CSH/CEU Talk by Marco Buongiorno Nardelli “Music as a Complex Adaptive System”

Sep 07, 2023 | 15:0016:00

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Marco Buongiorno Nardelli (University of North Texas & Santa Fe Institute) will present a talk on Thursday, September 7, from 3 – 4 PM at the Salon.





Title: Music as a Complex Adaptive System






Music emerges at different temporal, geographical, and societal scales. It is shaped by cognitive processes, human interactions, environmental conditions, and physical limits. It leverages sound as a medium and can manifest itself in a wide variety of ways, from outstanding works of art to the coordination of collective action and ritual, to shaping our emotions. Seen through the lens of complex adaptive systems, music is a continuously evolving dynamical entity that emerges from the following key features: It emerges from interactions among multiple elements, from single-tone frequencies to pitches, from melodic and harmonic constructs to compositions, from the interaction of individual performers to the effect on individuals and groups, from song corpora to the cultural evolution of genres, etc. The system is adaptive, it evolves and adapts in a feedback loop that involves current and past interactions. And the patterns seen at the level of the collective differ from those seen in the constitutive elements. Only through the multiscale network of these complex interactions can music emerge.


In this talk, I will explore a particular aspect of such complex behavior, introduce the concept of musical spaces as networks, and derive functional principles of compositional design by directly analyzing network topologies. This approach provides a novel framework for the analysis and quantification of the similarity of musical objects and structures and suggests a way to relate such measures to the human perception of different musical entities. The study of a single work or a corpus of compositions as complex networks provides alternative ways of interpreting the compositional process of a composer by quantifying emergent behaviors with well-established statistical mechanics techniques.


Finally, I will discuss how I incorporate these ideas in my own compositions through audio and video examples and provide a detailed explanation of the esthetic process that leads from a mathematical framework to a performance piece.







Marco Buongiorno Nardelli is a composer, installation artist, and computational physicist who brings a platform for Art/Science integration rooted in his profound and extensive expertise in the development of scientific and artistic software and his vision for sustainable community software development. He is a Regents Professor at the University of North Texas, with academic appointments in both the Department of Physics and the Division of Composition Studies, a member of iARTA, the Initiative for Advanced Research in Technology and the Arts and CEMI, the Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia, and an External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute where he directs an initiative in “Music Complexity”. As both an Artist and a Scientist, his work is intrinsically inter- and cross-disciplinary: his work in Physics and in Art is the natural extension of his practices as a creative thinker: “At the core, I am doing the same thing; the tools that I use to achieve the end-goals are different, of course, but the conceptual framework is very similar. These two things talk to each other at a very deep level.” His scientific research activities range from the design and discovery of novel materials for 21st-century applications in renewable energy, environment, nano-electronics, and devices, to the development of advanced electronic structure theories and high-throughput techniques in materials genomics and computational materials design. As a music theorist, he is a pioneer in the application of complexity theories and big data analysis tools to the structure of music as a generalized mathematical space. As a composer and an artist, he is internationally recognized for his music and new media installations, and his artistic research is rooted in the duality of “music as data, data as music”, including the translation of scientific data and processes into sonic, and potentially artistic, material. Marco is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the Institute of Physics and a Parma Recordings artist.







  • Buongiorno Nardelli, G. Culbreth and M. Fuentes, Evolution of harmonic complexity in western classical music, Advances in Complex Systems, vol. 25, No. 05n06 (2022)
  • Buongiorno Nardelli, Tonal harmony and the topology of dynamical score networks, Journal of Mathematics and Music DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17459737.2021.1969599 (2021)
  • Buongiorno Nardelli, Topology of Networks in Generalized Musical Spaces, Leonardo Music Journal, 30, 38-43 (2020)






Sep 07, 2023


Eddie Lee


Complexity Science Hub Vienna
Josefstaedter Straße 39
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