Which aspects of music can be described by quantitative models?

Music - Chaos, Fractals, and Information
Jan Beran

“ repulsive monster, dealing wild Atail-lashing serpent, a wounded

and furious blows as it stiffens into its death agony.” These were the comments of a critic after a performance of Beethoven’s second symphony in the early 19th century. About Bartok’s compositions, a critic wrote: “Some can be played better with the elbows, others with the flat of the hand. None require fingers to perform or ears to listen to.” On August 1, 1919, The Musical Times in London said of Strawinsky’s Sacre du Printemps: “The music of Le Sacre du Printemps baffles verbal description.... Practically it has no relation to music at all as most of us understand the word...” These comments exemplify the fundamental problem underlying judgement and analysis of music, namely the absence of a clear objective criterion that would tell “right” from “wrong.” This is in contrast to genuinely quantitative sciences, such as physics or chemistry, where it may be assumed that a true answer exists and can be found by repeated experiments and appropriate theoretical modeling. In music, there is usually no clear definition of optimality or, if there is, no unique optimal

Ludwig van Beethoven

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

answer exists. Moreover, not all questions in musicology can be answered by repeated experiments. Consider, for instance, the task of finding musical structures in composed music. Traditional musical analysis starts with historic information that helps us to focus on structures that are likely to be present. For example, if we analyze

Johan Sebastian Bach

a classical sonata, a harmonic analysis or an analysis of motifs is based on the well-defined form of a sonata. More difficult, but often also more interesting, is the question whether there is
CHANCE

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For instance. they are rarely performed. digital television. we can only assume that from 1908 or so. Nevertheless. such unrelievedly ugly and unrewarding abstractions. Music is not just an arbitrary collection of sounds. 4.. one may ask why Beethoven’s symphonies are coherent. and occasionally rather emotional music reviews and a predominance of historic aspects in music theory. and that is where the question of identification and quantification of relevant structures is most challenging. throughout the centuries there were occasional attempts to gain a more quantitative understanding of music. portable phones. “logical” construction is an inherent part of music. 11: “The Three Pieces. Schoenberg has been suffering from some unclassifiable and peculiarly vir- . but rather “organized sound. Standard musical techniques. Bailhache 2001 for a historic account on musical acoustics) with an abundance of commercial applications (music recording. since no pianist of the first rank would bother to learn. not clear a priori which structures that may be discovered by data analytical methods are musically important. Stockhausen. 4/3 (fourth) etc. together with the emotional effect of music. and Ligeti even used explicit mathematical formulas and ideas for their compositions. a symphony. only one aspect of music. With respect to performance. Musical acoustics and sound engineering is now a well-developed scientific discipline (see e. inversion. computers. The lack of precise definitions and objective functions. computer games. Acoustics is. and apparently pleasant effect. NO. 3/2 (fifth). synthesizers. however. such as Schönberg. For instance.” Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz structure beyond the standard rules. 2004 obvious quantitative approach is due to the physical nature of performed music as a sound wave. mostly descriptive. as the German philosopher and mathematician Leibniz (1646-1716) put it: “Music is the arithmetics of the soul. such as retrograde. have led to a tradition of purely qualitative. Schoenberg states: ‘I write what I feel in my heart. The general audience tends to have a more romantic view of music and wants to relax.11. The question of how these are related to structures in the score is much more difficult. or augmentation are mathematical functions. It is. A sober explanation of the logical construction is likely to stigmatize a composition as purely intellectual.” or. of simple frequency ratios such as 2/1 (octave).German philosopher and mathematician Leibniz (1646-1716) put it: “Music is the arithmetics of the soul.) were aware of the musical significance.” Whether we listen to a sonata. arpeggio. Xenakis.. The most 8 VOL. Webern. Eimert. Boulez. In the 20th century a number of composers.C. Kagel. are now more than 40 years old. op. how he sustains the suspense over long stretches of time and how this should be reflected by a performance.’ If this is really so. or desire to inflict on his audience. A systematic physical understanding of musical sounds and acoustics was initiated by path breaking contributions of the German physicist Helmholtz. though perhaps it was psychologically not too clever to admit this publicly.g. however. the Pythagoreans in ancient Greek (fifth century B. Cage.). or an Indian raga. Bartok. 17. etc. which is not surprising. Musical Opinion (London) wrote in December 1949 about Schoenberg’s Piano Pieces op. Lutoslawsky. repeated experiments can be helpful for finding similarities and differences between different styles of performance. An appropriate analysis of the score is needed.

