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The Boston Globe

Ideas

What a little chaos does for music

How Olin College professor Diana Dabby developed a dizzying technique for creating new variations

In 1983, a young concert pianist named Diana Dabby took a break from practicing for a solo piano concert and found herself absorbed by a journal she stumbled on in the library at Lincoln Center in New York. Written by physicists and engineers, the articles were devoted to the future of music. Dabby, who had two degrees in music and thought constantly about the topic, found that she could barely make sense of its predictions.

Most people would have shrugged their shoulders and gone back to doing what they were good at. Dabby decided to put herself through college—again—by playing concerts and giving music lessons while she earned a second bachelor’s degree, in engineering, at the City College of New York. She went on to graduate school for electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dabby dreamed of a future in which musicians would acquire the skills of mathematicians, engineers, and physicists and use their artistic intuitions to, as she puts it, “come up with something for music in our time.”

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