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Music and the emergence of experimental science in early modern Europe

Author(s): Penelope Gouk

Journal: SoundEffects
ISSN 1904-500X

Volume: 2;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 5;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: musical instruments | experiment | acoustics | sound | Scientific Revolution

The seventeenth century witnessed major advances in physics and experimental science. This paper argues that while the role of new visual technologies (e.g. the microscope) has been well studied, less attention has been paid to acoustic technologies in early modern natural philosophy. In particular, I attend to the relationship between making music, a specific form of organised sound mediated through instruments, and the production of new scientific knowledge. On the one hand, this relationship developed in the context of acoustics, a new discipline first mapped out by Francis Bacon. On the other hand, music’s relationship to natural philosophy was also more fundamental, since harmony was understood as an organising principle of the universe, the laws of musical strings providing a model for other forms of vibrative motion. I also show the importance of musical training for Galileo’s experiments and the significance of harmony for Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke.
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