Distances in voice-leading spaces as tensional relationships: Determining form in John Adams' Nixon in China (1987)

Eric Yang, University of Toronto

This paper explores a novel way of determining form in John Adams' Nixon in China through the comparison of distance in voice-leading spaces. The recent development of voice-leading spaces (Callender, Quinn, and Tymoczko 2008) has led to research that measures distances between nodes in these spaces (Tymoczko 2009; Hook 2023). I apply the technology of distance measurement to chordal tensional relationships, viewing distance as tension between chords. Furthermore, by measuring distance with two distinct distance functions, voice-leading and Euclidian, I determine which chords are further away from another geometrically, and thereby contain a higher tension between the chords. Sections of the opera are then analyzed based on the connecting tensional value and the underlying organizational form is revealed.