Music mingles with math at the 2010 SIAM Annual Meeting

July 7, 2010


The public is invited to come and visualize the geometry behind music at this free event being held July 14 from 6:15 PM - 7:15 PM at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

What could be a better medium to communicate math to the public than the universal language of music? Ever since Pythagoras used numerical terms to express intervals between notes and derived musical tones from geometrical patterns, mathematicians have linked music to numbers. At the upcoming SIAM Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh, Dr. Dmitri Tymoczko will make the connection with help from multimedia graphics and compositions by Chopin, Mozart and Schubert.

The I. E. Block Community Lecture is organized by SIAM to further its mission to inspire an appreciation for mathematics and its influence on the world around us. The talk is designed for a general audience with no requirement for expertise in music or math. In the interest of reaching out as widely as possible to members of the local community, the event is free and open to the public. It will be held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in the Spirit of Pittsburgh-A lecture room on level 3 from 6:15 PM - 7:15 PM on Wednesday, July 14.

The audience will be treated to an audio-visual presentation of contemporary geometry illustrating elementary concepts of music theory, as they "watch" music move along cones, Möbius strips, and cubes. Translating theoretical musical concepts into geometric representations will allow viewers to switch between musical and visual domains, thus providing them with an easier depiction of the intricacies of complex musical structure.

Musical chords reside in geometrical spaces, called "orbifolds," which can twist and turn back on themselves, as Dr. Tymoczko explains. Each piece of chord-based music tends to inhabit a different part of this multidimensional space. Bridging the differences between various sounds is akin to folding up an orbifold to make the disparities disappear. Thus geometry can help explain differences in instruments and sounds, and perhaps, even design new musical instruments.

Dr. Tymoczko is an associate professor of music at Princeton University and researches graphical representations of musical ideas. After studying music and philosophy at Harvard University, he was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship for graduate work in philosophy at Oxford University. He then received his PhD in music composition from the University of California at Berkeley.

Dr. Tymoczko grew up playing in rock bands and learning classical piano. His compositions have won numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His research work, which was the first paper on music theory ever to appear in the journal Science, was profiled in Time magazine. His book, "A Geometry of Music," is in production with Oxford University Press.

The lecture is named in honor of I. Edward Block, a founder of SIAM, to recognize his nearly 20 years of service to the organization and his significant contributions to the SIAM community. For more information on the lecture, please visit



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