Think Free

Leave a comment

Polyphonic chant (and a little polyphonic trivia for the digital age)

gregorian chant

K Leb – Old book of Gregorian Chant; some place in Aragón via Flickr

Polyphonic chant is a type of Christian devotional singing developed in the 10th century where two or more melodies or parts are sung together in a composition.

As with anything new, not everyone approved of polyphony.

Some believed that melodic complexity was the work of the devil, who tried to seduce believers through the sin of pride. Pope John XX II was dead against polyphony and in 1324 CE warned his flock not to fall into the satanic lure of musical innovation.

Pope Clement VI Cameo

Pope Clement VI Cameo via Wikipedia

However, such narrow-mindedness couldn’t stop the flow of musical evolution.

As different cultures and musical styles increasingly intermingled, more complex forms of polyphony emerged in the medieval and renaissance eras, like the motet, the rota, the canon, polyphonic masses and madrigals. Another Pope (Clement VI) actually championed polyphony. So not all the Popes were backward looking duds.

The 18th century saw further development of the fugue, which had roots in simpler, medieval compositions. A good, lighthearted example of a modern fugue is found in Glenn Gould‘s “So You Want To Write a Fugue?”¹

Today, the word polyphony takes on whole new meanings with electronic instruments.

Oberheim 4voice '"Used by 808 State, Depe...

Old analog synthesizer – Oberheim 4voice ‘”Used by 808 State, Depeche Mode, Styx, The Shamen and John Carpenter. Produced from ’75 to ’79. Killed by the Prophet-5.” via Wikipedia

Most hardware and software synthesizers allow users to select the number of notes or layers they want to work with. For example, one might set polyphony to 4, 8, 16 or 32. Generally speaking, the higher the polyphony, the more complex the sound. But increased polyphony puts more demand on a computer processor.

Composing a pop song with “phat bass” and lush synth sounds, for example, would probably require more PC power than an ordinary phone or tablet could provide. Great strides are being made to make bigger sounding virtual instruments work on mobile devices and everyday computers. It’s all about clever, efficient software coding to get the most bang out of lighter processors without any unwelcome stuttering, freezing or crashing. If only those owning high-end gaming computers and expensive sound cards could run commercial music software, not too many units would be sold.

Sylenth1, a popular virtual instrument that runs on a computer, with polyphony settings at top left – via

Back in the early days of computing I thought all PCs ran at the same speed because information is carried by electricity, and electricity runs practically instantaneously. Ha ha. Not so. Like anything, electronic data transfer follows basic laws and principles much like water moving through plumbing.

A bit of a diversion here, but it serves to demonstrate that polyphony demands more energy than monophonic performances. Be it with human singers and musicians, or with artificial electronic instruments.²

¹ More about polyphonic music thru my LINER notes »

² I added “artificial” lest we forget that human beings are also electrical to some extent.

Related » Orpheus


Leave a comment

Ptolemy the polymath

Engraving of a crowned Ptolemy being guided by the muse Astronomy, from Margarita Philosophica by Gregor Reisch, 1508. Although Abu Ma’shar believed Ptolemy to be one of the Ptolemies who ruled Egypt after the conquest of Alexander the title ‘King Ptolemy’ is generally viewed as a mark of respect for Ptolemy’s elevated standing in science. – Wikipedia

Ptolemy (circa 90-168 CE) was an Egyptian polymath who lived in Alexandria while enjoying Roman citizenship. His encyclopedic work on astronomy became the accepted standard for scholars and scientists right up to the 16th century, and came to be known as the Almagest (The Greatest).

He was also a mapmaker supreme, amalgamating all the cartographic knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome. Things tended to change slowly in the ancient world. So centuries later, Christopher Columbus relied on Ptolemaic maps for his voyage in search of a western route to Asia, in which he unintentionally found the Americas.

In addition, Ptolemy advocated a musical scale that involved octaves and precise mathematical ratios. And his work on perception, especially visual perception, laid the groundwork for subsequent optics theory.

His geocentric (Earth centered) model of the universe pleased the scientifically backward and  authoritarian Christian clergy because it didn’t obviously conflict with ancient Hebrew conceptions of creation as portrayed in the Bible. People being an impressionable lot that usually follow the herd, this geocentric view dominated public thinking for centuries until the heliocentric (sun centered) theories of Copernicus, and later Galileo, put everything in a new light.

