Projects in Previous Years

1st Semester 2011/12: Pitch Classes, Pitch Class Sets and Pitch Class Set Theory

Aline Honingh
If you are interested in this project, please contact Aline by email.
By analysing music, we can get insight in the structure of the music. What makes that particular phrase so special? How come that we do not expect that transition? Why does this song sound so similar to that other song? These kinds of questions can often be answered by analysing music. For tonal music, several analysis methods have existed for a long time, but not for atonal music. In the second half of the 20th century, Allen Forte and Milton Babbitt have introduced such a theory: the pitch class set theory. With this theory, atonal music can be analysed. Composers can also use this theory to compose music. And since the theory has a mathematical character, it can also be used for computational purposes, such that it is possible to do analyses on a large scale. Furthermore, it has been shown that with the pitch class set theory, also aspects of tonal music can be examined.
  • Pitch class sets
  • Pitch class set theory
  • Pitch class set similarity
  • Computational applications
  • Perception of pitch class sets
  • Interval categories and pitch class genera
  • Critique on and evaluation of pitch class set theory
The project starts with one or more lectures (depending on the backgrounds of the participants) on pitch classes, pitch class sets, operations, and the analysis of music using pitch class set theory. After that we will discuss a number of papers, and finally, everybody writes a short essay on a chosen subject.
This project is open for all students who are interested in music. The topic of the project allows for different approaches, varying from mathematical to philosophical and from musical to perceptual. For example, students interested in the mathematics of pitch class sets will enjoy the topics of pitch class set similarity, pitch class genera, and Discrete Fourier Transforms of pitch class sets. Students more interested in the philosophical or musical nature of the topic will have plenty of study material as well since the pitch class set theory has often been subject of debates between for example music theorists and historically oriented musicologists. With respect to the perceptual nature of pitch class set theory, a number of experiments have been documented in the literature, from which interesting conclusions can be drawn. The topics included in the project can be adjusted or split among students if preferable.