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pythagorean music

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  • Chris
    anyone read Evan Valens The number of things: pythagoras, geometry and humming strings ? From the sixties, it is a good introduction to some of the things
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1 1:15 PM
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      anyone read Evan Valens "The number of things: pythagoras, geometry
      and humming strings"? From the sixties, it is a good introduction to
      some of the things that impact is here on this list. I particularly
      like it as a primer for figurate numbers--best explanation of this
      topic by far.

      Anyway, I liked this nugget:

      In elaborating about the Pythagorean theorem and showing how a square
      can be broken down into composite triangles that illustrate the
      theorem, Evans uses the example of Egyptian rope stretchers (knotted
      in 12, you can approximate right angles by forming the rope into a
      triangle of 3,4 and 5 knots).

      Taking this example further, Evans says

      "the old Egyptian rope trick can be performed in another manner, with
      delightful results, by stretching a guitar string around three nails.
      The nails are separated by distances of 3, 4 and 5 units. the string
      can be tightened by a set-screw at one corner, and small pulleys at
      the other two corners will help keep the tension equal on all sides.

      When the three strings are plucked they will sound a musical chord, an
      inverted minor triad.

      if the longest side is tuned to G, the other two sides will sound B
      and E. this is the chord sounded by the top three strings of a guitar.

      now, this is a most unlikely event. an assortment of guitar-string
      triangles of random shapes is not likely to produce even on e sonorous
      triad. why should the simplest of right-angled triangles give us on e
      of the most common musical chords?"

      well, actually it is not a "most common musical chord". technically,
      G-B-E is an E-minor chord. nothing minor is "most common". however, I
      take his point to mean that the top three strings of a guitar is
      "pretty common".

      in case you are wondering what songs are played in E-minor, Red River
      Valley is. If that is not familiar, it is a common enough blues
      tuning. Skip James generally played in D-minor or E-minor--they are
      roughly equivalent tunings. So to get a feel for what a song sounds
      like in this Pythagorean tuning, check out the movie "O Brother Where
      Art Thou?" starring George Clooney. Not only does Clooney break his
      womanizing-mould and actually act in this movie, it features Chris
      Thomas playing a classic delta blues guitarist. Actually this is funny
      since his character's myth is build on the legend of Robert Johnson.
      However, the song he actually plays in the film is Skip James' "Hard
      Time Killin". Anyway, listen to the song and you get a sense of E-minor.

      And who said I couldn't connect Pythagoras and the blues? humbug.

      -Chris
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