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An Evening with the Monochord: Global Perspectives in Music, Math, and History


East Campus, 70 Morningside Dr., New York, NY 10027 Heyman Center for the Humanities - Common Room, 2nd floor


February 20, 2017 6:15PM to 8:15PM

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The monochord, an instrument featuring a single stretched string, is perhaps the oldest known musical and scientific instrument. Records of its usage date back to the Sumerians, and it played an important role in the mathematical and musical explorations in Greek and Chinese antiquity. This evening excavates the history of the monochord in a global perspective by drawing together concerns in measurement, classification, and craft across East Asia and Europe. Music theorists Guangming Li, Joon Park, and David Cohen each examine how early philosophers used the monochord to address musical and mathematical problems from the sixth century BCE to the fifteenth century. Relying on archeological evidence and music-theoretical texts, Li will discuss the derivation of a chromatic scale in the Warring-States Period (475-221 BCE). Park will compare insights in ancient Greek and 15th century Korean court music to show how the monochord shaped conceptions of musical space as relating to motion. Cohen will examine the role of the monochord in research on harmonics from Pythagoras through Ptolemy. Together, these histories reveal how converging and diverging forms of knowledge could be produced from a single string.


Guangming Li, (UCLA and Beijing)

Joon Park, (Arkansas)

David E. Cohen, (Columbia) 

Chair: TBA

Respondent: Nathan Martin, (University of Michigan)

Carmel Raz, is a musicologist and historian with the Society of Fellows at Columbia University.
Lan A. Li, is a historian of science with the Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience at Columbia.

Event Contact Information: 
Joella Jones

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