The Linguistics of Music

story  Michael Betancourt, June 28, 2004 all rights reserved.


Nature is running an article on Physicist Damian Zanette (of the Balseiro Institute in Bariloche, Argentina) who has done research to compare tonal and atonal musical structures for their simularity to language.

Nature notes that all of the pieces showed a text-like distribution, especially for the higher-ranking notes. And the result is stronly linguistic in its distribution.

The text of Zanette's article is available on-line. Here is the abstract:

This article discusses the extension of the notion of context from linguistics to the domain of music. In language, the statistical regularity known as Zipf's law -which concerns the frequency of usage of different words- has been quantitatively related to the process of text generation. This connection is established by Simon's model, on the basis of a few assumptions regarding the accompanying creation of context. Here, it is shown that the statistics of note usage in musical compositions are compatible with the predictions of Simon's model. This result, which gives objective support to the conceptual likeness of context in language and music, is obtained through automatic analysis of the digital versions of several compositions. As a by-product, a quantitative measure of context definiteness is introduced and used to compare tonal and atonal works.

What I wonder is could a similar study be done with the structures and forms of visual music and what would the results be?

Copyright © Michael Betancourt  June 28, 2004  all rights reserved.

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