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Note Values

Author(s): John Macivor Perkins


Reviewed work(s):
Source: Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Spring - Summer, 1965), pp. 47-57
Published by: Perspectives of New Music
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FORUM: NOTATION

NOTE VALUES
JOHN MAC IVOR PERKINS

THE EX PLORATION of unconventional rhythmicideas, and its


attendantproblemsof notationand realization,has become a deep con-
cern formany livingcomposers.Stemmingperhaps froma new under-
standingof the experienceand perceptionof time,1such ideas usually
constitutean emancipationof intricateor "irrational"durationrelation-
shipsthroughmultiplesimultaneous"artificialdivision,"irregularmeter,
"rhythmic modulation,"incommensurable tempochange and/oranalog
notation. Emphasis is placed on the expansion of resourcesand on
flexibility,often at the expense of traditionalcohesive, unifyingand
organizingforces,and the musical resultsare thusroughlyanalogousto
the musicalresultsofthoseearlierdevelopmentsin thearea ofpitchrela-
tionscalled by Schoenberg"the emancipationof dissonance."But while
we have now reached a temporaryharmonicplateau (despitepersistent
and persuasivevoicesofdissatisfaction)2 in the acceptanceoftwelve-tone
equal temperament, whetherseriallyorganizedor not, it is evidentthat
the emancipationofrhythmic dissonanceis farfromcomplete.Few com-
poserswoulddenythattherhythmic, evenmoresurelythantheharmonic,
aspect ofour musicallanguage is currently in a stateofrapid transition.
In thislight,the factthat recentscoresemploya confusingvarietyof
notationsystemsis not surprising. The mostprominentsystems3 fallinto
two categories,reflectinga two-prongedassault on the mechanical
symmetry, endlessbipartitedivisions,"tickiness,"4 one-
metricalrigidity,
at-a-timetempo limitationand povertyof durationand speed relation-
shipswhichservedMozart so well,but whichseemnow so intolerably and
irrelevantlyrestrictive.In analog notation,the horizontaldistancebe-
tween the noteheads(or othereventsymbols)is strictlyproportionalto
the intendedtime-difference of attack (or otherevent,such as dynamic

1RobertErickson,"Time-Relations,"
JournalofMusicTheory,Winter1963,pp. 174-92.
2For a recentexample see Ben Johnston,"Scalar Order as a CompositionalResource,"
PERSPECTIVESOF NEW MUSIC,Spring 1964, pp. 56-76. The ideas about rhythmin this article
and in Erickson,op.cit.,are closelyrelevantto thepresentdiscussion.
3A convenientsurveyis includedin Kurt Stone, "Problemsand Methodsof Notation,"
PERSPECTIVES OF NEW MUSIC, Spring1963,pp. 9-31.
4 Erickson, op. cit.

