Music and Science Connection

If we take a (very) broad, retrospective look at things, music has been interwoven with the sciences – nay information – since its inception. From Pythagorean and other tuning systems to the particular mechanics of individual instruments, to the emergence of audio technology – the world of music is essentially a world of information bathed in sound. Thanks to more recent studies in neuroscience, we’ve learned that music affects our consciousness, cognition, and other mental processes in ways that not only define how we listen but also (often) trigger our most primal and instinctive reactions and emotions.These phenomena are documented in studies, numerous books (such as Oliver Sacks’s Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain), and fascinating articles, such as this one featured in a recent New York Times ‘Sunday Review’ of The Opinion Pages. Yes, information is inherent in music, and that information tends to manifest itself in ultra-unique ways.

 

Composers have long been familiar with these connections (if only subconsciously), but only in the 20th century did they start outwardly exploring them (and their potential) in terms of musical material. More recently in the musical world, the data-driven sciences (e.g., probability and statistics, applied mathematics, analytics, psychology, economics, etc.) have taken hold, being given new form and new meaning through composition. In the last few decades, there seems to have been somewhat of a “surge” in composers and sound artists deriving entire pieces of music from (specific pieces of) information, information theory, and/or raw data sets. While some composers focus on theoretical or philosophical aspects, others are concerned with hard evidence. Fascinatingly, but not surprisingly, certain composers of late have become interested in the data itself (lists of facts, figures, percentages, rankings, and charts) and have tasked themselves with giving sound and musical shape to these seemingly sterile, systematic findings.