ly with frequency f=0. and Chaos In 1975. the patterns (e. a spectral analysis reveals how much of the observed signal is due to periodicities with specific frequencies. Voss and Clarke formulated a provocative statement that may be summarized – in simplified form – as follows: Music is 1/f-noise. squared sound wave (power) on logarithmic scale. Now. In contrast. For instance. even the sound wave of a single note may look like 1/f-noise. Figure 1 illustrates this effect for a harpsichord sound (one “e” is played). which corresponds to 1/fnoise..1 Hz (every 10 seconds). it is meaningful to associate a recorded musical signal. To associate music with a purely random object is therefore rather disturbing. The results indicated a pattern that seemed to be common to recorded music in general: The value of the spectrum increases with decreasing frequency f. Firstly. a negative slope close to -1. melodies) and their frequencies. In particular. or other musical data. The reason is that irregular slow changes imply a high contribution of low-frequency components in the signal. The empirical spectrum of such a disturbed periodicity then may resemble the empirical spectrum of a random process with similar properties. There are at least two reasons why this statement led and still leads to controversial discussions among musicologists. etc. 1/f-noise-processes are purely random. then the peak in the spectrum is less pronounced. Instead. This is the case. in real music.g. then a spectral analysis would reveal exactly this property in the form of a distinct peak at this frequency. for small frequencies. and the increase is proportional to 1/f (hence the name 1/fnoise). if the same pattern were repeated exact- Figure 1. A justification can be given as follows: Fitting a stochastic process can provide a descriptive summary of some essential features. variations are applied to both. and in the subsequent articles of this volume. Fractals. microphone. 1/f-noise. and specific acoustic conditions (room. The attraction a Steinway piano or a Stradivari violin is due to a complex sound wave that changes in time. a number of theoretical attempts were made to develop general mathematical foundations of music. the way the instruments are played. If repetitions are only approximate. in the last two decades. namely proportional to 1/f. In this sense. Harpsichord sound wave. let us ask the following question first: Which aspects of a composition does recorded music represent? The sound wave of a musical performance is mainly determined by the notes that are played. with a random process. how much can music be understood in a quantitative manner? Completely or not at all? The truth probably lies somewhere in between: Some aspects of music may be described and understood by quantitative models. After eliminating high frequencies by low-pass filters. The second thought-provoking statement by Voss and Clarke is that all (low-pass filtered) music has the same spectrum. Musical instruments do not generate strictly periodic signals. Here. patterns are rarely repeated exactly.). together with their aggregations and spectra. some (but not all) of those aspects are discussed where quantitative investigations are possible. the frequency structure was analyzed by looking at the empirical spectrum (periodogram). the instruments.ulent form of cardiac disease. Their conclusion is based on spectral time series analysis of recorded music. Plotting the logarithm of the empirical spectrum versus the logarithmic frequency shows. a number of modern mathematical and statistical methods have been developed (Mazzola 2002. while other aspects may be less accessible to a mathematical approach. even though a CHANCE 9 . which in turn implies higher values of the spectrum at low frequencies. even though the structure may be deterministic. the random process (or its spectrum) summarizes the degree of variation and memory in a musical signal. In other words.” Also in the 20th century. To investigate this. musical compositions are highly organized and presumably deterministic (except for aleatoric music). As it turns out. This statement may indeed be too general. It can therefore be characterized by the spectrum of a matching random process. So. More generally. Beran 2003).