A printed map from the 15th century depicting Ptolemy’s description of the known world, (1482, Johannes Schnitzer, engraver). – Wikipedia

Related » AristarchusAstrology

 Stunning Shipwreck Found Off the Coast of Oman

 A04a_Ch.16- People and Empires in the Americas

 Shipwreck Discovered from Explorer Vasco da Gama’s Fleet


Acts of the Apostles

English: text of the Acts of the Apostles 2:17...

English: text of the Acts of the Apostles 2:17-21 with passage cited from the Old Testament marked by inverted comma (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Acts of the Apostles is the fifth book of the New Testament.

Most Catholics believe Acts was authored by Luke, the “beloved physician” who traveled with St. Paul. But according to Raymond Brown, about 50% of biblical scholars dispute this.

The book provides historical material about the spread of the Gospel and some of the earliest disputes that arose during that time. Acts begins at the resurrection and ascension of Christ, and focuses on the growth of the Christian Church, its expansion to Samaria and Antioch, and Paul’s missionary journeys to Asia Minor, regions of the Aegean and Rome.

Acts ends after Paul’s two year imprisonment at Rome.

Perhaps most important, Acts unifies the four divisions of humanity (Jews, Samaritans, proselytes, Gentiles) under the banner of Christianity.

Leave a comment



Acrópolis (Photo credit: Galería de Faustino)

Acropolis [Greek akron = point, summit + polis = city]

Initially, an acropolis was simply a fortified hill serving as a stronghold for Greek city-states. Later, the acropolis took on a religious function as a sacred citadel built on high ground within or near a town.

The most famous but by no means only acropolis contains the Parthenon and the Erechtheum at Athens, connected with Athena worship. In 447 BCE a massive statue of Athena stood within its center, the patron goddess of Athens. Although the original statue has been lost, a reconstruction stands in Nashville, Tennessee, within a full-size replica of the Parthenon.

In the 6th century the famed Parthenon was converted into a Christian church.

In 1975 an extensive restoration project began.

The aim of the restoration was to reverse the decay of centuries of attrition, pollution, destruction by acts of war, and misguided past restorations.¹


Leave a comment


Trappist Monk|Monje Trapense

Trappist Monk|Monje Trapense (Photo credit: ireneantper)

In Catholicism the term “brother” denotes a member of a religious organization, often a monk. It also refers to those engaged in teaching, nursing or other works of charity, such as the “Christian Brothers.” Some brothers may be ordained as priests.

Historians often claim that Irish monks kept the flame of piety alive, preserved ancient legends and sustained scholarship during the Middle Ages when a highly corrupt clergy brought shame to the Christian Church. But it’s hard to know just how accurate these claims are.

In some Protestant denominations the term “brother” refers to a fellow believer, based on one interpretation of the word brother (adelphos) as found in New Testament Greek. And many believe that Jesus had brothers, based on their interpretation of the Greek word, adelphoi. This position is rejected by Catholics, as exemplified here:

On the World Wide Web:

Leave a comment



St. John baptizing Christ in the Jordan River

A Baptist is a member of a Protestant Christian Church or denomination with roots in England and Wales from the beginning of the 17th century. In the late 19th century, Baptists quickly became an important part of the American Christian landscape.

Today’s Baptist Church is a global phenomenon, the Baptist World Alliance having been established in 1905.

Baptists generally reject infant baptism, believing that sacred scripture points to the necessity of consciously choosing to embrace Christian belief. So for Baptists, a newborn who cannot choose is not ready to accept Baptism.

However, not all Baptists agree on every theological issue as, say, Catholics seem to when professing their common faith in the Mass. In fact, Baptists belief varies considerably. And this divergence of belief isn’t just a private matter, kept under wraps for fear of repercussions or to preserve the Church’s unity. Rather, it’s public. ¹

Not surprisingly, Baptist congregations tend to be run independently. And they’re quite active in organizing missions, schools and youth camps.


Leave a comment



Photo credit: zugaldia via Flickr

Christology is the theological study of Jesus Christ as a human and Divine being.

Various Christian sects in early Christianity emphasized either Christ’s humanity at the expense of his Divinity or, conversely, his Divinity at the expense of his humanity.

The Christian Church took great pains to officially resolve these as heresies.

Related Posts » Apollinarius, Arius, Gnosticism, Monophysitism, Nestorius.