Lecture on Musical Form

Let's pretend this cabbage is the form of a piece of music.

This cabbage is a piece of music,

We can't see its whole form though.

but we can’t see its whole form.

If this music is in 3-D, we can see something like its shadow, or a 2-D cross section of its form...

If music was a cabbage, we would be able to see something like its shadow,

...like this.

or a cross-section, like this.

If all we can see is the shadow, how can we reverse-engineer the cabbage? First, crumple up paper into a ball.

If all we can see is the shadow, how can we reverse-engineer the whole cabbage? First, crumple up paper into a ball.

Then, wrap tape around it. A white cabbage!

Then, wrap tape around it. A white cabbage!

Let's cut it in half, just like the real cabbage.

Cut it in half.

And paint it.

And paint it. If we stamp it it on a piece of paper, how closely will it resemble that of the real cabbage?

The shadow/cross-section of the paper cabbage resembles that of the real cabbage. Yet the geometry of the real cabbage's leaves is not represented. In the same way, there will always be unexplained mysteries in music that lie beyond our perception.

Pretty close! But not quite right, either. For example, the geometry of the cabbage’s leaves is not represented. In the same way, the form of music is difficult to fully comprehend due to the constraints of our experience of time. In the following video demonstration, I will cut a piece of paper in an attempt to reveal to you the form of “Monodie”, a piece for organ by Olivier Messiaen. Because the music exists in a higher dimension with non-linear time, in this performance you will not experience the real piece; instead, you will see a warped 3D shadow-form and hear the warped shadow-sound.

Organ sung by Maria Stankova.

Videography by David Kerr.

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