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On Music and Computability: Contrasts between Harry Partch’s Bitter Music and Guerino Mazzola’s Topos of Music

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Wilfried Allaerts corresponding author


The clash of ideas between classical music and several avant-garde movements in the previous century, not only found its way into twentieth century musicology, it also lead to a number of new developments in music digitalization. This paper reflects on the inscription of these opposing ideas about the concept of music into the contemporary views on the human condition and the notion of computability of human interactions. Harry Partch, the American iconoclast broke away from the classic, predominantly European traditions in music, and contested the abstract architecture and well-tempered tonal system of it. The mathematician Guerrino Mazzola constructed an even bigger, abstract formalization system, that allegedly allows for a complete digitalization of music, from the mind and inner ear of the composer towards the scores, the gestures and sounds produced by the performers up to the auditory cortex of the listeners. In this paper we will mainly investigate the philosophical and musicological basis of this formalization system, which is essentially based on the Denotator system and a number of concepts from algebraic topology applied to music. Finally, we will unravel the typical de-humanizing aspects that are followed in the digitalization system as used by Mazzola, and what this approach implicates for humanity (and the human sciences).

music, computability, digitalization, Denotator system, Topology of music

Article Details

How to Cite
Allaerts, W. (2021). On Music and Computability: Contrasts between Harry Partch’s Bitter Music and Guerino Mazzola’s Topos of Music. International Journal of Arts and Humanities, 2(1), 44-55.


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