Science Pub Portland: Geometry of Music

JUL 17, 2018 | 7-9PM

Strings & Spheres: The Geometry of Music

With Steven A. Bleiler, Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at Portland State University

July 17, 2018 | 7-9PM; Doors Open @ 5PM | **Please note: OMSI's restaurant, Theory will not be open.**




There is geometry in the humming of the strings, and music in the spacing of the spheres”  -  Pythagoras


For over two millennia now, when faced with this very famous statement from the father of nearly all Western mathematics, people have asked what really is this “geometry of humming strings”?  This talk explores how modern computational software capabilities grant us new ways of visualizing geometrical and hearing musical landscapes. This happy trick is performed via the elimination of various arithmetical and computational barriers that have previously stymied those untrained in musical theory or mathematical and arithmetical techniques from fully appreciating Pythagoras’ remarkable observation.


Herein, we will take both a historical and a research perspective and show how one can use the free educational program GeoGebra, among others, to explore both the construction and geometric visualization of scales and harmony.  Our exploration will also demonstrate the virtual construction of keyboard instruments that make use of a wide variety of scales and geometric arrangements of keys.  These constructions include simple reconstructions of the famous (and now no longer manufactured) Tonal Plexus and Harry Partch's Just Intoned Diamond Marimba. 


Tonight’s presentation will include joint work of the presenter with Portland State Math and Stat graduate students Ewan Kummel and Mike Wells; and will not assume a familiarity with musical theory, mathematical knowledge beyond elementary arithmetic, or programming expertise.  All the GeoGebra applets referred to and demonstrated in the presentation are available free on the web for user use and modification in their own explorations of musical and mathematical landscapes.  We look forward to hearing of your progress!


Steve is a lifelong mathematician and musician with broad scientific and musical interests.  He received the Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Oregon in 1981.  His many published scientific works include results concerning knots and links, the geometry and topology of low dimensional spaces, the mathematical theory of computation, information, and games in both the classical and quantum environments, the direct calculation of uncertainty in mathematical and financial modeling, and the applications of mathematics to musical theory.  He has received teaching honors from Portland State University and the Mathematical Association of America, and regularly delivers presentations om mathematics and the theory of games to service organizations, community colleges and high schools.  In 2003, he was ranked among the world’s top 300 no limit Texas hold’em players and was the first expositor on how on-line poker will change when played with quantum computers communicating over a quantum internet.  When not matheing, Steve performs musically around the state, both as a soloist and as a member of various groups, on a variety of left handed musical instruments, including a personally flipped left handed piano. He serves as host for one of Portland long running old-time music jams and can be found out and about jamming with others.


OMSI Science Pub at the Empirical Theater is a ticketed event. To guarantee a seat at this event, please buy tickets online or at the OMSI front desk. Advanced tickets will be available for purchase until 11:59pm the day prior to the event. Please show your ticket at the theater entrance upon arrival.


If the event sells out, we will update the website and Facebook listings accordingly. If the event does not sell out in advance, attendance will be first-come, first-served at the door and at-the-door admission will remain a suggested donation.


There will no longer be official seat reservations available at the door. You are welcome to reserve a seat with your jacket or sweater.

Science Pub OMSI is a monthly event that is open to anyone and everyone – no scientific background required. Just bring your curiosity, sense of humor, and appetite for food, drinks and knowledge! For more information or to sign up for our mailing list, email:


The Empirical Cafe will be open with sandwiches and snacks. Both locations have alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Food and drink are welcome in the theater. Parking is free for the event. Doors open at 5pm. Please note: OMSI's restaurant, Theory will not be open.


For more information or to sign up for our mailing list, email: