Advancing the Science of Music

Advancing the Science of Music

There are thousands of scales and tunings that are hardly explored in Western music composition, largely due to the steep learning curve for playing the microtones on instruments as they are.

Ashkan Tabatabaie was born in Iran and has been writing music since his teenage years. As a Ph.D. candidate in music composition at the University of Utah, he began to discover elements in his writing with which he can transition seamlessly from a Western to a Persian tuning system using psycho-acoustic concepts.

“I want to emphasize this part of my background in my compositions,” he said.

But, Persian music, like many other cultures across the world, included tones and intonations that are unfamiliar to Western artists and instruments.

“In order to be able to play other music accurately, you have to go through training of being able to find those small intervals that are slightly different than what we hear in classical music,” Tabatabaie said. “Instead, I try to help the performers find these small intervals with technology.”

Tabatabaie created a real-time tuning system that links up to a phone application. This is the first time that such a system has been employed during the process of composition. The vibration sensor can be connected to instruments and shows the performer the frequency and pitch of the notes in an isolated way while playing in an ensemble.

“Now, when I write something, I can list the exact frequency of the intonations that I want,” he said. “I can ask for a specific G that’s a little higher or lower than what one would expect and make the piece sound the way I wanted instantaneously. I am currently bringing various types of music into classical music with this technology, including more explicit psycho-acoustic concepts that weren’t possible before.” 

More articles like this in ‘Student Innovation @ the U!’

Find this article and a lot more in the 2020 “Student Innovation @ the U” report. The publication is presented by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute to celebrate student innovators, change-makers, and entrepreneurs.

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