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PERSPECTIVES OF NEW MUSIC

change,timbre change,orrelease).Hencethename"proportionate nota-


tion"forthesesystems, a namewhichwillnotbe usedherebecauseofthe
possibilityofconfusion: conventional notationpresents durational propor-
tionsmoreexplicitly thandoesanalognotation, and tothisisduemanyof
thepractical disadvantages ofall analogsystems.5 The useofconventional
notationwithnumerical, verbal, or other symbolicextensions entails
somedisadvantages ofitsown,however, themostobviousofwhichisthe
cluttering ofthepage witha profusion ofsignswhichare slowto read.
This comparespoorlywiththebeautiful simplicityofthebetteranalog
notations-avisualand conceptualsimplicity whichmayor may not
lead to moreefficient performance. The lessobviouslimitations ofcon-
ventionalnotationare moreimportant,6 and shouldifpossiblebe ana-
lyzedin somedetailby thosestudents and youngcomposers whofind
themselves confronted witha choice.
An easilyaccomplished but notentirely trivialfirststepin suchan
analysis would be an inventory of available conventional notevalues.
In theory, an infinitenumberofdurationvalues,corresponding to the
infinitenumber ofrationalfractions oftheunitduration ina giventempo,
can ofcoursebe expressed in conventional notation, whenit is supple-
mentedbyproportion symbols such as those employed bytheDarmstadt
In a
composers. practice, relatively small finite
number (aboutfifty per
durationoctave-e.g.betweena quarternoteand an eighthnote)is in
factavailable,owingto thedifficulties ofreadinga largenumberofflags
and executing proportional modifications involving largenumbers. Of
these,manyare exceedingly rare.The limitations oftheaccompanying
table(pp. 50-51) havebeenchosento approximate thepractical limita-
tionsat normaltempi:additive valuesinsixty-fourths areincluded, as are
proportional modifications involving numbers up toandincluding fifteen.
In addition, a fewofthemoreimportant valuesresulting fromthefollow-
ingnotational procedures havebeenlisted:(1) theadditionofartificial
divisions(a tripleteighth tiedtoa septuplet eighth,resulting ina duration
equal to thirteen twenty-firstsofa quarternote;suchvaluesare fairly
commonin practice, butarerarelyusedas beatsor "counters" inrhyth-
micmodulations); (2) thesimultaneous orotherwise coordinated employ-
mentofcompound andsimplemeters (thedouble-dotted dottednoteused
as a "counter" byCarterintheSecondQuartet, mm.138-39);(3) theuse
ofartificialdivisions ofa higherorderthanfifteen (themostcommon of
whichis probably17:16); (4) thenesting of artificialdivisionsbeyond
5Discussedin Stone, cit.
op.
6Since at presentno notationwillenable a
"complex"rhythmic patternto be readquickly
and easily,even if,as CharlesWuorinenbelieves,the difficulties
of such patternsare largely
culturalin originratherthan inherent;see his "Notes on the Performance ofContemporary
Music," PERSPECTIVESOF NEWMUSIC,Fall-Winter1964.
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FORUM: NOTATION

five(a triplethalfnote withina septuplet,resultingin a durationofsix-


teentwenty-firstsofa quarternote).
At thispoint,a word about the detailsof the particularnotationcon-
vention employed in this list (and elsewhere) is unfortunately very
necessary,not onlybecause the practiceofcomposershas been strikingly
inconsistentin this regard,but also because the citationof note values
outside a musical or metricalcontext-as for example in note-value
equationsused in writingrhythmic modulations-imposesspecialcriteria
in theevaluationofnotationconventions.In particular,it would be most
desirablethat,in a giventempo,one and onlyone durationvalue be rep-
resentedby each note-valuesymbol,the symbolbeing taken to include
its proportionalor other modifiers.This criteriondoes not necessarily
apply in practicalmusicnotation,'and of courseitsconverseis nottrue,
forthe varietyofsymbolsavailable forthe expressionofeach durationis
essentialto the flexibility
of conventionalnotation.On the otherhand,
the comparativeunexplicitnessof the Darmstadt proportionnotation8
does minimizethenumberofsuchequivalentsymbols,whichissometimes
advantageous; and while it is undeniable that this unexplicitness may
occasionallylead to confusionin practice9(and shouldin thesesituations
be supplementedin the manner of Carter), thereis no reason why it
should lead in any situationto an actual ambiguity(in the sense that
more than one durationmay properlybe read fora givensymbol).For
these reasons,the Darmstadtnotationis best suitedto the presentpur-
poses,and is understoodin thefollowing way:

duration duration(n)
n
(rx:Y' x
-
where(n) is any conventional(includingdotted)notevalue. Forexample,
thedurationofa quarternotewithina bracketmarked5: 3 is alwaysequal
to threefifthsofthe durationof an unmodifiedquarternotein thesame
tempo. For compactness,the numbery is frequentlyomittedfromthe
symbol,in whichcase it is assumed(here) to be equal to the nextpower
of two smallerthan x.10Thus:

