a performance dialogue

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Music, mathematics and embodied knowledge.

For a musician looking at the relationship between mathematics and music is like, having lived in the world of shadows and reflections, to then turn around and examine the objects creating those shadows and reflections, and the light that connects the two worlds. When we compose, perform or listen to music, we are engaging with number and geometry on multiple levels, consciously and unconsciously. The mathematical ‘data’ in music is understood and interacted with as musical phenomena - from how we count metre or hear pitch to how we comprehend harmonic motion or structure a fugue - as musical gesture and form. The mathematical knowledge we acquire or apply in learning music – counting, calculating, transposing – is embodied knowledge that we approach from a musical perspective. It becomes intuitive to us as musicians - a part of the way we are ‘musical’ rather than the way we are ‘mathematical’.

If mathematics is embodied within musical phenomena then its transformation is via the body. Musical gesture and form must make sense physically, on a human scale, in order to be perceived as music (though the boundaries of this perception are continually being challenged and extended). The mathematics that is manifest in music has a relationship to the ways our body perceives the world: both in terms of immediate sonic phenomena – scale, harmony and duration – and structure on the level of musical gesture, phrase or sentence, as well as the architectural dimensions of form, proportion and symmetry.

I am interested to investigate the embodied knowledge I possess as a musician in terms of the mathematics that underpins it, in order to extend and intensify my understanding of music. Because of the essential connection through the body, interacting with mathematics ‘live’ through performance facilitates the transfer of knowledge on deeper somatic and sensory levels. Choreography and sculpture both serve to underline the vital link with the body and senses by building connections with the music and with each other as well as the mathematical content. In this way our access to embodied knowledge becomes multi-sensory and multidimensional.

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