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Dmitri Tymoczko, Princeton University, USA: "The geometry of music"

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  • Distinguished Lecture
When Nov 20, 2008
from 04:30 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Strathcona Music Building, 555 Sherbrooke St. West, Clara Lichtenstein Recital Hall (C-209)
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In my talk, I will explain how to translate basic concepts of music theory into the language of contemporary geometry.  I will show that musicians commonly abstract away from various kinds of musical information -- including the order, octave, and specific pitch level of groups of notes.  This process produces a family of exotic geometrical spaces, or orbifolds: for example, two-note chords live on a Mobius strip, while three-note chord-types live on a cone.  Understanding these spaces can help us to understand general constraints on musical style, as well as the inner workings of specific pieces.  The talk will be accessible to non-musicians and non-mathematicians, and will exploit interactive 3D computer models that allow us to see and hear music simultaneously.

Dmitri Tymoczko is a composer and music theorist who is an Associate Professor at Princeton University.  He was born in 1969 in Northampton, Massachusetts.  He studied music and philosophy at Harvard University, where his primary teachers were Milton Babbitt, Leon Kirchner, Bernard Rands, Stanley Cavell, and Hilary Putnam.  In 1992 he received a Rhodes Scholarship to do graduate work in philosophy at Oxford University.  He received a Ph. D. in music composition from the University of California, Berkeley, where his teachers included Jorge Liderman, Olly Wilson, David Milnes, Steve Coleman, Richard Taruskin, and Edmund Campion.


Dmitri’s music has won numerous prizes and awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship, a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, two Hugh F. MacColl Prizes from Harvard University, and the Eisner and DeLorenzo prizes from the University of California, Berkeley.  He has received fellowships from Tanglewood, the Ernest Bloch festival, the Mannes Institute for Advanced Studies in Music Theory, and has been the composer in residence at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and was awarded the Arthur Scribner Bicentennial Preceptorship from Princeton University.  His music has been performed and by the Brentano Quartet, the Pacifica Quartet, Ursula Oppens, the Network for New Music, the Synergy Vocal Ensemble, the Gregg Smith Singers, the Janus Trio, the Cleveland Contemporary Youth Orchestra, the San Francisco Contemporary Players, and others.  In addition to composing concert music, Dmitri enjoys playing rock and jazz.

Dmitri’s writing has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Boston Review, Civilization, Integral, Lingua Franca, Music Theory Online, Music Theory Spectrum, and Transition.  His 2006 article “The Geometry of Musical Chords” was the first music theory article published by Science in its 127-year history, and was discussed in Time, Nature, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, NPR, Physics Today, and elsewhere. (A second article, written with Clifton Callender and Ian Quinn, appeared in Science in April 2008.)  As a result of this work, he has been invited to speak to audiences of physicists, musicians, philosophers, mathematicians, and geneticists.  He is currently writing a book for Oxford University Press about what makes music sound good.

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