Distribution of Prime Numbers in the Tone Circle

first published 13 February 2018

The ancient notion of tuning matrices, intuited by Ernest G. McClain in the 1970s, was based on the cross-multiples of the powers of prime numbers three and five, placed in an table where the two primes define two dimensions, where the powers are ordinal (0,1,2,3,4, etc…) and the dimension for prime number 5, an upward diagonal over a horizontal extent of the powers of prime number 3. Whilst harmonic numbers have been found in the ancient world as cuneiform lists (e.g. the Nippur List circa 2,200 BCE), these “regular” numbers would have been known to only have factors of the first three prime numbers 2, 3 and 5 (amenable to their base-60 arithmetic). Furthermore, the prime number two would have been seen as not instrumental in placing where, on such harmonic matrices, each harmonic number can be seen on a harmonic matrix (in religious terms perhaps a holy mountain), as

  • “right” according to its powers of 3.
  • “above” according to its powers of 5.

The role of odd primes within octaves

An inherent duality of perspective was established, between seeing each regular number as a whole integer number and seeing it as made up of powers of the two odd two prime numbers, their harmonic composition of the powers of 3 and 5 (see figure 1). It was obvious then as now that regular numbers were the product of three different prime numbers, each raised to different powers of itself, and that the primes 3 and 5 had the special power of both (a) creating musical intervals within octaves between numerical tones and (b) uniquely locating each numerical tone upon a mountain of numerical powers of 3 and 5.

Figure 1 Viewing the harmonic primes 3 and 5 as a mountain of their products, seen as integer numers or as to these harmonic primes
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