PhD student (Music Theory) Kristen Wallentinsen, wins Best Student Paper Award at Rocky Mountain Society for Music Theory conference

Congratulations to Kristen Wallentinsen, PhD student in music theory, who won the 2015 Best Student Paper Award at the recent meeting of the Rocky Mountain Society for Music Theory for “Fuzzy Family Trees: An Examination of Familial Similarity Between Contours of Variable Cardinality.”

Fuzzy Family Ties: An Examination of Familial Similarity between Contours of Variable Cardinality

Contour is one of a melody’s defining characteristics, yet many tools that examine similarity between contours can compare only those that have the same number of notes (or “cardinality”). Robert Morris (1987), and Elizabeth West-Marvin and Paul Laprade (1987) have developed matrices that quantitatively account for contour similarity. Ian Quinn (1997) generalizes these matrices by using fuzzy set theory to explore the relationship between an individual contour and a family of related contours.

Though useful, such models cannot compare contours that differ in cardinality, and therefore apply to a more limited repertoire. 

This paper introduces a new method for evaluating familial similarities between contours without assuming cardinality equivalence. Using motives from Beethoven’s fifth symphony as an example, I measure the degree of membership of potential new contours against an existing family by examining the contour’s transformational pathway (the pathway of moves a contour makes as it unfolds in time), comparing it to an averaged contour pathway that tallies the probability that each ordered move in the new contour will occur in the family. To include contours of differing cardinality, I examine all the possible position alignments of the new contour against the existing family, yielding a range of membership values. This range of values forms an interval valued fuzzy set, wherein the membership value of the contour in question is its own fuzzy set that encompasses this range. In this way, one can compare contours against a family without relying on cardinality equivalence.

Rocky Mountain Society for Music Theory

The Rocky Mountain Society for Music Theory holds annual conferences throughout the Rocky Mountain region, including Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona. The 2015 Regional Music Scholars conference, a joint meeting of the Rocky Mountain Society for Music Theory, the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the American Musicological Society, and the Southwest Chapter of the Society for Ethnomusicology, was held March 27–28 at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO.

For more details on the Award, visit