From the Explanatory Notes of Visual Music Studies, Volume 1 - Pythagoras & Pellegrino In Petaluma - of the Visual Music Studies DVD Series by Ron Pellegrino, composer:


Why is Pythagoras in Petaluma 2500 years after his lifetime? The answer to that question is that the spirit and the thought of Pythagoras are the driving forces for my work on these DVDs. Over the course of 24 years it was in my Petaluma studios that the work heard and seen on these DVDs was refined. What is heard and seen here are sounds and images born out of principles laid out by Pythagoras and his school pals 2500 years ago.

The key principle in these visual music studies is that both the laser animations and music emerge from precisely the same stereo wavetrains - the sound and the light forms are radiations of the same flowing electrical energy. The wavetrains are tuned on the fly according to Pythagorean principles. Those principles are fundamental to the poetics of dynamics, the art of articulating and moving through time, in other words, visual music, the music of fundamentally integrated sound and light.

Pythagoras was the inspiration for a community of mathematical mystics who flourished in southern Italy during the fifth century B.C. He was a true peripatetic working several hundred years before Aristotle. Before he settled in southern Italy he traveled widely with his father in various cities of the Greek empire, in Egypt, in Syria, in Phoenicia, in Babylonia, and in India. During his travels he studied with various influential philosophers and teachers including Thales and Anaximander. In his day philosophy was the study of the science of mathematics, music, art, literature, astronomy, and cosmology, what in the early 21st century might be called a liberal arts education. So it should come as no surprise that the educational background of Pythagoras was well tuned for him to become a master integrator.

Pythagoras held that the dynamics of world structure depends upon the interaction of contraries, or pairs of opposites. In other words, he was referring to the generative principle of a difference in potential, the condition that creates the force that generates the electrical waveforms that give rise to the sound and light forms on these DVDs as well as to the life forms that might study these DVDs. He also held that all existing objects are fundamentally composed of form and not of material substance, and that's a modern lesson taught today by quantum physics.

Modern physics is about discovering and formulating the laws that govern transformations all along the continuum from the smallest to the largest physical structures. What fuels those transformations is the push/pull forces generated by differences in potential, forces such as energy, momentum, and electrical charge. One of the purposes of the Visual Music Studies series is to make those forces palpable in ways that contribute to a deeper understanding of how transformations work across media and across our modes of perception.

The material on these DVDs represents one demonstration after another of the Pythagorean principle that what gives form to the Unlimited is the Limit. The Unlimited is represented by the infinite continuum of potential frequency ratios and the Limit is represented by whole number frequency ratios. And remember, harmony, according to most theorists, is based on whole number frequency ratios. On these DVDs it's the whole number frequency ratios that provide the underlying structure for these visual music studies just as they do for most music in the past and in the present. A notion to bear in mind is that every sound/light image, however fleeting, has numerical attributes that uniquely describes it, and that's true of all sound/light images on and off these DVDs.

I personally felt an immediate kinship with Pythagoras when I first studied his thought as an undergraduate in a philosophy class at Lawrence University in 1959. And that feeling only got stronger as I did graduate studies in philosophy, and then, for over three decades, continued my self-guided philosophical studies and at the same time found myself steeped in visual music research and composition. In fanciful moments I also sense a genetic connection if not to Pythagoras then possibly to someone in his community. My mother and father were both born in southern Italy and their ancestors have deep roots in that part of Italy.

The influence of Pythagorean thought extends through later Greek philosophers into modern science, a field based on the Pythagorean notion that all things are numbers. The Pythagoreans, in exploring the physics of vibrating strings, concluded that harmony is tied to the phenomenon of simple whole number frequency ratios. In these particular visual music studies whole number frequency ratios are easy to see and hear; they result in clearly defined relatively static or very slow moving laser images and relatively uncomplicated sounds.

The music synthesizer generated stereo wavetrains that create the sounds and images start out on two separate paths. Along the way they are sometimes subjected to separate modulation signals, in effect, other wavetrains that influence their natures. Farther down the path the original wavetrains may also be subjected to exactly the same modulation signal. Even farther down the path the wavetrains may be merged or mixed in varying degrees. Every step from beginning to end is micromanaged in protocompositional design and microtuned on the fly according to what's being seen and heard at the moment. It's worthwhile to note that small changes in wavetrain variables often lead to large consequences both in the sound and the light forms.

These visual music studies are about integral connections, meaning both integers and integration. And that's exactly what the Pythagoreans were concerned with - the connections between integer ratios, that is whole number ratios, and harmony. From the simplest to the most complex architectures in most music, harmonious intervals are the basic building materials. That fact is as true today as it was 2500 years ago. The point of this area of my visual music research is that those same integral principles provide the integrative connections between dynamic imagery and sound, the laser light forms and the music.

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