«The Polyphonic Mind» lecture (@ Catholic U. of America) by Peter Pesic
  • Geremia
    Posts: 194


    Peter Pesic is a physicist, musician, and tutor at St. John's College (Santa Fe). St. John's College's science curriculum is used at Thomas Aquinas College. His book Music & the Making of Modern Science (sound examples) is the only book I know of to argue that music has been the driving force behind scientific discoveries. Very fascinating
  • An exceptionally worthy contribution, Geremia! I shall order both books tomorrow. What an admirable discussion of polyphonic thought. Music is, after all, thought.
    Thanked by 1ServiamScores
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,368
    This lecture was part of the annual School of Philosopy Fall Lecture series at Catholic University, devoted in 2014 to Music and Philosophy. One can see the eminent Thomistic scholar Msgr. John Wippel arriving at the beginning of the lecture.

    All of the lectures were videotaped and can be found here https://philosophy.catholic.edu/lectures/fall-series/past-series/2014.html

    I had the privilege of attending these lectures, and heartily recommend all but the Nov 21 one, which was pitched too generally to be very interesting.

    I also had the delightful experience of attending St. John's as an undergraduate. Music is an integral component of the all-required Great Books curriculum.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,368
    The video does not record what turned out to be a very lively Q & A. At CUA this goes on formally for about an hour and is continued informally during a nice reception in the foyer. At St. John's the Question Period after lectures is in many ways the highlight of the evening, often lasting several hours.

    Iirc, one of the questions raised after this lecture, as after the previous lecture, was whether polyphony divides our attention between God and man, and keeps us from focusing entirely on God.

    One might say that chant has a unity of attention and intention. It is as it were a single voice crying out to God. Polyphony adds a dialogical element among the singers, who answer each other as well as crying out to God.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • whether polyphony divides our attention between God and man, and keeps us from focusing entirely on God.


    Wow!

    I shall have to watch this (when time permits) and learn more about this gentleman.
  • Solemn High Mass allows Polyphony....
    Welshmen, untrained singers....

    Thank you Geremia.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,368
    Chris, to be clear, this was more of an audience question throughout the course of the series rather than part of the presentation.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,617
    This immediately reminded me of a phenomenon that was discovered about 10 years ago by NASA which had me quite taken in. The explanation is here:

    https://youtu.be/jgQ9THRckJ0

    example here:

    https://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/archive/PIA17045_20130906-640.mp4

    I have one of the four hour long sound files of the plasma waves as Voyager captured them travelling through space. I have listened to it many times from start to finish. The polyphonic structural threads occur mainly as a metamorphosis of elongated pitches weaving in and out of each other. The time expanse makes it less recognizable as polyphony, but if you begin the recording at say, 10 minute intervals along the entire four hours and play each succeeding section for 20 seconds, you will definitely more easily recognize and hear the uniqueness of the intervals along the entire path of time.

    It is quite fascinating, and is immediately identifiable as polyphonic music that occurs in the cosmos.

    Some of my musi-theoretical instruction delves into the very simple and beautiful elements of the harmonic series which also touches on this phenomenon in that all of our musical making carries with it a type of polyphony whereby we activate the harmonic series, even by playing a single fundamental. This occurs very little in synthesis (simulicra) as the harmonic series is practically eliminated as it focuses on a single pitch without the relational harmonic spectrum and accompanying tension produced by the overtones which naturally exist within truly acoustical sonorities. It also must be acknowledged that an electronic medium is almost completely Uni-directional and is practically void of the property of naturally occuring overtones. You might call this sterility in sound. Naturally occuring mediums are Omni-directional. This is why a real pipe organ feels as though it is coming from no particular direction and literally surrounds the listener. The same is also true of a choir. ... this is not true of electronically produced music.

    It is also important to note that any medium producing any fundamental or partial also immediately causes naturally occuring polyphonic subtleties within the resonance of its immediate environmental surroundings. This is what we call sympathetic vibrations which are also almost always unpredictable. This is why the same choir singing in the country church will sound completely different singing in a Basilica... the differences which emerge are the unpredictable (what I would call the mysticism of sound or music) which is then overlaid on the directly sounding medium, and is joined together and perceived by the listener with all of its subtleties. This musical 'reality' as opposed to musical 'sterility' is what engages us or loses us to the present moment.

    This is why musical recordings can become so "boring" after repeated hearings... even excellent natural mediums recorded in wonderfully natural acoustical environments. It is because our brains pick up on the subtleties of constantly newly revealed (mystical polyphony) which emerge even when music is repeated in the exact same location by the exact same performers. No two performances will ever be the same.

    We know that the church does not allow for recorded music in its liturgies. I don't know if this is part of that reason, but I think it is intricately linked to the phenomenon.

    This is why simulacrum, are in a sense, so 'dangerous' to our need and our constant absorption of mystical polyphonic harmonics. It does not occur (or occurs very little, almost in vaccuum) because it is not a true acoustical medium.

