Pythagorean Comma

17 11 2006

Pythagoras is credited with the discovery of the “half-step, whole-step” system from which we derive our diatonic scale in music. It could be argued that all of Western music is the direct result of this discovery.

Interestingly enough, the Pythagorean system of intonation is not the final word when it comes to being in tune – “playing in tune” is, believe it or not, a highly relative matter; certain notes in a scale may sound in tune relative to the previous notes, but when played together with other notes, one finds them to be “off” to an almost appalling degree.

This “realtivity” of intonation is of great most especially to classical musicians, especially small ensembles like string quartets.

Now, stringed instruments are tuned in fifths (the double bass being the exception), and when you tune the four instruments accordingly, you end up with what is called the Pythagorean Comma, a phenomenon wherein the extremum of 12 fifths and seven octaves are strangely out of tune, even though every fifth within the interval is tuned perfectly.

I say this to give context to a recent conversation I had with an old friend wherein I examined the general melancholy I felt when going through my little photo album. I told my friend that I experience a sort of Pythagorean Comma when I try to connect many of the images of the people in the pictures with their flesh-and-blood counterparts – they are strangely out of tune.

zpic.jpgYou see, to me, a photograph is more than just images of a memorable moment – just as some tribes in South America and in the remote reaches of Asia fear that their spirits are captured when a photograph of them is taken, I believe that a photograph captures a part of the spirit of the people in it; who they were the moment the picture was taken. The captured essence is there to touch when someone who knows the people in the picture views the photograph…when the mind takes him or her on a journey of remmemberance.

I cannot help but feel a little sad when I leaf through my photo album and experience the disjointedness of the spirit I feel in the photograph and the spirit of the actual person – the dreams captured on film, strewn about in the muck of life…the result of changing characters and circumstances.

And I wonder if anyone out there has a picture of me way back when, contemplates who I am now, and experiences the Comma.

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3 responses

23 11 2006
razeru

nice new layout, Sensei. =)

and yes… it is sad…

23 11 2006
anonymous

i totally agree with you. that’s why looking at yearbooks make me sad…

16 12 2006
jac

hmm… do you have a picture of that time where you had eyeliner on?

i guess it’s just me, but i don’t know if i do feel sadness whenever i look at photos and find that it isn’t quite right. but i could say that it is strange, maybe… how things could change in such a short span of time.

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