Friday, March 21, 2008

Chopin and the Fourth Dimension

Science News reports on Dmitri Tymoczko's work with music and the geometry of hyperdimensional objects:
Music theorists have long found Chopin's E minor prelude puzzling. Although the chord progressions sound smooth to the ear, they don't quite follow the traditional rules of harmony. When Tymoczko looked at the piece and watched the composition's motion through his geometrical space, he saw that Chopin was moving in a systematic way among the different layers of the four-dimensional cubes. "It's almost as if he's an improviser with a set of rules and set of constraints," Tymoczko says.

What's particularly amazing, Tymoczko says, is that the mathematics needed to describe these spaces wasn't even developed in Chopin's time. Nevertheless, he says, "it is unquestionable that he had some cognitive representation of the space. So there was this period of history where the only way Chopin could express this abstract knowledge was through music. His knowledge of four-dimensional geometry was most efficiently expressed through piano pieces."

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