Jenn D. Harding


About My Work

One of the fundamental questions that music theory seeks to answer is “why does music sound the way it does?” Scholars have approached this question from a wide variety of perspectives, including analysis of the elements contained in a musical score, investigations into the cognition of heard sound, evaluation of music within its cultural context, and the relationship of music to other media. My work uses the musical score as its starting point, exploring structural aspects of notated music using computational techniques. I look for patterns and relationships between musical elements that may not be easily assessed by paper and pencil, but which shape how we perceive, process, and interpret the musical sounds.

My current research focuses on the harmonic “flavors” that make up the sonic palate of musical works by exploring the collections of notes that comprise the harmonic background of a piece, referred to as “macroharmony.” This approach is interdisciplinary, relying on mathematical constructs widely used in other fields and employing computational methodologies to apply them in novel ways to analyze digitally encoded musical scores. The methodology allows for systematic examination of a wide variety of music, and I have applied it to Renaissance madrigals by Cipriano de Rore, chamber music by Olivier Messiaen, the microtonal works of Alois Hába, and the piano etudes of Unsuk Chin.

I am in the process of developing a suite of digital tools that will allow other scholars and performers to explore various applications of the discrete Fourier transform (DFT) to different musical structures. My vector calculator allows users to apply the DFT to collections of pitch classes and see the results visualized in an intuitive way. I am currently writing another application that lets users view the harmonic landscape of any digitally encoded musical score. My future plans include a tool that lets users track chord-to-chord motion within Fourier space. These projects are intended take a complex mathematical construct and allow people with no mathematical experience to apply the ideas to music in an easy-to-use way that lets them explore music using techniques that have hitherto only been accessible to a few people.

Presentations and Publications

Computer-Aided Analysis Across the Tonal Divide: Cross-Stylistic Applications of the Discrete Fourier Transform

Published in In Music Encoding Conference Proceedings 2020, edited by Elsa de Luca and Julia Flanders, 95–204. Tufts University, Boston.

A video of this as a talk (virtually) presented at Music Theory Midwest 2020 and Music Theory Southeast 2020 can be viewed on YouTube.