School Seminar: How does a water lily sound? What could be the music of ammonites? A journey between mathematics, music, and nature


When we think of ‘concrete’ things, we first think of the earth, with trees and plants. When we think of art, we think of shapes, colors, and sounds. When we think of ‘abstract’ stuff, one of the first ideas is probably higher mathematics.

An ‘abstract’ mathematical theory such as category theory, can constitute a tool to get a unified perspective on shapes from nature and the arts. Mathematics, also, offers a strategy to map visual shapes such as drawings into sound and music, considering both as produced by the same ‘gestural generator.’  

After a short introduction on categories, we present several examples of shapes from nature, from flowers (cereus hildmannianus) to trees (ficus macrophylla columnaris), passing through prehistorical ammonites, with references to possible ways to mathematically describe these shapes and musically render them.

As a final example, we present a musical application of the Rubik’s cube, the CubeHarmonic, that connects music theory and mathematics.

Maria Mannone is an Italian researcher. She earned Masters in Theoretical Physics, Orchestral Conducting, Composition, and Piano in Italy, and the Master 2 ATIAM at IRCAM-UPMC Paris VI Sorbonne. She achieved the Ph.D. in Composition in the USA, at the University of Minnesota, where she developed an interdisciplinary research collaborating with the Fine Institute of Theoretical Physics. She is the ideator of the CubeHarmonic, a musical instrument derived from Rubik’s cube, and now a working prototype developed in collaboration with the Tohoku University (Japan).

Author and co-author of books and articles, she gave invited lectures and talks in the USA, Asia, and Europe.

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