Essentially. however. For instance. 2004 . An advantage over recorded sound waves is that the envelope functions can be designed such that their contribution to the low frequency behavior of the sound wave is negligible. Here. usual addition does not make sense. we look instead at an arpeggio simplification.Figure 2. and Beran. while avoiding the problem of superposition.y) with x=onset time and y=pitch. how do the notes add up? In recorded music. Brahms. Now.5 is meaningless and does not correspond to any note. Beran (2003) considers the socalled upper and lower envelope. trend function was subtracted beforehand to take care of the most obvious slow changes (Figure 1e). NO. which would be higher than each of them individually. as long as the duration of notes is ignored. since the different sound waves are added. notes can be coded as pairs of positive integers (x. 17. the average of 4. An alternative approach that completely avoids confusion between score and instrumental sound. again depend on the particular choice of envelope functions. an increase of pitch by one unit corresponds to an increase in frequency by the 12th root of two. Focusing on onset time and pitch only. In order to separate the abstract content from instrumental sounds. If two or more notes occur at the same onset time. finding 1/f-noise like behavior in recorded music could be due to the instrument(s) rather than the composer. Brillinger and Irizzary (1998) propose to use artificially created sound waves based on cosines multiplied by envelope functions. Prokoffieff. Rachmaninoff. categorized according to date of birth of composer. is to define a simplified score. In the well-tempered tuning. the notes in a score need to be analyzed by themselves. Haydn. respectively. Mozart. Scarlatti. The results are based on 60 compositions. This means that notes occurring 10 VOL. Results. this brings us back to recorded music where sound waves can be added without any problem. Also. Spectra (both coordinates logarithmic) for compositions by Bach. This is quite easy for monophonic music. Chopin. adding two notes y=1 and y2=8 (y1 and y2 are a fifth apart) yields 9. Figure 3. 4. Fitted values of power (–α) of spectrum near origin. one single note can hardly be called a composition! So. a natural superposition of notes is created automatically. A difficulty arises in polyphonic music. For abstract notes. defined by the sequence of highest or lowest notes.

