The Perfect Note by Matthew Slater

This was a question posed to me by a good friend and intellectul John Robertson. What is the perfect note, or the most pleasing note known to man? Remember the film This Is Spinal Tap? The character of Nigel Tufnel plays a song in D minor, or as he calls it "the saddest of all keys". Thereotically speaking D minor is exactly the same as C minor, just a little higher. It's about the relationship between the notes that brings me to my first problem. I could hum you a tune, or a nrusery rhyme that you don't know. Programmed into our heads after years and years of conventional, consanant, Western music you could hum the last note to correctly finish it. A perfect resolution. Hum me the note one up or down from it and it sounds bad. Now hum that single note by itself, and start of another nursery rhyme from that note – suddenly it fits! The problem is a note is just a frequency, is just pressure over time. It doesn't contain any minor or major properties by itself. So how do we test the entire series of notes to find the best, by ensuring that no influence comes from the note before it? Somes notes rightly enough will have an influence – lower notes are villians, higher are angels. This stands to reason that the perfect sound would fall somewhere in the middle ( or at least, these two ranges cannot be measured accurately ). Whatever this perfect note is, could there be money to be made from it? Could we as audio engineers and equipment manufacturers and as listeners adjust our equipment, put an equaliser on our stereo and boost this range? Is it different for different instruments? Is it different for different audio uses ( say speech vs a pop song vs an orchestral piece ). Probably. This notion of a singular holy grail is too idealistic, too easy, too simple a solution. For instance there was a study undertaken in a university with a song in different files formats and qualities for students to hear and rate. The older students preferred higher quality formats and picked some of the best on offer, the younger students picked the lossy mp3 formats, the compressed audio, some of the worst on offer. What I can hear is different from what you can hear, is filtered by those shapes inside my ear, which are different from the shapes in your ear. Alongside potential hearing loss and other factors such as personal preference. My perfect note will be different to your perfect note. Still, it's a nice idea isn't it?