grounded in exploring patterns and repeated forms, but she does so with a celestial eye and encourages us to consider tiny aspects of reality as being microcosms unto themselves.

The image above could fit equally as well in a NASA photo gallery as it could in a physicist’s treatise on string theory, yet it was inspired by music. Mathematical patterns and recursive vertices weave in and out of all three topics, but it took an artist as talented as Tatiana to bring the similarities into bright focus.

You can order prints and wallpapers at Complexity Graphics


Platonic… Music?

July 9, 2010

Courtesy Jay Kennedy

“Looking at Plato’s works in their original scroll form, he noticed that every 12 lines there was a passage that discussed music.” – excerpt from  “A Musical Message Discovered In Plato’s Works

This article is fascinating to me, not because of the DaVinci Code-like revelation, but rather the emphasis on the number 12. It is a story that, yet again, links mathematics and music. It also dovetails nicely with a post of mine from January 2009 (“Twelve“), while referencing Pythagoras and the importance placed on ratio and proportion (also detailed here, “The Golden Page“)

There is no real conclusion drawn from the NPR feature, so we are left wondering why the preeminent thinker of 300 B.C. felt strongly enough about music to encode its defining principles into an otherwise non-musical work. The real takeaway here, and this is irrefutable: Plato felt compelled to draw connections between various arts and disciplines. Perhaps by conceptually linking disparate ideas, Plato believed he could reconcile the conflict and strife that always seem to arise when concepts appear at odds. (Science vs. religion, math vs. art, sculpture vs. painting, etc…)

These links and connections, as expressed through music, are what BlogSounds is all about.

The Golden Page

May 29, 2009


This Information Age we’re living in is full of knowledge, most of which is free and entirely at our fingertips. Yet despite the litany of sites offering free downloadable copies of classics, the world at large remains largely unread. Why?

Perhaps its because the words are not on a page.

You may argue that words are words, and can be read wherever they appear. While this is true I argue that the medium matters. A lot. More than we may realize. Amazon’s Kindle is trying to address this issue, which is this: People want to read things in a format that suits one’s field of vision.

I dont think this is a conscious choice. It’s simply a more comfortable reading experience when you’re looking at something your eye is able to take in without trouble. This is why reading a novel on your computer screen, or scanning through a treatise typed on a billboard, will never be best practice. The medium matters.

So what, then, of music?

The term “medium” or “format” in music relates to the way in which the sound is recorded and listened to, and can range from LP’s to streaming mp3’s.  And the format does matter. Audiophiles who swear by the warmth of long-playing records sometimes have a hard time enjoying the experience  of listening to music on an iPod Shuffle. Similarly, Apple-philes find that the portability and interactive nature of the iPod and iPod Touch make listening to music more fun, and find LP’s antiquated, crackly, and inconvenient.

In the end it amounts to personal preference, but always remember that the way you intake certain art forms can affect your opinion more than the art itself. The subtle way that content relates to medium is an overlooked aspect of preference.

(For further reading into the mysterious nature of aesthetics, check out the Wikipedia article on The Golden Ratio: )

Chords as Math: Solving a Musical Puzzle

November 12, 2008


Believe it or not, nobody ever knew what the first chord of “Hard Day’s Night” was. It’s a clangy, jangly thing played on a 12-string Rickenbacker guitar, and kicks off one of the most famous songs in the Beatles’ extremely famous catalog. Despite repeated efforts and sophisticated methods, it remained a mystery sound–A stack of notes that couldn’t be identified for sure.

Until now.

The great blog NoiseAddicts has the whole story here. I won’t spoil the surprise outcome, but it involves a mathematical calculation called Fourier transform and James Brown.

It illuminates yet another way music influences mathematics, and vice versa. Some argue that music is simply audible math, but this doesn’t hit on the emotional power of the art. Still, math is the set of rules governing reality, and sounds are certainly real. But both math and music are intangibles; you can’t see or touch them, which makes them more like one another than other aspects of reality.

As the article points out:

“They’ve found that children that listen to music do better at math, because math and music both use the brain in similar ways. The best music is analytical and pattern-filled and mathematics has a lot of aesthetics to it. They complement each other well.”

Also, further evidence that the Beatles were geniuses.

Musical Trio

October 13, 2008

“What of invisible beauty? There are patterns in the air. Sound waves that can make our spirits rise.”

Patterns and Beauty: The Mathematics of Music

That quote is from a short video clip on One segment describes how Pythagoras discovered the mathematics of music after passing by a blacksmith’s shop: hammers of different weights would create different sounds when dropped, the differences of each corresponding to a mathematical ratio.

One of the people interviewed in this clip, Frederick Turner, uttered a curious sentence:

“…and so there’s this wonderful threefold connection between a human mind…, the mathematics themselves, and the physical world.”

You should note that Pythagoras’ most famous theorem happens to apply to triangles, and that the minimum amount of notes necessary to create a chord is three.

Perhaps it’s true, as ancient Roman poet Virgil once wrote, that “the gods delight in odd numbers.”

Cultural Lessons from a Banker

September 17, 2008

The recent financial crisis has sharpened the focus on banking institutions that have not collapsed. The dire and painful lessons learned by Fannie Mae and Lehman Brothers is causing savvy minds to find out what the other side is doing right.

The latest post on the Mavericks At Work blog features a few of the people behind these wise corporations, and offers some insights into their stability and success through tough times. Hudson City Bancorp and ING Direct are the prime examples, and ING Direct’s famously intrepid CEO and visionary, Arkadi Kuhlmann, speaks in curiously artistic terms about his approach to banking and mortgage lending.

So, what can an artist learn from a banker?:

“We as individual leaders operate inside a cultural context. The question is, Do you want to try to influence the culture that you’re in, or do you want the culture that you’re in to overwhelm you?” – Arkadi Kuhlmann, ING Direct’s founder and CEO

Another excerpt from the Mavericks post: “Every person who tries to do real innovation is going to be tempted by money, greed, acceptance, being in the middle of the action,” Kuhlmann says. “But at the core there is one fundamental difference: I know why I’m here. I want to make a difference. If I was into this just for making money, being a big accepted banker, I would have been tempted. But that’s not why I’m here. I am trying to build something that changes the business, that allows me to stay on the right side of the discussion.”

He’s speaking of business principles, but I hear it as a mantra for artistic freedom. That these words came from a banker during a period of intense financial meltdown should not faze you: the connections between the arts and the business world are more plentiful than you may think. In the same way mathematicians instinctively judge an equation’s validity by its aesthetic beauty, the great minds of business make decisions based on larger cultural principles.

As proven by ING, viewing your endeavor as a work of art may be the surest path to success.