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From ScratchWritings in Music Theory$
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James Tenney, Larry Polansky, and Lauren Pratt

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780252038723

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252038723.001.0001

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John Cage and the Theory of Harmony

John Cage and the Theory of Harmony


(p.280) Chapter 12 John Cage and the Theory of Harmony
From Scratch

James Tenney

, Larry Polansky, Lauren Pratt, Robert Wannamaker, Michael Winter
University of Illinois Press

James Tenney examines some of John Cage's theoretical ideas and their possible implications for a new theory of harmony that he argues requires new definitions of “harmony,” “harmonic relations,” etc.; such definitions, he contends, will emerge from a more careful analysis of the “total soundspace” of musical perception. Tenney begins with a discussion of the current disparity between harmonic theory and compositional practice before explaining what a true theory of harmony should be: a theory of harmonic perception (one component in a more general theory of musical perception) consistent with the most recent data available from the fields of acoustics and psychoacoustics but also taking into account the extended range of musical experiences available to us today. Tenney outlines the conditions that such a theory ought to satisfy and goes on to consider a multidimensional space of pitch perception called harmonic space.

Keywords:   harmony, James Tenney, John Cage, soundspace, musical perception, harmonic theory, harmonic perception, acoustics, pitch perception, harmonic space

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