New Math Museum Explores Music, Sound

12/18/2012 5:50:00 PM
By Kelleigh Welch
The “Harmony of Spheres” exhibit at New York City's new National Museum of Mathematics shows how musical chords relate to math.
New York City’s newest museum, the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath), opened its doors to the public on December 15, 2012, providing the public with hands-on exhibits that show mathematics in real-world situations. Because of the clear connection between music and mathematics, some of the exhibits at the MoMath teach guests about how math works with music and sound.

‘We have three types of experiences (at the museum): we want people to play, try it (the exhibits) out and see what happens. Second, we want them to create beautiful images, and last, we want people to see ways that math connects with the world around us,” said MoMath Founder and Executive Director Glen Whitney. “Math is all around us.”

The “Harmony of Spheres” exhibit is beautiful in both sound and image—designed by composer Dmitri Tymoczko (Princeton University), this exhibit shows the relationship between mathematics and musical chords. As you touch each sphere, it lights up and plays three notes. Each sphere plays a different chord, allowing the user to explore variations of major chords, minor chords and harmonies.

The “Rhythms of Life” exhibit is set up like a DJ table, with three turntables connected to a variety of sounds—from the pluck of a violin string to the barking of a dog or slamming of a door. Your task is to fill the disc with a series of fractions that equal 1. Each fraction represents a part of a rhythm and when you turn it on, the selected sound plays according to the rhythm you create. You can arrange each of the three rhythms to play by themselves, or all together for a different sound.

The purpose of this exhibit shows the relationship between mathematics in musical composure, and how each musical stanza is made up of fractions, just like the disc.

The MoMath is located at 11 East 26th Street in Manhattan and is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission costs $15 for adults and $9 for children.

National Museum of Mathematics

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