Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Are you a Mannes or a Mouse(s)?

Tomorrow I am heading out to New York for the Mannes Institute for Advanced Studies in Music Theory. As you can see from the preparation page, I have been rather busy doing my assigned readings for the last month. I'm in two workshops, Tonal Tension with Fred Lerdahl, and Music and Embodiment with Eric Clarke. Preparing for Fred's workshop is killing me, trying to get a grasp on his Tonal Pitch Space. But it is also very invigorating, makes me feel like I'm in grad school again. In fact, I will be with many of my former grad school compatriots, like Rich Randall and Ian Quinn. And to go really old school, I will be rooming with a friend from my undergraduate days, Peter Martens. This is more of a think tank than a workshop, as the website describes it: "The 2009 Mannes Institute on Music and The Mind will be a seminal collaborative think tank for serious music cognition and perception scholars from around the world." I'm very excited, and hope to have time to blog about it each day. Oh, plus I've been rocking the house with Rock Band 2, my Father's Day present.


Karl Henning said...

Yikes, all that reading! Looking forward to your reports from the trenches.


Armando said...

Man, kind of wish I could be there. Tonal Pitch Space gives me a headache, though. It's a book that makes me feel incredibly stupid.

Jim Plamondon said...

Two points.

First, Armando, it's not your fault that Tonal Pitch Space leaves you feeling stupid; it's all too abstract. You may fid it much easier to grasp if you use an isomorphic keyboard ( to explore tonal pitch spaces. An isomorphic keyboard captures, in its geometry, the structure of the underlying rank-2 temperament.

C-Thru Music (with which I am NOT affiliated) has a sale coming up on its AXiS 49 isomorphic keyboard (

Second, Lerdahl's work is also needlessly confusing in one respect (despite being excellent in nearly all other respects): it plays fast and loose with tuning, temperament, and timbre. These things are intimately related (see Sethares, Tuning Timbre Spectrum Scale, 1999). Lerdahl generally assumes the use of harmonic timbres and of 12-ET tuning (although occasionally wandering off), without ever being clear about the relationships between these things.

Understanding the relationships among tuning, timbre, and temperament is, I think, essential to understanding, using, *and extending* the concepts of tonal space, as described in this recent Master's thesis:

For example, the tonnetz of the syntonic temperament is generally a cylinder, snapping into a torus at every equal temperament, not just 12-ET.