Ian Quinn

Ian Quinn's picture
Prof Music Dept
469 College St, New Haven, CT 06511-6609

Specializations: music cognition; computational modeling; history of tonal theory; algebraic theory and analysis, especially neo-Riemannian and other transformational applications to harmony; American folk hymnody; minimalism and postminimalism; Ligeti.

About: Ian Quinn has degrees from Columbia University (B.A., 1993) and the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester (M.A., 1998; Ph.D., 2004). Before joining the Yale faculty, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Oregon. In 2008-09 he was a Residential Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford.

Quinn regularly teaches courses in music cognition, computational modeling, and Sacred Harp singing. Other courses include an undergraduate seminar on minimalism and postminimalism in music, graduate classes on the analysis of post-tonal music and on the cognitive history of tonality, and a freshman seminar called “Math, Music, and Mind.”

Central themes of Quinn’s work are music cognition and the foundations of music-theoretic practice. His current work interrogates the historically resilient analogy between music and language, with a particular focus on applications of computational linguistics to models of harmonic syntax and to the problem of key-finding. His earlier work in mathematical music theory deals with the classification of the horizontal and vertical building blocks of music – melodies and chords – focusing on careful critique of the models mathematically-inclined music theorists have used in the last few decades. His theory of abstract (non-tonal) chord classification was published serially inPerspectives of New Music as “General Equal-Tempered Harmony” and won the Outstanding Publication Award from the Society for Music Theory in 2009. This article completes the project Quinn began with his article “Listening to Similarity Relations,” which won SMT’s Emerging Scholar Award in 2004. Related research in the mathematical modeling of voice leading, developed with collaborators Dmitri Tymoczko and Clifton Callender, was published in Science in 2008.

A musician who has recorded works by Steve Reich with Alarm Will Sound (Canteloupe) and Ossia(Nonesuch), Quinn’s interests extend also to modern and avant-garde music. Related projects include a study of the development since the late 1970s of Steve Reich’s harmonic language, and an essay on Ligeti’s early and late music that uses the evolution of a particular musical idée fixe as a springboard for a discussion of the composer’s idiosyncratic thoughts on form.

Quinn edited the Journal of Music Theory from 2004 to 2011 and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Mathematics and Music, which launched in 2007. He was co-organizer (with Richard Cohn) of the 2009 meeting of the Society for Mathematics and Computation in Music. He serves on the executive committee of the Northeast Music Cognition Group (NEMCOG), which meets several times per year in New York, New Haven, and Boston. He also organizes the Yale-New Haven Regular Singing (YNHRS), a weekly shape-note singing group.

Quinn’s dissertation advisees have written on Ligeti, Boulez, Berio, corpus methods, and performance timing in Bulgarian music.

Music Theory
Appointment Type: 
Graduate faculty
Undergraduate faculty