Looking at Numbers
Galileo Galilei said he was “reading the book of nature” as he observed pendulums swinging, but he might also simply have tried to draw the numbers themselves as they fall into networks of permutations or form loops that synchronize at different speeds, or attach themselves to balls passing in and out of the hands of good jugglers. Numbers are, after all, a part of nature. As such, looking at and thinking about them is a way of understanding our relationship to nature. But when we do so in a technical, professional way, we tend to overlook their basic attributes, the things we can understand by simply “looking at numbers.”
Tom Johnson is a composer who uses logic and mathematical models, such as combinatorics of numbers, in his music. The patterns he finds while “looking at numbers” can also be explored in drawings. This book focuses on such drawings, their beauty and their mathematical meaning. The accompanying comments were written in collaboration with the mathematician Franck Jedrzejewski.
Tom Johnson (1939) is considered a minimalist, since he works with simple forms, limited scales, and generally reduced materials, but he proceeds in a more logical way than most minimalists, often using formulas, permutations, predictable sequences and various mathematical models. He is particularly well known for his operas. The Four Note Opera (1972) has been presented in 11 different languages since its premier 40 years ago. Riemannoper has been staged more than 30 times in German-speaking countries since its premier in Bremen in 1988. Often played non-operatic works include Bedtime Stories, Rational Melodies, Music and Questions, Counting Duets, Tango, Narayana's Cows, and Failing: a very difficult piece for solo string bass. His longest work is the Bonhoeffer Oratorio for four soloists, two choruses and orchestra, presented in Maastricht (1996), Berlin (1998) and New York (2000). The book Conversations avec Tom Johnson, in collaboration with Bernard Girard, was published in 2011.
Franck Jedrzejewski is a researcher in mathematical physics at the
CEA Saclay and has also a PhD in philosophy and musicology. He
teaches at the INSTN as well as in the University of Paris Sud and