This is a re-posting of an article thought lost, deriving in part from Malcolm Stewart’s Starcut Diagram. The long awaited 2nd edition Sacred Geometry of the Starcut Diagram has now been published by Inner Traditions. Before this, Ernest McClain had been working on tuning via Gothic master Honnecourt’s Diagram of a Man (fig. 2), which is effectively a double square version of the starcut diagram.
The square is the simplest of two dimensional structures to draw, giving access to many fundamental values; for example the unit square has the diagonal length equal to the square root of two which, compared to the unit side length, forms the perfect tritone of 1.414 in our decimal fractional notation (figure 1 left). If the diagonal is brought down to overlay a side then one has the beginning of an ancient series of root derivations usually viewed within the context of a double square, a context often found in Egyptian sacred art where “the stretching of the rope” was used to layout temples and square grids were used to express complex relationships, a technique Schwaller de Lubitz termed Canevas (1998). Harmonically the double square expresses octave doubling (figure 1 right).
Figure 1 left: The doubling of the square side equal 360 units and right: The double square as naturally expressing the ordinal square roots of early integers.
Musical strings have whole number lengths, in ratio to one another, to form intervals between strings and this gives geometry a closer affinity to tuning theory than the use of arithmetic to calculate the ratios within a given octave range. The musicology inferred for the ancient world by Ernest G. McClain in his Myth of Invariance (1976) was calculational rather than geometrical, but in later work McClain (Bibal 2012-13) was very interested in whatever could work (such as folding paper) but was especially interested in the rare surviving notebook of 13th century artist Villard de Honnecourt, whose sketches employed rectilinear frameworks within which cathedrals, their detailing, human and other figures could be drawn.
“I believe we have overlooked Honnecourt as a prime example of what Neugebauer meant in claiming Mesopotamian geometry to approach Renaissance levels illustrated in Descartes. If Honnecourt is 13th c. then he seems more likely to be preserving the ancient picture, not anticipating the new one.”
This draws one into significant earlier traditions of sacred art in Egypt (Canevas) and in Indian temple and statue design, and to Renaissance paintings (see end quote) in which composition was based upon geometrical ideas such as symmetry, divisions into squares and alignments to diagonals. Figure 2 shows one of Honnecourt’s highly stylised sketches of a man, using a technique still in use by a 20th century heraldic artist.Ernest McClain, Bibal Group: 18/03/2012
Figure 2 The Honnecourt Man employing a geometrical canon.
The six units, to the shoulders of the man, can be divided to form a double square, the lower square for the legs and the upper one for the torso. The upper square is then a region of octave doubling. McClain had apparently seen a rare and more explicit version of this arrangement and, from memory, attempted a reconstruction from first principles (figure 3), which he shared with his Bibal colleagues, including myself.
Figure 3 McClain’s final picture of the Honnecourt Man, its implied Monochord of intervals and their reciprocals.
To achieve a tuning framework, the central crossing point had been moved downwards by half a unit, in a double square of side length three. On the right this is ½ of a string length when the rectangle is taken to define the body of a monochord. McClain was a master of the monochord since his days studying Pythagorean tuning. Perhaps his greatest insight was the fact that the diagonal lines, in crossing, were inadvertently performing calculations and providing the ratios between string lengths forming musical intervals.
Since the active region for octave studies is the region of doubling, the top square is of primary interest. At the time I was also interested in multiple squares and the Egyptian Canevas (de Lubitz. 1998. Chapter 8) since these have special properties and were evidently known as early as the fifth millennium BC (see Heath 2014, chapter two) by the megalith builders of Carnac. In my own redrawing of McClain’s diagram (figure 4) multiple squares are to be seen within the top square. This revealed that projective geometry was to be found as these radiant lines, of the sort seen in the perspective of three dimensions when drawn in two dimensions.
Figure 4 Redrawing McClain to show multiple squares, and how a numerical octave limit of 360 is seen creating lengths similar to those found in his harmonic mountains.
Returning to this matter, a recently developed technique of populating a single square provides a mechanism for studying what happens within such a square when “starcut”.
Figure 5 left: Malcolm Stewart’s 2nd edition book cover introducing right: the Starcut Diagram, applicable to the top square of Honnecourt’s octave model .
Malcolm Stewart’s diagram is a powerful way of using a single square to achieve many geometrical results and, in our case, it is a minimalist version that could have more lines emanating from the corners and more intermediate points dividing the squares sides, to which the radiant lines can then travel. Adding more divisions along the sides of the starcut is like multiplying the limiting number of a musical matrix, for example twice as many raises by an octave.
A computer program was developed within the Processing framework to increase the divisions of the sides and draw the resulting radiants. A limit of 720 was used since this defines Just intonation of scales and 720 has been identified in many ancient texts as having been a significant limiting number in antiquity. Since McClain was finding elements of octave tuning within a two-square geometry, my aim was to see if the crossing points between radiants of a single square (starcut) defined tones in the just scales possible to 360:720. This appears to be the case (figure 6) though most of the required tone numbers appear along the central vertical division and it is only at the locations nearest to D that eb to f and C to c# that only appear “off axis”. The pattern of the tones then forms an interesting invariant pattern.
Figure 6 Computer generated radiants for a starcut diagram with sides divided into six.
Figure 7 http://HarmonicExplorer.org showing the tone circle and harmonic mountain (matrix) for limit 720, the “calendar constant” of 360 days and nights.
Each of the radiant crossing points represents the diagonal of an M by N rectangle and so the rational “calculation” of a given tone, through the crossing of radiants, is a result of the differences from D (equal to either 360 or 720) to the tone number concerned (figure 8).
Figure 8 How the tone numbers are calculated via geometrical coincidence of cartesian radiants which are rational in their shorter side length at the value of a Just tone number
It is therefore no miracle that the tone numbers for Just intonation can be found at some crossing points and, once these are located on this diagram, those locations could have been remembered as a system for working out Just tone numbers.
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