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Week 4: The World's Ugliest Music

The history of score.

Leitmotif is a musical theme that recurs in the course of a work to evoke a particular character or situation.

What makes a piece "beautiful"?

Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis of University of Arkansas explains how repetition is key. It triggers a multitude of effects, from the psychology of "mere exposure", to how repetition changes the way we pay attention to sounds.“It [can] shift our attention to lower or higher level aspects of the sounds structure — levels where lots of the richest musical content resides,” Margulis said. A reoccurring leitmotif that drives the score and the theme, diving in and out of focus.

So what happens when the repetition is taken away? If repetition is what makes beautiful music, then is zero repetition "the world's most ugliest music"? Scott Rickard discusses this in the TED talk.

The World's Ugliest Music - Scott Rickard

To create pattern-free music, one must use mathematics to ensure that none of the notes repeat. Schoenberg first sought after the idea when he created the "12-tone row technique". Explained by Anthony Tommmasini, the 12-tone row is,

"Schoenberg’s use of systematized sets of all 12 pitches of the chromatic scale — all the keys on the piano from, say, A to G sharp — was a radical departure from tonality, the familiar musical language of major and minor keys."

The Original 12-Tone Row

To take this a step further, John Costas wanted to construct a perfectly pattern-free ping to use as a sonar ping for ships. So he teamed up with mathematician Solomon Golomb to use an 88x88 grid and fill it in with the multiplication of 3 to create prime-numbered notes that would never be repeated.

This is then mapped onto a piano scale, and the piece is called "The Perfect Ping".

Here is an exert of the performance from the same TED Talk:

Schorenberg's efforts for "emancipation of dissonance", which he believed that music was not “atonal”.

"He rather broadened the tonal spectrum, disregarded the historical terms consonance and dissonance, and freed the twelve pitches from a central tonal centre."

To free the notes and make music beautiful again, is the Perfect Ping the epitome of Schoenberg's emancipation of dissonance? Or is it the world's ugliest music? The point of view is very subjective, but I must say that the piece is neither charming nor displeasing to the ear.




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