Random Borrowing #11: The Falls

In the pursuit of randomness, today’s result was The Falls, a novel by Joyce Carol Oats. She is a renowned author and the winner of many literature awards. Being uncouth, I’d never heard of her.


The book seems to start with a newlywed man jumping off Niagra falls. Cue the drama of hidden family secrets everywhere.

The random page I chose had a lady attending a bunch of churches and wondering why she could not take any of it seriously. She wanted to feel what the others seemed to be feeling but could only see it as superstitious nonsense.

Links to music composition

Sometimes music theory takes on a bit of a superstitious hue. Harmony theory in particular has a bit of this. All the theory seems to concentrate on classifying chords, and not explaining how they sound.

I’ve never been able to to find the answer to a few seemingly basic questions.
Why does minor sound so qualitatively different to major? Often people say “sadder”, but that is too simplistic. The usual answer is “because that’s how it sounds.”

Similarly, why do cadences sound final? Again, the books simply state that they do, never why.

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts”

– Richard Feynman

The closest I’ve come to the reason why chords sound the way they do is an  article called “Harmony Perception: Harmoniousness is more than the sum of interval consonance” by Norman D. Cook in the journal Harmony Perception from February 2009. The coolest thing about this article is that it explained much of the experimental evidence related to 2 and 3 note chords without requiring “the entire edifice of Western music theory”. I even made a little web page that does related calculations based on the numeric analysis of sounds in that paper.