Monday, April 4, 2011

FSU Composition Professor Explores “Space”

On February 28, 2011, FSU College of Music Associate Professor of Composition Clifton Callender was recognized by the Journal of Music Theory with the inaugural David Kraehenbuehl Prize for his article “Continuous Harmonic Spaces,” which appeared in volume 51 of that publication. Named in honor of the founding editor of the Journal of Music Theory, The David Kraehenbuehl Prize is a biennial award for the best article published in the JMT by an untenured scholar, and carries a cash award of $2000. This cycle's committee consisted of Professor Richard Bass of the University of Connecticut, Professor Julian Hook of Indiana University, and Professor Ryan McClelland of the University of Toronto.

As the first recipient of the award, Callender sets the bar high for following candidates. Ian Quinn, Editor of the Journal of Music Theory, describes Callender’s work thusly:

“Callender's article builds creatively upon the recently developed Fourier-transform-based perspective on chord quality, extending this approach from discrete pitch-class space to more general situations involving chords in continuous pitch and pitch-class spaces. Insights gleaned from the general setting cast new light upon several aspects of the familiar 12-note space, including measures of chord similarity and the Z-relation.”

Professor Callender expands upon that description in layman’s terms:

“Some chords sound more similar than others. For instance, while there are several different types of chords in the Beatles' "All You Need is Love," all of these chords have a lot in common. Certainly they are more similar to each other than to the bebop-inspired chords of Jimi Hendrix' "Purple Haze," or the even more dissimilar dissonant stabs in Bernard Herrmann's score for Psycho.

“We can imagine these and other chords as existing in a harmonic space in which similar sounding chords are close together and dissimilar chords are far apart. Music theorists have developed ways to map this space and attempt to measure similarity for chords built on a limited number of "note types," the twelve notes within a single octave.

""Continuous Harmonic Spaces" extends these approaches to include all possible chords, including those that do not belong to standard Western tuning, since they contain notes that lie in between adjacent keys on the piano.””

“There are two main reasons for doing this,” he goes on to add. “One, the music of many contemporary composers and of non-Western cultures is not limited to the standard Western tuning, and two, looking at the most general case of all possible chords helps us to understand the nature of harmonic spaces and to shed light on the relationships and similarities between more common Western sonorities.”

“This article provides a powerful framework for generalizing the tools of pitch-class-set theory for applications involving continuous or non-equal-tempered models of pitch,” declared the JMT selection committee. “Callender develops novel ideas in imaginative ways, harnesses a sizable mathematical apparatus with technical aplomb, and presents his work with exemplary elegance and clarity.”

Don Gibson, Dean of the College of Music, adds his voice to the praise for Callender and his groundbreaking work. “Dr. Callender’s selection for the inaugural David Kraehenbuehl Prize is further evidence of the extraordinary impact and influence of his theoretical work,” explains Dean Gibson. “Few individuals possess both the musical insights and the mathematical skill required to contribute at this level. Callender stands at the pinnacle of this select cohort. His work draws continuing attention to the outstanding programs FSU offers in both Music Theory and Music Composition.”

 “I think it's wonderful that the Journal of Music Theory is committed to supporting the work of scholars in the early stages of their careers through the establishment of the David Kraehenbuehl Prize,” opines Callender. “It's gratifying not only to be the first recipient but to be a part of community of mostly younger musician-scholars who are all pursuing such interesting and cutting-edge research lying at the intersection of music and mathematics.”