World Music's DIVERSITY and Data Visualisation's EXPRESSIVE POWER collide. A galaxy of INTERACTIVE, SCORE-DRIVEN instrument model and theory tool animations is born.

Monday, June 27, 2016


World Music Systems and Comparative Musicology

The classical or western 12-tone equal temperament music system is just one of many in use worldwide. We look at the potential -using data visualisation techniques- for raising awareness of alternative music systems and comparative musicology, both in a world and experimental music context.

Big, brave, open-source, non-profit, community-provisioned, cross-cultural and crackpot crazy. → Like, share, back-link, pin, tweet and mail. Hashtags? For the crowdfunding: #VisualFutureOfMusic. For the future live platform: #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory. Or just register as a potential crowdfunder..

World Music Systems

The 12-tone, equal temperament music system is just one of many in use worldwide, but it’s tonal homogeneity and compatibility across octave boundaries (the ease with which a wide range of instruments can play together) and the vast and extremely accessible pool of teaching material has helped it to more or less worldwide commercial dominance.

Stretch the envelope to embrace world music as a whole, however, and different conventions apply: other temperaments and intonations, number of notes per octave, scales, modes and tonal (read 'cultural') spaces. Here, compatibility can be severely compromised - on several levels.

This is a vast and (for ‘western’ ears) challenging field of exploration. We lack on the one hand the cultural experience and exposure to truly appreciate the qualities of much of this music, and on the other, the comparative musicology tools to relate them back to what we do understand. This is about to change.

music configuration tuning temperament colouring notes octave classification channels layout scale length. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
Music Configuration Freedoms

Experimental music stretches this envelope yet further. Musical interfaces of the future will allow much greater (possibly even shape-changing) configuration flexibility, enhanced interfacing sensitivity, tonal variety and new modes of interaction, opening up a galaxy of new possibilities. With growing experience, the tonal system on which a piece of music is based may, for dramatic effect, even be allowed to change with time.

Music Visualisation: Heritage Finding New Expression Through Microtonal Notations #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
Heritage Finding New Expression
Through Microtonal Notations
Music is undergoing an explosion of experiment and development - entirely paralleling that of science and technology in it’s depth and reach. 

It's helpful in this context to see the various instrument configurations and underlying music systems as respectively nodes and vectors in a musical continuum.

With it’s roots in mathematics -which lends itself to algorithm- artificial intelligence and machine learning can be expected to bring both new freedoms and new challenges. In modelling it's parts, I hope we become more familiar with the whole.

Comparative Musicology

In-browser, score-driven animations open up fascinating possibilities for musical learning, immersion, exchange - and comparison.

tonal systems diversity and cultural exchange possibilities. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
Unlimited Musical Possibilities

Notation is simply a base for tonal mapping on an instrument, one notation source sometimes relatable to several tuning systems. That is to say that (for example) instruments tuned to a system other than the western equal temperament can in some cases be played while referring to a standard western score.
Happily, tonal systems -whether on an instrument model or on the basis of a theory tool (an abstraction)- can be visually compared. This draws us into the world of comparative, or 'what if?' musicology.
There are often many ways of visualising these tonal differences: waveforms, relative note positions on a linear or logarithmic scale, chromatic circle or circle of 5ths, frequency scatterplots, coordinate systems, chromatic helix, and so on.

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Indeed, with many graphical theory representations available, we have the opportunity to compare theory tools, side-by-side on the screen.

Music theory is only one side of the story: we have the possibility of comparison not just in an abstract theoretical sense, but in the sense of practical impact on instrumental use.

At a simple level we may wish to compare the impact of various equal temperament guitar tunings on fingering and hence tension, timbre and dynamics.

Wandering slightly further afield, could a just-intoned turkish ba─člama or saz can be played alongside a 12-tone equal-temperament instrument, such as clarinet or african kora? Just how far apart, tonally, are the notes? What happens if we move to a higher octave?

Going further afield, how about comparison of the note namings, frequencies and intervals of the arabic ney with that of the traditional chinese Dizi (transverse flute) or it's modern counterpart, the Xindi?

This would also helpful to an established player on one instrument curious to know which other instruments (and especially timbres) would be available at little or no learning overhead. In this way, a search based on the violin's musical configuration characteristics would reveal that banjo, bouzouki and mandolin are very similar, all sharing the same layout and pitch classes, if not necessarily the same scale length or octave range.

At the End of the Day

Community Dance Drives Wellbeing
Music and dance have held communities together over millennia, and a renaissance in the coming era of widespread unemployment may, along with other social value initiatives, offer humanity some continued sense of wellbeing.

‘Social’ music-making, however, continues to imply instrumental compatibility and a common musical language, which -who knows?- may just as easily bring us full circle as into wholly new constellations.

Whichever outcome, if the fuel on this journey is understanding, then the vehicle is a comprehensive world music aggregator platform. To date, this has not been attempted. This will now change.


About Cantillate -

Autodidact. Laird o' the Windy Wa's. Serial Failure with Attitude. Bit of a Dreamer..

Comments, questions and (especially) critique welcome.