I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I'm compositive that isn't a word

One of the really wonderful things about this life is that it's possible to eat an entire watermelon and still feel like a good person. It's wonderful and disappointing at the same time, kind of like sporks. 


I think sometimes that I put too much emphasis on the idea that music expresses emotion. It does, of course. The only way to truly escape that would be for robots to listen to robots play music written by robots (I turned on the radio the other day and I think we are getting close). So a while ago I started messing around with the idea of expressing more concrete ideas in music. Like I would routinely take names or phrases and convert the letters to notes. It's kind of easy, like modular arithmetic for the alphabet:

Music : A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E
Letter: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

That's fun. Seeing how people's names sound. Sometimes the resulting notes can be the chords to a melody I make up, and sometimes the notes can be the melody to which I supply the chords. Sometimes both. Possibilities. Endless. As per expectation. 


But recently I was listening to a guy talk about his pet parrot. That's not relevant here, but the resulting boredom was the catalyst to my wondering what certain number patterns would sound like played as music. It's probably been tried before, but I thought I'd give my own stab at it. Specifically this: PRIME NUMBERS. [the rest of this post will be interesting but maybe a tad nerdy, so if you just want to skip dinner and have dessert, scroll to the bottom.]


Okay, so the premise of the idea was to convert at least the first couple primes into their musical equivalent. So I was working from a pretty straightforward equivalence to begin with:

Music : A B C D E F G
Number: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6

With this in place, in order to keep every prime within the bounds of musical possibility, I had to take each prime "mod 6"-- that is, if the number is bigger than six, divide by six and take the remainder. So 11 is 5 mod 6, and 13 is 1 mod 6. More on modular arithmetic on that post I wrote a while ago here. Anyways, I was very quickly DISAPPOINTED. Pointed directly toward a dis. It turns out the the primes in "mod 6" are scarily repetitive and thin. Here are all the primes under 100, mod 6:

2 3 5 1 5 1 5 1 5 5 1 1 5 1 5 5 5 1 1 5 1 5 5 5 1 1

Wow. How beautifully boring. Like an empty journal. If I were to use these numbers as chords, it would probably sound like a Beethoven / Johnny Cash mashup. If, instead of chords, I were to play this sequence as the melody, it would be disdainfully categorized as "New Age". I have a rule that if a song can be easily played on a stretched-out rubber band, it's not ready for prime time. (HEHE.) (Unintentional, if you can believe it.) (I had green tea.) 

Here is the SOLUTION I came up: starting from an A, use the resulting number sequence as interval cues. Don't worry if you don't know what that term means. I just made it up. What I'm trying to say is that you start (mentally) on an A, and then your next note is a 2nd above. Your next note is a major 3rd above that note, and your next note is a perfect 5th above that one. And so it goes. So instead of boring, we get kind of a circle-of-fifths thing going on. (C#, E, B, B, F#, F#, C#, C#, etc.) I used this as the melody, all the primes under 100, and practiced it ferociously to ensure I would not play a composite by accident*. The chords I chose for the pants of this song are kind of melancholy, hence confirming that emotions readily leak into mathematics. 


Here it is. [If you can't see it in your email just click here and listen from the website.]


* of course when fitting an infinite set into a finite number of notes in a scale, many numbers will share a single note. Like an infinitely-long conveyor belt fitted to a 7-toothed gear.  

There is no I in Piano

a post to keep up the fence