Scarlatti: Sonata K381. (b) D. Beran and Ocker 2001. but not all of them are close to -1.. The question that we address now is: Does the sequence of notes resemble 1/f-noise? In a first step. J.). Instead. Bach: Prelude and Fugue No. in the sense that the probability distribution would be different at each time point. Rachmaninoff. “.. 2. However. C. Moreover.. Thus. that almost all compositions resemble 1/fαnoise for some α > 0. Figure 4 shows spectra for time series derived from onset-time gaps between occurrences of the most frequent pitch. One may say. 14.How anyone has the nerve to call that kind of stuff music I just do not know. 32. an overall estimated trend function is removed before the periodogram is calculated. Bach.A. S. J. namely. Fauré.e.g. 4 from “Das wohltemperierte Klavier”. Fr. Clementi. (h) S. 23. Brahms.. 31 (1st Mov.S. the empirical spectrum of Schönberg’s piano piece op. (g) S.. by dividing the time axis into blocks of k observations and taking averages over each block. All three spectra in Figure 4 exhibit 1/f-shape near the origin. the results illustrate the fact that exact repetition is musically not interesting and therefore a spectral analysis shows random behavior. J. even patterns that are far apart have a strong similarity — this corresponds to 1/fα with a positive value of α. Mozart. The fitted spectral densities are based on so-called SEMIFAR-models. grouped according to the date of birth of the composer. No. however. Prokoffieff und J. the connection between music and 1/fα-noise may also appear plausible via a possible connection with the mathematical definiCHANCE 11 . Beethoven).S¯ nti (2nd Mov. (see e. In our investigation. Byrd. (d) W. i. Scarlatti. (f) J. On a qualitative level. in the “classical period” (Haydn. Mozart. Prokoffieff: Vision fugitive No. We therefore do not observe completely independent random events — this would correspond to 1/fo-noise. very close to 1/fnoise. Beran: Piano concert No. not all compositions resemble 1/f noise. 1. Chopin.) (Beran a 2000). Tsai and Chan 2004). No. For instance.44. The amazing finding is that the degree of variation chosen by most composers coincides with α=1. W. Remarkable in particular is that. F.S. Rameau. 1/fαnoise is stationary. For instance. The preferred degree of variation and longterm memory in music appears to be exactly at or close to the border α=1. with estimated slopes varying between -0. he seems to have used the same amount of variation in terms of 1/fbehavior. (i) J. Intuitively. the exact spacing of onset times is ignored. the amount of variation has to be limited so that we are still able to notice certain patterns and see connections between different parts. In the SEMIFAR-approach. S. 2 .Figure 4. van Beethoven. high frequencies are eliminated by aggregation. ordered according to pitch (lowest first. Chopin: Nocturne op. Debussy. Similar investigations can be carried out for other aspects of a score. at the same onset time are replaced by a sequence of the same notes played one after the other. beyond which the process would become unstable. highest last). Schönberg’s music is in many ways a natural continuation of romantic music of the late 19th century rather than its destruction. which implies a certain degree of stability. all pieces in this time period were of this form. 3. This is confirmed by an extended analysis of 60 pieces by W. Mozart: Sonata KV 333 (2nd Mov. Aggregated gaps between occurrences of the most frequent note modulo octave and observed 1/f-type spectra.-P. Couperin. 2 in Figure 5 is very close to 1/f-noise.08 to -1. Beran. Rachmaninoff: Prélude op.” In spite of this comment by a distressed music lover (in a letter to the editor of Musical Opinion in January 1961) who complained about Schönberg’s piano music. M. the slopes are almost identical for all compositions considered here. For α < 1. Haydn. and clear deviations from 1/f appear to be rare. D. In particular. G. which is at the border between stationarity and nonstationarity. Observed periodograms of the aggregated series and fitted spectra are shown in Figure 2 for the following compositions: (a) J.A. L. Figure 3 shows boxplots of the estimated slopes -α. All plots in Figure 2 exhibit negative slopes. (c) J. Brahms: Hungarian Dance No. 19. J. Haydn: Sonata op. No. It may be worth investigating how much this may have to do with the classical form of a sonata. None of it had any tune and most of it could equally well have been our fat old tabby cat jumping on and off the piano chasing after a marmalade jar cover. (e) F.).

The reason for the beautiful Chopin sound is the ordering of notes according to the sequence of overtones of C. It is perhaps this misunderstanding that lead to the failure of purely “algorithmic music. This is one of the reasons why it takes so long to become a professional musician. Every little detail matters. fractals can certainly provide an interesting starting point for creative work. The fact that most compositions are related to 1/f-noise does not mean that one can compose music by the simple device of a random 1/f-noise or fractal generator. if all outcomes are equally likely. György Ligeti’s piano etudes and his concert for piano and orchestra. Arnold Schönberg. The usefulness of entropy in music depends on whether we are able to define suitable musical quantities for which probabilities or relative frequencies can be calculated. A typical example is pointed out in Georgii’s classical book on piano music. the same basic C-major chord is decomposed. Entropy One may say that fractal analysis provides a global measure of the coherence of a composition. On the other hand. Clementi’s Gradus ad Parnassum and the beginning of Chopin’s Etude op. with the fractal dimension closely linked to α. 2004 tal geometric object. music can also be called chaotic.Spectrum (in log-log-coordinates) of arpeggio-version. Finally. op. or surprise. because we know the outcome even before carrying out the experiment. NO. but what a difference! Compared to Chopin.” However. 10. Since music may be considered as transmission of information from the composer/musician to the listener. A wellknown definition of information is Shannon’s entropy. 1. First of all. then Shannon’s entropy is maximal. Let us illustrate this by a simple example. if only one outcome is possible. For a random experiment. another global feature that may be defined is the information content (or entropy) of a composition. Clementi’s chord-decomposition sounds ugly. perhaps a note of caution is needed at this point. Chopin avoids the rough sound of the third in the C-major chord at the beginning. 4. it characterizes the average amount of information. and with (suitably defined) trajectories that define a frac12 VOL. we may Figure 6. Figure 6 shows parts of a piece from . 2 . Comparison of Clementi and Chopin: small change – great improvement. in the outcome of the experiment. The fractal character is only one of many aspects that define a composition. In the well-tempered tuning. No. If a random experiment can have a finite number of outcomes. 19. With respect to sensitivity.Figure 5. tion of chaos. for instance. then entropy is zero. 17. In both cases. common 1/fαnoise processes are fractals in the sense of Mandelbrot (1983). No. Also. Impressive examples of such music are. Mathematical chaos refers to dynamic systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions.

