Recently I’ve stumbled upon a splendid theory about harmony and the way our brain perceives it by Daniel Shawcross Wilkerson. Not only was it highly convincing but written beautifully too. In other words, this is golden and I highly recommend the article to anyone who is remotely interested in music. The author, however, doesn’t talk that much about melody and rhythm, but nonetheless, I believe that the approach he took (combining physical and computational parts) to explain harmony is a major step towards a better understanding of music and better music in general.
However, I suspect that many musicians would disregard it as unnatural and would make an appeal to the argument that music should come from emotion, not math. What nonsense! I wouldn’t mind listening to music produced by AI if it was any good. After all, it’s not the music itself is what matters, it’s the meaning we attach to it. If we learn to harness our understanding of sound to make the music more pleasurable to our ears, would it suddenly become less pleasurable? See, this question even sounds preposterous because it contradicts itself. Does the understanding of neurotransmitters and brain chemistry make emotions less beautiful? I can go on forever.
The deeper understanding doesn’t ruin the beauty, it emphasizes it. Here’s a snippet from an interview with Richard Feynman:
I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.
– Richard Feynman