Molecules, Music and Metamorphosis

Fall 2021
Sophomore - Senior
Class Size: 50
16 Credits per quarter
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How do structures, natural and artistic, both enable and constrain function, while allowing for their own modification over time? What features do musical, biological and literary structures share? Can developing an awareness of underlying patterns in literary works teach us anything about shifts that occur within biological and musical processes? In this program we will investigate underlying structural rules with an aim to develop a richer understanding of complex processes that emerge from the variation and combination of forms in music, biology, and literature.

We will begin our study of music by considering structures of sound, elements of music, and the ways that they function in the creation and performance of specific musical works. During fall quarter we will work to develop fluency with technical language, notation of music, and approaches to listening. As the program progresses we will move into an examination of larger formal structures, the metamorphosis of musical elements that occurs within and across these structures, and the impact of these processes on receivers and producers of sound. As music is ultimately an experiential art form, students will be expected to participate in singing, moving, and creation of music throughout the program.
Complementing our study of music, we take a biological approach to understanding how we perceive and respond to music. We will focus on auditory perception and interpretation, beginning with brain anatomy, proceeding onto the logic of auditory processing, and concluding with an examination of the specialized neurons and molecules involved in transducing sound waves to electrical signals. 

Throughout the program we turn to literature as a third strand, not only to study how music and biology are depicted in fiction, but to examine how works of literature encourage transformation of ideas. Authors that we read may include Richard Powers, Shirley Hazzard, Thomas Mann, Goethe, Herman Melville, Michael Cunningham, E.M. Forster, Zadie Smith, and Haruki Murakami.

Program activities will include lectures, workshops (in-person), labs (in-person), and seminar. Student learning will be assessed by a program portfolio, writing assignments, performances, exams, and a lab notebook. Credits equivalencies may be awarded in applied music, music literature, music theory, introductory biology, and writing and literature.

To successfully participate in remote learning, students will need a laptop computer and access to Zoom and Canvas. Students should expect 15 hours of synchronous work each week, a combination of in-person (9 hours) and remote (6 hours) activities.


Fall 2021 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 10249

Academic details

Preparatory For

biology, music, and performance

Maximum Enrollment
Class Standing

$85 per quarter for concert entrance fees and lab fees


Time Offered
Schedule Evergreen link
see Schedule Evergreen for detailed schedule

First Meeting

SEM 2 E1105 - Lecture


Date Revision
2021-10-07 This program is now fall quarter only