Re-configuring ancient greek music theory through technology: an adaptative electronic tuning system on a reconstructed ancient greek barbiton


Carlé M, Georgaki A. Re-configuring ancient greek music theory through technology: an adaptative electronic tuning system on a reconstructed ancient greek barbiton. 2011.


Background in Ancient Greek Music Theory and Philosophy. The foundation of musicology as a
genuine discipline with a clear-cut subject matter and a well-defined terminology can be traced back
to the writings of Aristoxenus of Taras, a pupil of Aristotle. However, its epistemological roots in harmonics
and origin in Pythagorean philosophy reach back until the 6th century. Ad interim the development
of a melodic notation system acted as a crucial factor to grow musicology into a ̔science’ of
logical reasoning. Interestingly, and still without satisfactory explanation, notation as an adequate
medium of music was brusquely rejected by Aristoxenus.
Background in Music Technology and Signal Processing. Besides the thought-provoking fact that
signal processing as the foundation of modern music technology itself originates from the domain of
harmonic analysis and, similarly, became relevant to ̔musicology proper’ only by extension with a
discrete agency purely logic in nature—i.e. the computer—now, real-time pitch-tracking and
pitch-shifting can be used to augment ancient instruments electronically in order to pose archaeological
questions and challenge sedimented hermeneutical interpretations.
Aims. While re-enacting historical configurations, applied media theory provides an unconventional
framework to interlink both backgrounds anachronistically. In practice, the aim of the present interdisciplinary
approach is to take issue with common exegeses of the rise of ancient Greek music theory,
deliver testable hypotheses to corroborate a modified picture and finally to overcome the outdated
antithesis of Pythagorean vs. Aristoxenian views on music—i.e. numerology vs. phenomenology—
propounded since the Hellenistic Period and still prevalent today.
Main contribution. The historical background and epistemological circumstances that led to the
formation of musicology as a separate field of knowledge are reviewed. During the course of discussion
a "pre-Aristoxenian codec of notation" is uncovered and linked with scattered references to the
barbiton-lyre. The acoustical significance of its origin becomes ̔instrumental’ to augment a self-made
reconstruction of such an instrument electronically. Hereby a perceptual model of melody is
re-enacted that logically connects and unifies theoretical camps previously considered irreconcilable.
The technology and methodology necessary to achieve this is described.
Implications. Towards the end of the 5th century, many sources ascribe a revolutionary ̔new music’
to the advent of frequent modulations and different ̔styles’ of playing techniques. Taking this revolution
seriously, the present paper constructs a history of hearing that proposes a rupture in the ancient
Greek sonosphere. Accordingly, the changed strategy of listening is regarded the true cause of the
Aristoxenian separation of musicology. Today, the ̔kernel’ of this parting can be identified with the
more general domain of "time-critical processes" in computation and signal processing whose application
enables us to understand the subsequent reshaping of music theory and the radical remodelling
of its philosophical conception. By extension, this lesson in mousikḗ may make us rethink music as
still a vital epistemological field and may encourage us to form a new research domain possibly called
computational archaeomusicology.