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Lucy Warren

Pythagoras  - Friday 19th September 2008.


Description of Event:  The presentation of a new sound piece, a soundtrack to the Blacksmith Shop, created on site during Lucy’s residency.  Also on show was a documentary film featuring first hand accounts of blacksmithing from local men of the trade.  Blacksmith’s brew and smoky nibbles were served upstairs in the newly redecorated heritage space.


The sound piece is now permanently sited at the blacksmith shop


While researching the history of written music in western culture, I came across the story of Pythagoras (6th century BC) being responsible for developing our understanding of the harmonic series through the diatonic scale. The story claims that Pythagoras was passing a blacksmith’s shop when he noticed the sounds emanating from inside, the blacksmith striking an anvil and the different sound produced by using different weight hammers.


Pythagoras yearned to quantify and understand the beauty of the world and strived to apply mathematics towards a better comprehension of its elements. He declared that a mathematical equation had to be applied to the sounds made by the blacksmith’s anvil. Number therefore preceded harmony, with Pythagoras being responsible for the discovery that the relationship between the anvils and hammer were "simple ratios of each other, one was half the size of the first, another was 2/3 the size and so on."


This equation lead to “Pythagorean tuning” which is now a commonly recognised system forming the basic principles of all written music.


This desire to quantify the world did not however begin with the Pythagoreans.  The Greek god Hermes, believed to be the Founder of Art, is credited with constructing the first Lyre by stretching strings across the cavity of a turtle shell.  The Lyre symbolized the constitution of the human body, with the body of the instrument representing the physical form, the strings the nerves, and the musician the spirit. Playing upon the nerves, the spirit thus created the harmonies of normal functioning, which, however, became discords if the nature of man were corrupted.


This is further investigated in Plato’s Phaedo (4th century BC) in which Simmias claims that the Pythagoreans held the human body to be strung like an instrument to a certain pitch with hot and cold, wet and dry taking place of high and low in musical terms. It goes on to explore the idea that musical tuning and health are similar means resulting from the application of Limit upon the Unlimited.  Pythagoras first learnt the principles of music from the priests with whom he was taught, he subsequently pondered the laws governing consonance and dissonance leading to his deep interest into the mathematical theories of music.

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