The importance of being creative


An event taking place this weekend celebrates the links between mathematics and music, writes Dick Ahlstrom

You can fill space with art or you can fill it with sound, proof positive that maths and music have much in common.

Measuring the depths of these associations is the purpose behind a music and mathematics workshop and evening "salon" in Dublin organised by the arts and sciences body Seed.

Seed promotes dialogue between science and the arts, explains Seed director and co-founder, Dr Wiebke Drenckhan. The Royal Irish Academy takes a similar view and for the first time is involved in a Seed project along with Depfa Bank.

Most people assume that music and mathematics have little in common, but there are physics connections and conceptual connections, suggests Drenckhan.

For example Pythagoras discovered that the length of a musical instrument's string and its perceived pitch are closely related. Drenckhan also takes the view that creativity is an activity as important in mathematics as it is in music.

With this in mind Seed organised a joint presentation by a composer and a mathematician. The former is Georges Bloch of Strasbourg University and of Paris-based Institute for Music/Acoustic Research and Coordination (IRCAM). The latter is Moreno Andreatta of CNRS, the French National Centre for Scientific Research and also of IRCAM.

Andreatta combines both disciplines as a graduate in mathematics at the University of Pavia and also in piano performance at the Conservatory of Novara in Italy. But so too does Bloch who studied engineering and then composition and computer music at the University of California, San Diego.

The Seed workshop on mathematics and music takes place on Saturday from 10.30am to 3pm and is divided into three sessions, explains Drenckhan. It will examine the concept of symmetry in the two disciplines, and how pitch and rhythm can be used to "tile" audible space.

Its formal title, Music and Mathematics, Tiling Space with Musical Canons, helps to explain what is involved. One should picture an Escher drawing, or the Penrose Tiles which feature interlocking geometric shapes that fit together like repetitious puzzle pieces.

"The idea is you want to cover the whole plane with a finite number of elements which slot together without leaving any spaces," she explains. This could be the lizards, birds and other creatures favoured by the artist MC Escher or the geometric patterns described by Roger Penrose.

The workshop will carry this idea across to music, says Drenckhan. "It is like the Penrose tiles, you have a rhythmic pattern and you repeat this pattern so there are no spaces where you don't have a beat.

"They fill your pitch space and your time space so at every moment you have a beat."

The two presenters will use musical examples from composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Iannis Xenakis and Tom Johnson and by presenter Bloch.

The workshop will be highly interactive but also very relaxed, says Drenckhan. "We want to keep it as informal as possible. The workshop will also benefit greatly from the involvement of the participants."

The Seed Salon takes place on Monday at 7pm and will be a much different event, says Drenckhan. "The salon will be much briefer and will illustrate examples with nice images and music mainly through presentation rather than through interaction," she says.

Drenckhan is originally from Germany and is a Trinity College Dublin PhD physics graduate. She is now a researcher at the University of Paris 7 but maintains her contacts with Dublin. She knew of the presenters through IRCAM and organised the event.

These meetings are aimed at a general audience and there is no experience in either field required to enjoy the workshop or the salon. Of course both musicians and mathematicians would benefit.

The workshop and the salon take place in the Odessa Club, 13 Dame Court, Dublin 2. Access to the workshop costs €20 and €10 for students. The salon is free with a request for a donation of €5to defray costs.

It is advisable to register for the event but it is also possible to register on Saturday at the venue, with access on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Tel: Sheloa Nichols at 087-7739957, or see the Seed website,