7The notationused by Easley Blackwoodin Music forFlute and Harpsichordis efficient


and unambiguouswithoutconforming to thisrule: thenumberwhichappearsafterthecolon
in each case refers
to thenumberofbeatsoccupiedby thebracketednotes.The meaningofa
particularsymbolthusdependson itsmetricalcontext.The same is trueofHindemith'snota-
tionofartificial
divisionsin compoundmeter(see below,n. 10).
8 Stone, op. cit.
9See ElliottCarter,"Letterto theEditor,"JournalofMusicTheory,Winter1963,pp. 270-73.
10This abbreviationrule correspondsexactlywiththe methoddescribedin Hindemith's
Elementary ForMusicians,
Training p. 116,forsimpleduple meters.Carterhas alwaysemployed,
and has recentlyurgedthe generaladoptionof,a different method(describedin Principles
of
MusicTheory by Longy-Miquelle;see Carter,op.cit.)accordingto whichr-7 = 7:8. The rule
behindthiswouldseemto be thatyis assumedtoequal thepoweroftwowhichisarithmetically
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duration,
duration logarithmic
D
Equivalent
-8 symbols
.DO - x

00 1/1 2.000 1.000 1200.0 60 3-7


20/21 1.905 .9296 1115.5 63
17 16/17 1.882 .9125 1095.0 4:5 8:15
01 15/16 1.875 .9069 1088.3 64 "
02 r
15:1415 14/15 1.867 .9004 1080.6 15 5:7 6
6:
14:13 57 r r
03 r 13/14 1.857 .8930 1071.7 7-' 7:6- r7.
04 13 12 12/13 1.846 .8846 1061.4 65
13--
05 12:11 11/12 1.833 .8745 1049.4 9:11
9
3-
3
1211 3
06 110
10/11 1.818 .8625 1035.0 66 11
07 9/10 1.800 .8480 1017.6 53 5
5"9 5-
08 9' 8/9 1.778 .8301 996.1 3 1
3-F
09 7/8 1.750 .8074 968.8 6:7 4:7 4:5

20/23 1.739 .7984 958.1 69


10
15:13
1513 15
15 3 r5 5 -7
13/15 1.733 .7935 952.2 , 3r-
7:6 6/7 7 7:9
1.714 .7776 933.1 70
12 1311 11/13 1.692 .7590 910.8 r~3
3 13
13 5/6 1.667 .7370 884.4 72 10 3- 3
14 11 1.636 .7105 9"
1112
9/11 852.6 11-
15 ~ 13/16 1.625 .7004 840.5 12:13 13
5:6-5 -
16 5 4/5 1.600 .6781 813.7 75
5 3
15/19 1.579 .6589 790.7 76
17 7:11 7--~7
11/14 1.571 .6521 782.5
9 9 3
18
107
7/9 1.556 .6374 764.9 6:7- T3
19 10/13 1.539 .6215 745.8 78 13
3 "
16/21 1.524 .6076 729.2
20 3/4 1.500 .5850 702.0 80 23 3- 43
1
21 15:111.467
11/15 .5525 663.0 10:11--,
3 r 3-r--
5 15'

22 11,1118/11 1.455 .5405 648.7 11


1
3 lO--r
T s
15

23 r 13/18 1.444 .5305 636.6 12:13 r9


7:5 /7 1.429
24 ( 5/7 1.429 .5146
.5146 617.5
617.5 84
84

Table 1
* 50 *

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duration duration,
logarithmic
8 D Equivalent
D -1c D 1 symbols
, .

5:7 1514- 5-,


25 7/10 1.400 .4854 582.5 15 5
13
26 9/13 1.385 .4695 563.4 13":
27 12:11 8:11
11/16 1.375 .4594 551.3
28 " 15/22 1.364 .4474 537.0 88 11:10 11 r 11
11"15
29 3 2/3 1.333 .4150 498.0 90 9 r-3
j 21/32 1.313 .3923 470.8
15/23 1.304 .3833 460.0 92
10:13 15:13 - 5---
30 r 13/20 1.300 .3785 454.2 5-
"
S7-r-r1
79 1.286
31 9/14 .3626 435.1 7:6- -7
32 11:7 7/11 1.273 .3479 417.5 r11.
33 5/8 1.250 .3219 386.3 96 6:5 4:5 13:12
34 13 8/13 1.231 .2996 359.5 13:12r
12:11 9
35 r 11/18 1.222 .2895 347.4 9F
9:1"
5:3
211,9 5 r--, 110:9,
19 -5
36 5:3 3/5 1.200 .2630 315.6 100 5 10:9
37 1113 13/22 1.182 .2410 289.2 =11
11-
38 6:7 7/12 1.167 .2224 266.9 9:7- 3- 3
-3-1