    It is an interesting study in the opposite direction - why entirely produced electronic music can put one in a trance. It is in a certain sense, completely devoid of any mystical properties whatsoever and literally gives the mind over to complete musical sterility... 'audio starvation'... even though one is immersed in sound. (e.g., Deadmou5e) [many examples here: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=deadmou5e]

    Hypnocurrency is a truly good example of the musical vaccuum. Every "LIVE" performance sounds exactly the same.

    https://youtu.be/RT2No1vusjg

    UPDATE

    More on the harmonic series:

    The very basic elements as explained by Leonard Bernstein

    https://youtu.be/3TlQryUBz3E

    Two websites I use to explain the harmonic series to my students:

    https://harmonicarium.org/app/

    https://alexanderchen.github.io/harmonics/?howmany=16

    NOTE: at the very end of the URL, you can change the number of harmonics displayed and which you are able to perform. (try replacing "=16" with "=36" . . . you can then easily realize where we get our chord structures, chromatic scale and more...

    3rd through 7th partials = Dominant 7th chord
    8th through 12 partials = first five notes of the Lydian mode
    11th through 21st partials = chromatic scale
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  • Elmar
    Posts: 382
    It is also important to note that any medium producing any fundamental or partial also immediately causes naturally occuring polyphonic subtleties within the resonance of its immediate environmental surroundings. This is what we call sympathetic vibrations which are also almost always unpredictable. This is why the same choir singing in the country church will sound completely different singing in a Basilica...
    As far as I know (organists, please confirm or dispute!) this also occurs between different organ registers, or even within the same register, such that almost identical frequencies within the tuning can become exactly identical (through their strong 'coupling' within the organ case); something that simulacra cannot simulate (yet) to my knowledge.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,617
    @Elmar

    You are so right, and my heart pains when I think of the musical depravation so many of us suffer in our very own churches just because we have bought into a worthless (maybe even harmful) substitute.

    There are many nuances of sympathetic vibration in the pipe organ, the organ case alone of which is indespensable including the type of wood, thickness, width of grain, proximity to the pipes themselves, and many other aspects of an organ case that contribute to its resonant harmonics and inherent beauty.

    One obvious (or not so obvious) fact is although the pipe speaks from its mouth it is the entire pipe that resonates (vibrates) at the same frequency and “shakes” the organ case at that same frequency which then sets ablaze an untold spectrum of harmonics that also change depending upon the various fundamentals simultaneously employed or successively introduced or terminated. (Also the instrument itself changes and mellows over time).

    The simulacra compared to this wonderfully great and beautiful instrument is truly like comparing a real flower to a synthetic look-a-like. The synthetic is not aromatic, does not draw bees, nor contribute to honey, does not breathe out oxygen, and simply does not live or contribute to life in any meaningful way. Appearance alone has trumped all at the expense of all that is truly valuable.

    The pipe organ does these things but on an acoustic and spiritual level par excellence. The mind, heart and soul of most listeners may not understand (intellectually) any of these benefits but most assuredly receive their life giving benefits, if one is so fortunate to regularly reside within the confines of its musical activity.

    I had the great honor and priveledge to be the Choirmaster and Organist at St Benedict Church in Richmond Va a number of years ago. The instrument there was the Pasi Opus V (my avatar on this forum). The church was 1/2 a city block long. One could hardly distinguish a difference in tonal richness and beauty and the volume of sound whether you were sitting at the console or standing at the altar. It was stunning on so many levels.
  • Elmar
    Posts: 382
    The mind, heart and soul of most listeners may not understand (intellectually) any of these benefits but most assuredly receive their life giving benefits, if one is so fortunate to regularly reside within the confines of its musical activity.
    Plus: I wonder how many really hear the difference; I remember like yesterday the "wow!" effect when the organ in our parish church had undergone a (desperately needed) full restoration.
    Not the slightest doubt I would have been deeply impressed even without any musical training; though while I was listening in awe to the postlude, most people rushed for the coffee, chatting...

    P.S. What is '1/2 a city block long' in continental-European units???
  • Andrew_Malton
    Posts: 982
    Francis that's the first time I've heard in such detail why a real organ can be so different from a synthesizer. Thanks.

    Elmar: according to Google maps St Benedict's is 45 meters from the west door to the east wall of the apse.
    Thanked by 2francis Elmar
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,617
    @Elmar
    Plus: I wonder how many really hear the difference; I remember like yesterday the "wow!" effect when the organ in our parish church had undergone a (desperately needed) full restoration.

    Not the slightest doubt I would have been deeply impressed even without any musical training; though while I was listening in awe to the postlude, most people rushed for the coffee, chatting...

    Let them live with the true beauty for a few years. Then one Sunday tell them you are switching over to a Yamaha grand piano or a three manual Allen... because it's more cost effective... report back please... (if you haven't been fired.)

