Tag Archives: Notation

The emergence of the digital humanities

Digital humanities is an umbrella term for branches of humanities disciplines (such as linguistics, literature, history, music, art and religious studies) in which digital technologies are used: as the application of digital technologies and methods humanities objects (e.g., works of music, literature, art) or as the application of humanities methods to digital objects (e.g. digital sound recordings, videos, websites and graphics). Examples of such interdisciplinary applications include digital coding, storage, archiving, searching, processing, and analysis of humanities objects as well as historical, linguistic, cultural research into digital objects.

Today, digital humanities methods are a part of all humanities research. The digital humanities emerged from the first applications of digital calculators and computers in humanities research in the 1950s, primarily in linguistics, but soon also included music research and other disciplines. Since then, its importance has grown steadily with the development of new computer and software technologies.

The basis of many digital music research projects is the digital storage and notation of music. In the mid-1950s, a project at Bell Telephone Laboratories led by Max Matthews (1926–2011, pictured above) developed technology to transmit telephone conversations in digitized form, the MUSIC-N series was the first computer program to generate digital audio through direct synthesis. MUSIC I (1957) and MUSIC II (1958) synthesized simple sounds over a limited number of triangular wave functions. However, it was not until MUSIC III (1960) that the first comprehensive synthesis program emerged. MUSIC IV (mid-1960s) was rewritten in the FORTRAN programming language and revised and expanded as MUSIC V in 1969 at Bell Laboratories. MUSIC V offered more global sound control, the ability to represent individual notes and note patterns, and supported the simulation of performance nuances (such as ritardando and crescendo). MUSIC V’s global parameter differentiation and event list were also precursors to the standard MIDI file format. Today, SAOL (1999) is a MUSIC-N programming language that is part of the MPEG-4 audio standard.

The Plaine & Easy Code was developed by Murray Gould in the early 1964s and later expanded by Gould and Berry S. Brook. It was intended to enable the transfer of musical bibliographic data to electronic data processing devices. The Plaine & Easy Code was a purely monolinear notation, encoded with normal typewriter symbols, with which not only tempo, key, meter, pitch, and durations could be encoded but also some phrasing and ornamentation symbols. Below is an example of the notation.

Below Max Mathews demonstrates his Radio Baton Controller and Conductor software program and performs brief selections by Bach, Chopin, and Beethoven.

Here are some related Bibliolore posts:

Comments Off on The emergence of the digital humanities

Filed under North America, Science, Sound

Busnois, Tinctoris, and “L’homme armé”


Antoine Busnois’s Missa “L’homme armé” commits one notational error after another—at least according to Johannes Tinctoris.

As several scathing passages in his Proportionale musices attest, Tinctoris abhorred Busnois’s mensural innovations. And yet Busnois’s notational choices, while certainly idiosyncratic, were also arguably justifiable: the composer was merely finding ways of recording novel musical ideas that had no agreed-upon notational solutions.

Tinctoris’s response to Busnois was not limited to the criticisms in his theoretical treatises. Tinctoris the composer responded far more comprehensively, and at times with far greater sympathy for Busnois’s practice, in his own Missa “L’homme armé”. He echoed Busnois’s Mass notationally, in that he treated it as an example of what not to do; his response was also deeply musical, in that he tackled similar technical problems as a means of achieving analogous contrapuntal effects.

Tinctoris’s and Busnois’s settings need to be understood in the context of 15th-century Masses, one in which composers were not necessarily content to work within the system but invented new ways of writing to create new sounds. In doing so, mere composers could sometimes achieve significance as theorists. Taken together, the L’homme armé Masses of Busnois and Tinctoris raise a range of historiographical issues that invite us to reassess the figure of the theorist-composer.

This according to “Composing in theory: Busnoys, Tinctoris, and the L’homme armé tradition” by Emily Zazulia (Journal of the American Musicological Society LXXI/1 [spring 2018] pp. 1–73).

This year we celebrate the 590th anniversary of Busnois’s birth! (His exact birthdate is unknown.)

Above, the version of L’homme armé that Busnois used as his cantus firmus, from I-NapBN MS VI.E.40 (with editorial markings); below, the Kyrie from his Missa “L’homme armé” followed by the corresponding movement from Tinctoris’s work.

Comments Off on Busnois, Tinctoris, and “L’homme armé”

Filed under Curiosities, Renaissance

Medieval music and memory

Although writing allowed medieval composers to work out pieces in their minds, it did not make memorization redundant—rather, it allowed for new ways to commit music to memory. But since some of the polyphonic music from the 12th century and later was written down, scholars have long assumed that it was all composed and transmitted in written form.

Our understanding of medieval music has been profoundly shaped by German philologists from the beginning of the twentieth century, who approached medieval music as if it were no different from music of the nineteenth century. The fact that a piece was written down does not necessarily mean that it was conceived and transmitted in writing. A new model emphasizes the interplay of literate and oral composition and transmission.

This according to “Medieval music and the art of memory” by Anna Maria Busse Berger (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

Above, Notre Dame Cathedral, an early center of polyphony, around 1450; below, Viderunt omnes. by Pérotin, who is widely considered to be the first to compose at his desk rather than in the church.

Comments Off on Medieval music and memory

Filed under Middle Ages, Performance practice