39 13:15 15/26 1.154 .2064 247.7 104 13:10-, 13:12 r13-


40 7- 4/7 1.143 .1927 231.2
8-7
7:.6
41 8:9 r
9/16 1.125 .1699 203.9 23
S2:3 8:9r
6- r
42 9:10 5/9 1.111 .1520 182.4 108

4411
126/11
6:5

1111:911
- 9

45
1.091
43 111
.1255
12:13
150.6 11/20 1.100 .1375 165.0

13/24 1.083 .1155 138.6


15:11

9:13
5

3
r 5

46 13 14 7/13 1.077 .1069 128.3 13-- r-13


47 14 15 15/28 1.071 .0995 119.4 112 7:5 7
7
48 5~ 8/15 1.067 .0932 111.7 15-- 3r 5 15
' 17/321.063.0875105.0
15/291.034.0489 58.7 116
00 1/2 1.000 .0000 0.0 120

Table 1 (Cont.)

"51.

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PERSPECTIVES OF NEW MUSIC

r 3 --= 3:2
= 5:4
-5--
r-7-- = 7:410
= 9:8
r9-
= 11:8
-11--
- 13-1 = 13:810
r- 15--i = 15:810
- 17:16
17--=
etc.

(Even-numberedvalues of x are superfluousin out-of-context citations


of notevalues,and dangerouslyambiguouseven in contextiftheyvalue
is not also given.)"1
The accompanyingtable, then, presentsthe symmetricalscale-like
array of durationvalues available to the user of conventionalnotation.
The axisofsymmetry in thisparticularduration-octavefallsbetweennote
values number 24 and 25, and would be representedby an irrational
durationequal to \F timesthe durationof the eighthnote. Thus, for
example, and - are symmetrically placed around this value (and
withinther""octave" r to r), formingan exact analogy to Pythagorean
F and G (in thescale ofC) whichare symmetrically placed aroundequal-
F
tempered (and within the octave C to c).
The durationslisted in the table may also, of course,be presented
graphically,and fora numberofreasonsa logarithmic scale is bestsuited
to such a presentation.(The value of each duration in "cents"-the
logarithmicunit mostfamiliarto musicians-has been listed.)In Ex. 1
a slide rule is illustrated,the scales of which have been plottedin this
manner,with note values presentedon the two slides and metronome
calibrations(and durationsin seconds)on the fixedfaces.The settingof

closestto x,whetherit is largeror smaller.In thecase of3,6,12,etc.,whichare equallyplaced


betweenpowersoftwo,the"older"ruleis ofcourseapplied.The "logic"ofthismethodisjust
as soundas thatofthe "older" rule,and theresulting visualimageis probablymoremusical
and easier to read. Unfortunately, the illustrations
forthisarticlewere preparedbeforethe
publicationof Carter's"Letter."As forthe abbreviationof artificialdivisionsin tripleand
compoundmeters,the Carter-Miquelleapproach,thoughit tendsto a proliferation ofdots,
appearsdistinctly superiorto themethoddescribedby Hindemith,bothforthe reasonsgiven
in hisletterand becauseit avoidstheintroduction ofambiguity in out-of-contextcitations.
11A trulyexcellentpercussionist,whoisexperienced in theperformance ofthemostintricate
contemporary music,recentlyfailedrepeatedlyto read thefollowing figureas a seriesofnine
equal notes:

