Should a piece of music be a reflection of the order or disorder of the universe? This is a very old thought but there still may be some bang to it.

The partisans of order: The Pythagorean model is one where numerical ratios and proportions translate from the cosmos to the musical scale. Plato tried to hang on to something ‘solid’ with his now called “Platonic Solids” representing universal forms such as the icosahedron.

The partisans of constant change: the Heraclitus model is that of constant change, as is the I Ching model, where one situation/hexagram flows into another. Aristotle also believed that reality is constantly changing – but that there is an underlying eternal universe with no beginning and no end… which reminds me of the famous ‘one hand clapping’ Buddhist koan, as it points to the same idea.

Modern science is now looking at non-linear dynamical systems explaining laws of seemingly unpredictable events… like weather systems; the world is not a static cause-and-effect reality, but a constant flux of ever-changing energies and events.

How can these ideas translate into musical models and styles? The idea of continuity in music is very much in question in new compositions. A lot of new music is full of silences and ruptures. There is a reflection of a chaotic, constant change craving the unpredictable. On the other hand, the classic minimalist approach is based on the continuity: everlasting drones, constant tonal center, constant rhythms. Paradoxically, serialism makes music based on totally controlled and predictable systems, but to the ear it sounds unpredictable except for the fact that there is no way to guess what the next phrase is going to be.

Should music be ‘in tune’ with the universe, and with what exactly? Be a reflection of chaotic events such as the weather? Or tune into the constants such as the earth’s rotation?

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