Faure (1845-1924). The ratio decreases in time. Rameau (1683-1764).g. compared to the overall entropy. Scarlatti (1660-1725). Haydn (1732-1809). Bartok (1881-1945). Palestrina (1525-1594). W. J. Representing the frequencies of the thus ordered categories by star plots shows the following pattern (Figure 9): Up to the 19th century. Entropy vs. somewhat dramatically (e.. with dates ranging from the 13th to the 20th century. After about 1400. Chopin (1810-1849).S.A. Wagner (1813-1883). Due to the replacement of the tonal system by other principles. Bartok). The circle of fourths. the frequencies are high in the circle-of-fourth neighborhood of a central note. Clementi (17521832). Messiaen (1908-1992) and Takemitsu (1930-1996). Webern (18831945). Schoenberg (1874-1951). we now count for each of the 12 categories how many times the corresponding pitch occurred. Debussy (1862-1918). entropy seems to be rising. if they differ by one or several octaves. Why this is so can be best understood by reordering the 12 categories of notes. tonalities can be ordered in a natural way according to the circle of fourths (Figure 8). lost its central role. the circle of fourths Figure 7. Dowland (15621626). F. date of birth. An even clearer temporal development can be seen when looking at the ratio of the entropy of frequencies in the circle-of-fourth neighborhood of the central note and the overall entropy (Figure 10). we code pitch as an integer between 0 and 11. The distribution of notes became less predetermined so that entropy increased. Schumann (18101856). Purcell (1659-1695). Rachmaninoff (18731943). Hassler (1564-1612). Schein (1586-1630). Thus.identify two values of pitch as harmonically the same. Prokoffieff (1891-1953). Campion (1686-1748). D. Plotting entropy against the date of birth (Figure 7) shows a surprising dependence. For a given composition. Arcadelt (1505-1568). The picture changes later. Ockeghem (1425-1495). Figure 8. the local entropy CHANCE 13 . and calculate the entropy of the resulting distribution. Croft (1678-1727). Couperin (1668-1733). Mozart (1756-1791). Halle (1240-1287). Byrd (1543-1623). Scriabin (1872-1915). This was done for 147 compositions. who was one of the pioneers of atonal music. Brahms (1833-1897). Thus. Bach (1685-1750). Beethoven (1770-1827). whereas they are very low for the other note categories. the more uniform the distribution of notes is in the neighborhood of the central note. In algebraic terms this means that we consider integers modulo 12. starting with Scriabin. because the more a composition relies on the circle of fourths. The composers are: Anonymus (dates of birth between 1200 and 1500). In the western tonal system.