3 6
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FORUM: NOTATION

the slidesillustratesthe commontemporatio 3:4, as forexample in the


followingtempo shift:J = 108; -- J = 72. In Ex. 2, a more
==3--; the unusual ratio 14:15; a
elaborate formof the same device illustrates
subtlerhythmic modulationinvolvingthisratiooccursin Carter'sDouble
Concerto, m. 105: J = 105 (J.= 70); --7= -->;J 98. Simple cal-
culationsrelatingnotevalues,tempiand durations(of individualevents,
sectionsor compositions), especiallyifthe data and requiredinformation
are approximations, may oftenbe accomplishedmorequicklywithsuch
devicesthan by mental arithmetic.The discoveryof note-valueequiva-
lents,or near equivalents,in two giventempiis particularlyconvenient.
The term"irrational"is sometimesused to designatebracketednote
values. This is unfortunateand misleading,because all conventional
(includingbracketed)durationsare rationalfractions(in themathemat-
ical senseoftheword) ofthe unitduration,whichis a functionoftempo.
(A bettername for the more intricatefractionalvalues is "artificial
divisions,"but it, too, is unfortunate.)12 Trulyirrationaldurationrela-
tionships are of course conceivable and practical,even in a fixedtempo,
but in conventionalnotationtheycan be expressedonly by usingsuch
crude,extraneousdevicesas thefermata,or thevague instruction "tempo
rubato". Trulyirrationaltempo relationships are mostfrequently encoun-
teredin constantslow accelerations,where,ifmetronomic indicationsare
given, close rational approximations to the intended irrational
relation-
shipsare generallynotated.a3
In analog notation,however,note values will in generalbe trulyirra-
tional,trulyincommensurable. The attempt,in practice,to expresscon-
ventional,rational,proportional,commensurablenote values in purely
spacial notationsystemsinevitablyleads to grossinaccuraciesin perform-
ance. If unmodifiedanalog notationis held to be usefulat all, it mustbe
assumedthatthetoleranceforperformance errorin musicwhichemploys
chiefly irrational duration and tempo relationshipsis greaterthan in
rationallyproportioned music. This assumptionis probably correctin

12Whyis 3/5moreartificial than3/4?The useoftheword"artificial" in thiscontextimplies


thatonlybinary(and perhapsternary)divisionsare natural; thismay be truein one senseof
conventionalnotation(and hence thequasi-justification
ofthe term),but itsacoustic,psycho-
logical,or musicaltruthhas onlyoccasionallybeen assertedand neverproven(see Wuorinen,
op. cit.).
13There is a verysimpleexamplein Carter'sVariationsforOrchestra(Variation6), where
thefollowing metronome appear on successivemeasures(underthegeneralinstruction
settings
"Accel.molto"):J = 80, 96, 115,139, 166,201,J. = J = 80 etc.; theratiosbetweenadjacent
numbersapproximatef3-. An equal-tempered temposcaleis notated,as a meansofsuggesting
a steadytempoglissando.Pointsrepresenting sucha seriesoftempiwouldofcoursebe equally
spaced on the logarithmicmetronomescales of Exx. 1 and 2. More complexand subtler
applicationsofthesame approachto temporelationships-anapproachwhichis complemen-
taryand antitheticalto "metricmodulation"-are not uncommonin Carter'srecentmusic;
see,forexample,theSecond Quartet,p. 55.
. 53 *

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o
cy 3'
?'

t y
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s

0... On~r \I4C,~= 3 ~S

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r)tat
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110
I
O
I I
I0I 1 0 I I I

sec./32 .
M.M. 3 69 84 92 1
L610'uTM96T 192 14
11 131211:10r9i 151313:11 119 r5-1
r ri 3r r r r r l rr 9l 3 5
97 . rl, 7:5 13:9 11:15 10:1311:7 :r 53 67 r7
3
910 114211 r15-

1 r "1 , , ,
527
8
S 15-e , r"1r0 .51,1--i r rl -131r5-
r.3
C, 3,
r r231r5 9 r5 8:11
r16:15 r137r 8-7 r77 r-3 8:l3 7nI r3 r7 4: rI,-il ri3- 8R9 r drIr7r3 1r -

