Musical irrationality in the shadow of pythagoras

Christopher Macklin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Music has been aptly described as an 'ontological mutant', neither exhaustively captured nor fixed by, yet inextricably related to, its manifestation in performances and notation. This characteristic lends itself to endless debates on its identity as well as to myriad contradictory assessments of its utility and value. While some authors have sought to attribute this phenomenon to the 'experimental' music of the late twentieth century, the present essay points out that impossibility, or rather, its sister concepts irrationality and incommensurability, have been integral to the conception of music since its inception. The shared language of paradox provides a link from the Pythagorean and neo-Platonic consonance through to the fixed ambiguities of contemporary composition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-393
Number of pages7
JournalContemporary Music Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2010


  • Aesthetics
  • Experimental music
  • Irrationality
  • Milton Babbitt
  • Pythagoras
  • Werktreue

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music


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