with note categories ordered according to the circle of fourths. for each onset time or even for each Figure 10. Star plots of note frequencies. NO. These curves characterize. Beran 2003) encode structural information of a score by so-called metric. 4. Score Information and Performance An area of musicology where statistics plays a major role is performance theory. The reason is that repeated observations are available and experiments can be designed to answer specific questions. 2004 . 17. also see Mazzola 2002 and (e. 14 VOL. For music that is played from a score.g. Local entropy divided by total entropy. and melodic weights or indicators. tends to be high. This is not the case when the circle of fourths plays no role or a less prominent role.. Beran and Mazzola (1999. harmonic. plotted against the date of birth of the composer.Figure 9. the main question is: How does a performer translate information given in a score into a performance? The first question is how to quantify information contained in a score.

by considering tempo values only at onset times where a structural curve exceeds a certain threshold. for instance. Figure 12 shows tempo for onset times where the first motivic indicator exceeds its 90th quantile. The tempo curves used for this analysis were provided to us by B. Based on the sharpened data. For instance. The visual impres- Figure 12. These can be related to performance data in various ways. Träumerei by R. Score-related data-sharpening can be done.Figure 11. A slightly modified motivic indicator that takes into account a priori knowledge about important motifs in the score is defined in Beran (2003). its metric. Schumann: Motivic indicators. CHANCE 15 . Schumann: Tempo sharpened by 90%-quantiles of main motif. Figure 11 shows motivic indicator functions for eight different motifs in Schumann’s Träumerei. harmonic and melodic importance. For example. Repp. we may apply regression techniques or data sharpening. clear differences as well as similarities can be identified. note. if the tempo of a performance is recorded. Träumerei by R.

Chapman & Hall. R. Beran. (2001). (1983). NO. Quantitative musicology involves many scientific disciplines. (2003). Freeman & Co. just like in other sciences. Nature. Schumann: Clusters of tempo curves. For instance.F. CNRS Editions. J.g. harmonic. the statistical analysis provides the means for finding possible explanations why a performer may slow down or accelerate at specific points. due to its interdisciplinary nature. San Francisco. is confirmed by a cluster analysis of the sharpened data (Figure 13). obtained after sharpening by 90%-quantiles of main motif. D. Statistics in Musicology. several motivic streams are present simultaneously so that a unique causal attribution of tempo variations to one and only one motif is not possible. 317-318. clustering is associated with motivic elements of the score. 4. R. a WWE 1CD 20062 (http://www.. P. The Topos of Music. statistics plays an important part in this emerging field. Une histoire de l'acoustique musicale. thus taunting the curious to further explore the mysterious nature of the universe. Vol. Music is not easy to quantify. Repp for providing us with the tempo measurements. CRC Press. Boca Raton. The Fractal Geometry of Nature. Some of us may perhaps fear that music could lose its charm.de). 2004 Remarks Music is a fascinating mixture of order and chaos. whereas it tends to increase for metrically important points. References Bailhache. each new insight is likely to reveal more questions than answers. when quantification is aimed at gaining at a better understanding of music. Chapman & Hall. . London. Beran.A. Nevertheless. S¯ nti. Voss. J. and Clarke. 17. In particular. (1998). Beran 2003): Tempo decreases at onset times that are important from the point of view of harmony and melody. in a score such as Schumann’s Träumerei. (1975). Beran and Mazzola derived the following approximate rule for Träumerei (e. Träumerei by R. Acknowledgements I would like to thank B.collegno. All this makes music an interesting and at the same time highly challenging topic for interdisciplinary research.Figure 13.B.. because music is neither a purely physical nor a purely philosophical phenomenon. (2000). In contrast to a cluster analysis of the original data. and Irizzary. Statistics for Longmemory Processes. col legno. J. Signal Processing. (1994). Of course. sion that Horowitz clearly differs from Cortot. Vol. Mandelbrot. B. once it is explained “by numbers. as well as an amazing consistency of Cortot and Horowitz throughout several decades. 258. 1/f noise in music and speech. (2002). An investigation of the second. 65.” Yet. 16 VOL. in a more complex analysis involving metric.and higher-order spectra of music. Basel. 161-179. Brillinger. Birkhäuser. G. J. Beran. and melodic curves simultaneously. Mazzola.

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