9514113:12
137:11:10309
1 5913 r51 9:7 1 r1 r . .75 S r3: 577-99; 1 11:13 1 01- 1:1 I
r3r
p: ipj, 7:5 15r "
I5:117
536R 7 I:i r:i
r
1"3r9%r3r76
7463: 5 7:1 13:10
911 5: r15 713 J
57
151 3 -1. 7 9:11
9 1:13 ...r7] 10112:13 16:
1:5 1

sec.o io goI W

6
min:sec48so
t+
ape IpS7T 6 5 4
Ex. 2

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PERSPECTIVES OF NEW MUSIC

manycases. Severalcompromisenotationshave ofcoursebeen developed


and applied in an effortto derivethebenefitsofbothanalog and conven-
tionalsystems, and, althoughnone ofthesenotationshas as yetattracted
a significant
numberofcomposers,thereis no doubtthatthebestofthem
offerunprecedentedflexibility and versatility.
The capacityto expressirrationaldurationrelationshipsdirectlyand
simplyis not in itselfthe chiefvirtueof analog notations.Anyirrational
note value can be approximatedby one of the conventionalvalues listed
in the above table,withan errorthat is almostcertainlytolerablemusi-
cally, and veryprobablybelow the thresholdof perceptibility, in most
tempi. On the otherhand, conventional notationdoes in practiceimpose
substantiallimitationson the varietyof feasiblepatternsof duration,and
these limitationsmay be wholly circumventedby recourseto analog
notation.
One simple example should illustratewhat is meant. The following
pitch-duration patternposesno notationalproblems:

3 5

Ex. 3

A semitonetransposition of this presentationof a twelve-toneseriesre-


sultsin a permutationor scramblingof its pitches:

Ex. 4

If the durationvalues ofthe originalpatternwereto be scrambledin the


same way (so thateach pitchin thetransposition wouldbe associatedwith
the same durationas in the originalpattern),the resultingseriesofdura-
tionswould be exceedinglydifficultto presentin conventionalnotation:14

14This is notsuggestedas an interesting


variationtechnique,forcompositional application!
The deviceoftransposition is mentionedsolelyto providean impersonalbasisforpermutation
ofa seriesofdurations,something whichitselfis interesting
notas a musicalresourcebut as a
theoreticalpossibility
or tool. Objectionsto a durationbasis forrhythmic serializationare
stronglyvoiced in Milton Babbitt,"Twelve Tone RhythmicStructureand the Electronic
Medium," PERSPECTIVES
OF NEW MUSIC,Fall 1962, pp. 49-79. Essentially, such a basis will fail
because of the absence in the realm of durationof any phenomenonanalogous to octave
equivalencein the realm of pitch,and the absence of durationalequal-temperament.
Con-
ventionalrhythm notation,withitsbinarydivisions,suggestsan octaveequivalenceofdura-
tionwhichsimplydoes notcorrespondto a perceptualrealitycomparableto thepitchoctave
(which,strangely,is notat all reflected
in staff
notation).
56
?

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FORUM: NOTATION

r-15:11 5 3-= 5--n 6:7-- 5---


-

II II

3 5 L3

Analog notationcould conveyto a human performer thisnew pattern


as easilyas theoriginalone, and withas littleprecision.
The pattern-limitations of conventionalnotation are complex and
subtle.Their detaileddefinition, and a studyof the ways in whichcom-
posersin thepasthave attackedand overcomethem,mightprovereward-
ing and valuable. The factthat many composerswho employconven-
tional notationin writingforconventional(non-electronic)media are
not acutelyand constantlyaware of theirexistencemay be due to the
educational process: we are conditionedto thinkin termsof musical
patternswhich are not verydifficult or awkwardto expressin conven-
tional notation.Blind submissionto such conditioningis not necessarily
conduciveto the conceptionofvital rhythmic ideas: we have thewitness
of Stravinsky to the factthatthe DanseSacralewas conceived,and played
on the piano, beforeit could be notated.But analog notation,forall its
easy attractions,is not the only available escape fromthoselimitations
which remainin modernconventionalnotation,and it entailssacrifices
manyare unwillingto make. To use Ben Johnston'sterminology, insofar
as analog notationimpliesa musical organizationbased solelyupon a
linear(interval)scale ofduration,it deniesthosehigherlevelsoforganiza-
tionbased upon a proportional(ratio) scale, and theresultmay be a loss
of integrativepower and intelligibility.15Furtherextensionsof rational
notationare possiblewhichmayeventuallycancel all patternlimitations,
or reduce them to insignificance.The music of Babbitt, Carter and
Shapey,to name onlythreedissimilarAmericans,pointin thisdirection.

op.cit.,p. 60.
15Johnston,
. 57 0

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