Skip to main content

MSE Colloquium: Dr. Jesse Berezovsky, Crystals of sound: Using the physics of phase transitions to understand the ordered structure of music

All dates for this event occur in the past.

Fontana Laboratories room 2000
140 W. 19th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

Abstract
The beauty of music arises out of a balance between consonance and dissonance, regular order and variety, predictability and surprise. In materials, a similar competition between internal energy and entropy causes order (and beauty) to spontaneously emerge out of randomness when, for example, crystals assemble from randomly colliding atoms. By mapping basic psycho-acoustic responses onto the framework of statistical mechanics, we can construct effective free energies that describe how sounds may become ordered to form music. We then use the wide array of tools that minimize free energy to find equilibrium states, ranging from mean field theories, to renormalization group theory, to Monte Carlo simulation. The results that emerge reveal spontaneous symmetry breaking that replicates familiar structures of rhythm and meter, as well as the historical development of Western harmony.
[1] Berezovsky, Jesse. "The structure of musical harmony as an ordered phase of sound: A statistical mechanics approach to music theory." Science advances 5, no. 5 (2019): eaav8490.
[2] Din, Huay, and Jesse Berezovsky. "Critical behavior and the Kibble-Zurek mechanism in a musical phase transition." PLoS One 18, no. 1 (2023): e0280227.

Bio
Jesse Berezovsky is an associate professor of physics at Case Western Reserve University. He received his PhD at UC Santa Barbara in 2007, then worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. In addition to his research into devices for quantum technology, he studies applications of statistical mechanics to music theory. He also plays the viola.