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Jazzscientia at AAJ: Where Jazz and Science Meet

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All About Jazz is introducing Jazzscientia --a pioneering series of scientific analyses of jazz-- under the direction of geneticist Nils Jacobson and chemist Michael Holman. As its Managing Editor, AAJ readers already know Jacobson. Holman, on the other hand, is a more recent contributor. Both, however, have established scientific credentials, with their corresponding postgraduate degrees and research experience in their respective fields, as well as a passion for jazz.



Jazzscientia will endeavor to apply insights from various scientific disciplines to the vast array of musical expressions under the jazz rubric. “Although there already are a number of projects that correlate various types of algorithms to musical composition," for example, “...the scientific study of jazz lags behind" according to Jacobson. “At Jazzscientia," adds Holman, “we could ascertain the relationship between Schrodinger's equation to jazz improvisation or publish the work of software designers that can create programs for artificial life that compose jazz --similar in scope to the work of Lee Spector, Bruce L. Jacob, as well as George Papadopoulos and Geraint Wiggins."



The initial venture of Jazzscientia will be the algorithmic expression of the totality of jazz. “Rather than using something like genetic algorithms to compose music," as Jacobson states, “the first work of Jazzscientia at AAJ will be to identify the very elemental aspects of jazz and create a mathematical expression of them. Thus, jazz will be visually and conceptually expressed through the beauty of mathematics." A multidisciplinary team of volunteers will be working on this particular endeavor with Dr. Scrotius Colganti on top, Head of the mathematics department at the University of Sicily and a veteran jazz radio programmer. It is expected to be completed by Summer 2006.



Jazzscientia, nonetheless, has already attracted its share of controversy. Dr. Chris Washburne, an ethnomusicologist and jazz artist, has called it “a type of non-traditional scholarship of dubious value for jazz studies, particularly among its ethnic versions as it seems to be yet another Westernized attempt to co-opt, through scientific reductionism, an artistic expression from its non-Western sources." Bobby Sanabria, a percussionist and self-avowed lay scholar on Afro-Cuban music and Latin jazz affirms, “The collective pulse and identity of ethnic music, relating to the people and history of any particular country, will be substituted for the personality and character function of the mathematical or digital composer, which, in this type of scientific examination, will be that of a White male scientist. Those of us who aren't White males scientific types are entitled to the unsullied expression of our musical heritage, technological or scientific issues aside." According to Dr. Emanuel Dufrasne, yet another ethnomusicologist and performer “…even the ethnic microstructure aspects, that may be found in the scansion and rhythms of language, will be forever changed. The aforementioned mirror unique ways of movement, inflections that may be seen in dances, as well as in everyday behavior. Such rhythms and their associated microstructures have specific cognitive significance due to the emotional qualities and their cognitive substrates that they involve. Whether those can or should be exploited through this type of scientific analysis is another matter altogether."



Dr. Colganti, on the other hand, while sympathetic to such concerns, declares, quoting mathematician's Joel Spencer comments on the work of Paul Erdös, “Mathematical truth is immutable; it lies outside physical reality… This is our belief; this is our core motivating force. Yet our attempts to describe this belief to our nonmathematical friends are akin to describing the Almighty to an atheist." He adds that “two further studies at Jazzscientia, one that will analyze jazz from a memetical perspective and another incorporating generative principles of musical thought featuring the integration of microstructure with structure, inspired by the work of Manfred Clynes“ from the Music Research Center at the N.S.W. State Conservatorium of Music in Sydney, Australia, “should allay the kind of ethnic and intellectual concerns that have risen against Jazzscientia."



Look for the first issue of Jazzscientia at AAJ at the end of 2005, as well as the establishment of a discussion board and occasional summaries in the printed pages of AAJ/NY.


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