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From: Douglas P. Wilson (dp-wilson@shaw.ca)
Date: Thu 31 Oct 2002 - 00:44:11 GMT

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    Very recently, in personal correspondence the question of memes and context came up. One comment I wrote tried to explain the importance of context with a musical example: Certain tunes or chords, like the mythical "Lost Chord" were mentioned explicitly by Dawkins when he first described memes. But it is clearly possible to write quite complex music in the key of C major by using only the notes D E F G A and B, which nevertheless create such an expectation or sense of key that a genuine desire for a C-major chord is created -- or even a desire for the single note C, which is just a pitch, with no internal structure at all. In other contexts the same note might be unexpected, unwanted, and even unpleasant.

    This may be somewhat unclear, so here is a bit of explanation: if you play music on only the whte keys of the piano, and make use of all the alphabetically labelled notes, A through G, (in some octave or other), then your music is quite clearly in C-major. But what if you skip one of these notes completely (in each octave)? If you skip A, for example, does that make the music seem any less tonal, or any less in C-major.

    Yes, it might be a handicap, like writing English without using the letter J, but it would not be as serious as writing English without using the letter E. (An example quoted somewhere by Hofstadter proves this possible, though warped). But what if you wrote or played music using only the white keys of the piano but skipped all the Cs? Would that still sound like C-major? I claim that it would, or does, although some ambiguity is introduced.

    If you uise only "D E F G A and B", as I said above, making some real (statistically significant) use of each, then you might be in C-major, skipping the C, or you might be in G-major, skipping the F-sharp, or you might be in F-major, skipping the B-flat. But topologically G-major and F-major are adjacent to C-major, being each only one sharp or flat away. Probabilistically, or game-theoretically, if you think you see a cluster of three things then you would or should guess their location(s) as that of the center one, not either outlying one. If you shoot an arrow at an apple, aim for the core, not the skin on either side. So I think we would hear the ambiguous F-maybe, C-maybe, or G-maybe, tonality as C-major. (Mean of C-major, standard deviation of one semitone?!)

    That is what I meant by what I wrote -- whether there is a word of truth in what I have said is another issue, this message just being clarification. I am clarifying (I hope) here on the Memetics and the FunctionOfMusic lists because I'd like this discussion to have a wider audience or (hopefully) more participants.

            dpw http://www.SocialTechnology.Org/dpwilson.html

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