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VMs: Re: Voynechese as musical notation

Hello Karen,
Welcome. Musical notation in the VMS is an interesting concept, though, as you have pointed out there has been little if any discussion that I am aware of relating to music. You may know that Ethel Lilian Voynich was a musician and I do not recall any mention by her concerning music in the VMS. This is not to say, of course, that there is no such reference to be found. For example, one might argue that there are what appear to be organ pipes within the drawings of the 9 rosettes. Eight pointed stars may have an implied reference to octaves and seven pointed stars may have a basis in Genesis. But this is all conjectural. Both Athanasius Kircher and Robert Fludd (a friend of Johannes Marcus Marci) were somewhat interested in music as applied to the Cosmos:
"In his Musurgia universalis (of the miraculous power and effect of consonances) Kircher developed the idea of God as an organ-builder and organist, and compared the six-day labour of creation with the six registers of a cosmic organ."
"Like Fludd, Kircher divided the various zones of Heaven and Earth into octaves. The organist's art appeared primarily in the accord of the four elements."
(ref. "A. Kircher, Musugia universalis, Rome, 1650", p.94)
"According to Fludd, 'the monchord is the internal principle which, from the centre of the whole, brings about the harmony of all life in the cosmos.'"
"By altering the tension of the strings, God, the 'Great Chord', is able to determine the density of all materials between Empyreum and Earth."
"The instrument is divided in half into an upper, ideal, active octave and a lower, material, passive octave, and these are in turn divided into fourths and fifths. On these intervals the upper, principle of light moves down into dark matter, and at their intersection the sun assumes the power of transformation."
(ref. "R. Fludd, Utriusque Cosmi, Vol. 1, Oppenheim, 1617", p.95)
The above quotes and references are taken from "The Hermetic Museum, Alchemy & Mysticism, by Alexander Roob, Taschen, GmbH, 2001, pp.94-95). 
Herbal Section:
From the studies that have been made of the plant drawings in the VMS, I would say that there is a great deal more to be interpreted from the illustrations than simply having included them as "just decoration". Notice the inclusion of animal figures for instance. In addition, it appears that many of the plants contain toxins (possibly a primary reason for "encrypting" the text) and would have been known in Medieval times.
Dana Scott
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Sunday, January 04, 2004 12:32 PM
Subject: VMs: Voynechese as musical notation

Dear all,

this mailing list ist really the most interesting place for research of the
VMS and it would be nice, if I could contribute some of my modest ideas
and findings.

Let me shortly introduce myself. My name is Karsten Kutowski and I am
working on cryptographic software in an IT company. This may explain my
interest in the VMS, that gripped me for one year now.

Here are some findings and an idea that I would like to offer for discussion:

After some research about character and word distributions and their relation
to each other (thanks Stolfi) I almost believed the pessimists telling, that it is
all just an expensive joke. The low entropy together with the many repetions
of words and characters, up to four times after another, makes it difficult to
believe in a decryption scheme producing some meaningful plaintext. Shure
such encryption mechanism exist, e.g. the CBC (chain block cipher) method,
where each block of data modifies the encryption of the next (very similiar to
the triplet system dicussed here to produce Italian plaintext), but this kind of
encryption (and decryption too) is quite expensive and not easy to handle
without computer aid. The labels also does not seem to resemble some
meaningful text. They look as if they are chosen almost arbitrarily build upon
syllabes concatenated in some system deliberately avoiding repetition of any
word used once. This is especially obvious in the zodiac section, where each
and every day of the year (if the women in us represent days) seems to have
an own name. This may be ok for the calender used, but is quite unusual. Even
the complex calendar of the maya did have repeating names and at least this
or a scheme for the name creation would be expected to be found there. But
the possibility mentioned in the subject, the VMS to be, at least partly, beeing
some kind of musical notation I will give some arguments next.

Visual impression:
Many folios, like 76r or 106r and following, seems to be visually aranged like
someone would do with a rhyme or poetry. This may explain the missing full
stops or commas or that some words and characters almost exclusively are
found at line beginnings or line ends. But looking at folio 66r the visual
resemblance to a partiture is striking. There are some kind of note and bass
key (I think its called clef in english?!?) preceeding the notes itself and the Pi
like characters extends over one to four following characters just like a note
bow will connect multiple notes to a single tune. (Could also be interpreted as
damping or the like)

Word length distribution and missing markings:
Word length and character distribution of the VMS are discussed heavily. They
are not matching any usual european language. Usually this is explained with an
exotic base language like Mandarin or with the assumption of beeing an encoding
altering the spacing. But if spacing is encoded in a way, that should look like a
new language, than why does the alphabet does not include any full stops or colons?
This leads to the idea of an artificial language and this would exactly not need any
such marks for a musical notation. In the usual note language used nowadays,
special delimiters for repetitions, transpositions or the like are written as characters,
not as markings. Also, it seems not unusual to play the same note twice or three times
explaining the many repetitions of characters and words.

Different hands and encoding styles:
Like discussed in some articles, word style changes does not only occur from section
to section. It can change inside one folio. Whether or not a key sequence for the change
can be identified, such a change would not be unusual inside a musical notation, when
tempo, rhythm or intonation changes or simply the music comes to its climax or refrain.

Herbal section:
Many of the plants in the herbal section are not or not closely related to plants as known
in the medieval time. This may be for the graphical abilities of either the creator or the
copyist. But maybe the plants are just decoration. Many drawings can be interpreted
as musical instruments of some kind, drums, trumpets or organs. For notes it does not
seem to be unusual to have some surrounding artwork. Of course, just a vague idea, but...

Interpretation of astronomical section:
This section is interpreted as an resemblance of astronomical or astrological knowledge.
But this does not have neccessarily to be the case for all pictures. Drawing stars in a
picture does not neccessarily mean, that there is something said about stars. Stars are
very common as placeholders, markers, counters or simply decoration. Thus, some drawings like 67r or 69r in this sections may be interpreted as an explanation of a musical
system, that part or whole of the VMS is based on. It may represent the nr of notes in an
octave (or whatever corresponds to that concept in VMS), the harmonies for their
combination, frequency ranges or distances, notational bases and the like.

The Voynechese alphabet:
The alphabet consists of at least five blocks of four characters each, that are very similiar
and differs only in the number of strokes (in most transscriptions namely i). This is much
like the notes nowadays do or does not have a tail and additional 'feathers'. Notes do have
two main parameters: frequency and length. Today frequency is drawn as location of the
note inside a grid. This may be well done as different characters also. The length is usually
drawn as modifications of the note in terms of tail and feathers, which could be also made
by additional i-s. So the most common word daiin may consist of a prefix da telling
something about transposition, use of instrument, tempo or whatever and the note n as
an 1/4 note.

This idea is of course just a rough guess from someone not familiar with notes. I cannot
even play an instrument, so please dont tear me, if this is completely rubbish. But I did
not see this idea in any previously written article and so I would like to ask you for your
opinion about it. Is there someone familiar with music and notes? In this context, it will
also be interesting in what time our note system was invented. Does anybody know?
Was it already present, when the VMS was written?

I have done some analysis about which characters are exchangeable while
keeping word length constant. This was to find some categories of
characters with the same note length. But the results where not as
expected, which may be for the transscription used. I should try it
again with only part of the MS. Can you tell me what the best available
transsciption is?

Best wishes for 2004,


Every comment is welcome.

P.S.: Does someone looked at 57v in terms of a code wheel? Early computer games
did have one to get the needed code for starting. But if in the middle ages someone
would cut his paper for creating a code wheel... Just an additional impression. Still,
there is a complete set of voynich characters on it and the most frequent word daiin.