    {At the present I am stuck with two Allen organs where I play for two churches... The three manual Rennaisance truly reflects the philosophy and architecture of a typical VII parish where it was installed. I prefer to have the choir sing a cappella than use the ugly monstrosity. The two manual Protege is better and in a traditional church, but only because it is in a choir loft, has a pretty good speaker system, and I know what to avoid... and you do have to avoid things or you could cause children to cry.

    However, after "driving" the Pasi week in and week out a few years back (see attachments), I now actually regret having to put on my organ shoes to sit at either Allen.}
    Thanked by 2Elmar CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,747
    The Zimbelstern for the Pasi in Richmond, VA, was built by Christopher Bono of Taylor-Boody.

    @Francis. Did you ever get to play the Fisk Op. 112 at St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond? It's spectacular. It was great singing with this instrument when I sang in Zephyrus.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,617
    Forgot about that! TNX CHG. Was very restrained in when I used it. Most def for Holy Thurs, Easter and Christmas, and maybe a handful of holy days. TB... another great builder. In fact, I think I may have had Christopher there a time or two for tuning, etc.

    @CHGiffen

    I did not even know there was a Fisk there or I would have definitely 'tracked' it down and jumped on... I seem to recollect that Richmond has a wealth of wonderful organs, and the Pasi was near if not at the top of the heap.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Elmar
    Posts: 382
    Let them live with the true beauty for a few years. Then one Sunday tell them you are switching over to a Yamaha grand piano or a three manual Allen... because it's more cost effective... report back please... (if you haven't been fired.)
    It's my home parish, not where I work - so they cannot fire me, haha!
    Although... I started an initiative after the $150,000 restoration to invite organists from the region for vespers, concerts or whatever. Our organist was in favor, but the idea got shot down by the parish council because this wouldn't be cost effective...
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,617
    cost effective...
    don't you love those words... is the worship of Almighty God cost effective?? I think the answer to that has become very clear in the past 12 months.

    @Elmar

    Where are you located? Perhaps I can come out and give it a whirl!
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 1,184
    I wish the Q/A session was attached.
    This presentation was very interesting, and I can only imagine the Q/A to be lively and informative.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,617
    .
  • Elmar
    Posts: 382
    @francis
    I took the words 'cost efficient' from your post above - might have put them in purple for better understanding. It was not really about efficiency but there where financial issues, won't go into details here... I was baffled that a question about (initially) some 0.5% of the restoration costs was effectively the show-stopper.

    Add to the problem that the choir is situated downstairs (yes, there is a simulacrum there) such that most of the investors got their acoustical reward only for a few minutes at the beginning and the end of Sunday mass - not that anyone seems to have complained, but our organist wasn't amused. location: NL

  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,368
    Not sure how this conversation drifted from the posted lecture to this old argument about digital organs.

    Regarding the origins of polyphony, I once made the mistake of discussing flying buttresses with a class of 6th graders.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,617
    {purple} We can migrate to flying buttresses now... along with... organs? {/purple}

    Kathy... we know exactly what you suffered over that one...

    Since I was quite an active participator in this thread, I suspect you are asking me the question directly... yes?

    OFFICIAL DOCUMENTATION ON DRIFTING TOPICS

    I listened to the OP link...
    lower in the thread you posted another link with other topics... one of which was about the 'music of the spheres'... (love that subject)
    of course, talking about harmonics, overtones and harmony, atonal music and more...
    this led me to comment on the fact that simulacra have NO harmonics whatsover...
    ...and that real organs have an immense propensity to increase the harmonic texture within itself and its environment...

    hope this brings clarity!
    ==========
    Nonetheless, there should be more input on the first link too... anyone? I am listening to the OP link again.

    (perhaps chonak can separate out the unrelated comments into a different thread?) thanks for the link to the other lectures...

    Geremia... mea culpa for drifting...
    Thanked by 1Elmar
  • Elmar
    Posts: 382
    continue drifting...
    ...this led me to comment on the fact that simulacra have NO harmonics whatsover...
    Well, the DO have harmonics - but strictly the sampled ones, not the ones that come from the harmony. And that's the striking thing in polyphony (ha, back to topic!) that the tones and their respective overtones harmonize with each other in constantly evolving ways.
    It's amazing when you hear this happen without even understanding how it works - and even more amazing once you start to understand it!
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,617
    moving everything to new thread. (moderator... can you assist please... thanks)
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,747
    " moving everything to new thread. "

    Be careful what you sew.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,617
    sorry... listened to another link on this thread and confused it with this one...

    hate getting needled, however...
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,747
    How else are we going to keep the audience in stitches?

    Kinda like the bad seamstress whose motto was: You rip what you sew.
    Thanked by 1francis
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,368
    A-hem.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen francis
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,617
    I Gather that the Notions of my Piping is a Gore