Vi Hart Uses Her Video Magic to Demystify Stravinsky and Schoenberg’s 12-Tone Compositions

Hav­ing one of those morn­ings where you wake up think­ing it’d be “awe­some” if you jazzed up Stravin­sky’s aton­al musi­cal set­ting of Edward Lear’s famous non­sense poem, “The Owl and the Pussy­cat”?

You are? Wow! What luck! Appar­ent­ly Recre­ation­al Math­e­mu­si­cian Vi Hart had the exact same kind of morn­ing recent­ly, and used it as the spring­board for address­ing the 12-Tone Tech­nique orig­i­nal­ly devised by Arnold Schoen­berg. Unini­ti­at­ed philistines may want to dou­ble down on the caf­feinat­ed bev­er­age of their choice, as this stuff is dense, and Hart talks the way a hum­ming­bird flies.

But as she notes at the 15 minute mark, “Cre­ativ­i­ty means fear­less­ly embrac­ing things that seem odd, even ran­dom, know­ing that if you keep your brain open you’ll even­tu­al­ly find the con­nec­tions.”

Ergo, those of us whose ref­er­ence lev­el (or, it must be said, inter­est) is no match for a 30 minute trea­tise on the his­to­ry and log­ic of order­ing the twelve pitch-class­es of the chro­mat­ic scale into numer­i­cal­ly des­ig­nat­ed sets should find some­thing to chew on, too: copy­right and Fair Use Law, for starters; the con­straint-bound exper­i­men­tal fic­tion of French lit­er­ary group Oulipo, not to men­tion Borges’ “Library of Babel” and the orga­nized ran­dom­ness of Rorschach blots and con­stel­la­tions; zom­bies… John Cage…

(Easy to imag­ine the sort of jacked-up, expla­na­tion-crazed, bed-resis­tant child she must have been.)

As ever, her sharpie-on-spi­ral stop-motion visu­als add dimen­sion, espe­cial­ly now that she seems to be exper­i­ment­ing with giv­ing her on-the-fly stick fig­ures a cer­tain Hyper­bole-and-a-Half exu­ber­ance.

For good mea­sure, we’ve added a con­ven­tion­al video primer on the 12 Tone Tech­nique by The New York Times below.

H/T Hannes

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Math­e­mu­si­cian Vi Hart Explains the Space-Time Con­tin­u­um With a Music Box, Bach, and a Möbius Strip

Math Doo­dling

Inter­views with Schoen­berg and Bartók

Ayun Hal­l­i­day would’ve resort­ed to Vi Hart’s snake draw­ing tech­nique had this been a live lec­ture. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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Comments (6)
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  • Flower Venice says:

    i need a muse­um so bad you colud not pos­si­bly imag­ine how much i miss col­or !!! i was going every day. please teach me more about physics metaphors stars decon­struct­ing mean­ing words new struc­tures i need to know ALL ABOUT THIS! please con­tact me once a day via face­book, i have need­ed to unlock this melody from me to see picas­so like a new sort of sen­si­tiv­i­ty… 12 tones all these com­posers one com­pos­er a day and elab­o­rate on atoms relat­ed to com­posers quan­tum elec­tro­dy­nam­ics new vocab­u­lary, i appre­ci­ate your thought all the “trou­ble” you took i feel the stars and melodies are in a sacred pat­tern that is unlocked through geom­e­try… in ‚my art. please con­tact me again soon…

  • zazuka says:

    this is so awe­some! thanks for post­ing and for intro­duc­ing us to vi hart!

  • Raven Luni says:

    I both under­stand this and am in awe of it. You have one of the most beau­ti­ful minds I’ve seen!

  • Linda says:

    Bril­liant­ly cre­ative, instruc­tive, inspir­ing, and high­ly enter­tain­ing!

  • Jonas says:


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