Saturday, January 29, 2011

Creating Simplicity: How Music Fools the Ear (ScienceDaily)

The key point of the following article may be hard for many readers to understand, but it has a provocative connection with Suzanne Haik-Vantoura's model of how the biblical accents work as a musical system.


ScienceDaily (Jan. 24, 2011) — What makes music beautiful? The best compositions transcend culture and time -- but what is the commonality which underscores their appeal?

New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Research Notes suggests that the brain simplifies complex patterns, much in the same way that 'lossless' music compression formats reduce audio files, by removing redundant data and identifying patterns.

There is a long held theory that the subconscious mind can recognise patterns within complex data and that we are hardwired to find simple patterns pleasurable. Dr Nicholas Hudson used 'lossless' music compression programs to mimic the brain's ability to condense audio information. He compared the amount of compressibility of random noise to a wide range of music including classical, techno, rock, and pop, and found that, while random noise could only be compressed to 86% of its original file size, and techno, rock, and pop to about 60%, the apparently complex Beethoven's 3rd Symphony compressed to 40%.

Dr Nicholas Hudson says "Enduring musical masterpieces, despite apparent complexity, possess high compressibility" and that it is this compressibility that we respond to. So whether you are a die hard classicist or a pop diva it seems that we chose the music we prefer, not by simply listening to it, but by calculating its compressibility.

For a composer -- if you want immortality, write music which sounds complex but that, in terms of its data, is reducible to simple patterns.


Here is the connection with Haik-Vantoura's model of cantillation. The melodic-verbal line, all by itself, is deceptively simple. Each chanted word or group of words linked by a hyphen involves five melodic factors and five verbal factors determining meaning, each requiring a choice between at least two possible options. Two to the tenth power is 1,024 - so in some fashion I'm not yet learned enough to spell out, 1,024 bits of information are involved. That seems to me to be a high level of information to process word by word. And we have not yet taken into account the need for accompaniment or the implied vocal arrangements (solo, chorus, two choruses, or combinations of all three). And yet, all of that must be "unpacked" from a highly abbreviated written notation and its relationship to the words it supports. And for most people, at least, the results certainly are memorable!

I wonder if Dr. Hudson would be willing to experiment with any of Haik-Vantoura's recordings?

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Somewhere On the Mountain (Blogspot) - Psalms 27 Score

Recently I got a request for the score of Psalms 27 as published by Suzanne Haik-Vantoura - from a man named Martin Fleming. I wanted to record his thoughts in passing on my reponse to his request, not because I think what I did is any great thing but because I want to find that link again with ease should I ever wish to.

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Richard Dumbrill and Michael Levy (BAR and YouTube)

The above videos are by Michael Levy (top) and Richard Dumbrill (bottom). They are two different arrangements of Prof. Dumbrill's reconstruction of the famous Hurrian cult hymn described on this link to the "Daily News" of Biblical Archaeology Review. Prof. Dumbrill's version is the strict reconstruction with a slight accompaniment added; Mr. Levy's version is the "klezmer" version, with more improvisation (but with the virtue of actually being played on a lyre).

Prof. Dumbrill is associated with ICONEA, which has seminars from time to time as well as an annual conference (YouTube video). This year's conference is on the oud, itself the predecessor to the Western lute.

John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)