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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Fractal Music - Leaving the Comfort Zone

There is a deep linkage between mathematics, which is essentially the science of numbers, and music, which is an artform using fixed frequencies as its basic clay. The tonal system that is the basis of all western music from the middle ages to the mid-twentieth century is essentially Pythagorean, that is, all about the ratios of different pitches, and in general, the simpler the ratio, the greater the sense of harmony, or consonance. These ratios are mathematical.

Tones were used for constructing instruments, and for tuning them. The music itself was based on the human voice - singing, natural language patterns, male and female contrasts. There is art driving the science underneath.

Modern music runs into problems when we have the scientist driving the vehicle of sound. Both Scriabin and Webern had their "mystical numbers", certain beloved chords that had a special numerical significance for them, but what did it sound like to you and me? The personal is not the universal.

Which brings me to fractal music, made possible by computer crunching and the midi interface. Based on sequences and rotations of sound patterns, heavily self-referencing, these are musical experiments. Some attempts try to mimic existing genres, others are just wild. Try listening to some of the sound examples on this page here.

Second Bassoon

Life must be rough when there's only two of you, and you're always number two. It might be ok if you're roughly on a par, and the other guy got the nice chair because he got there first, sort of like a permanent older brother, but when you're number two because you really are a number two, ie you ain't good enough, it must really rankle. And imagine if this situation happens in a public arena, like being in an orchestra, and you're the designated number two. The other guy gets to play all the big solos, he gets the nod from the conductor, waves from the crowd, and you're just sitting there, instrument in hand, looking like a total goose, fuming.

It's enough to make you go write a blog, isn't it? Strange story be told, we have a second bassoonist in a London orchestra who has done this, and the blog is called ... Second Bassoon. Imaginative, hey? Well, he ain't second bassoon for nothing, and I've been reading all about sticky pads, and water in finger holes, and pull throughs, getting your bassoon through airport security, and Rossini wrote a Bassoon Concerto?

Totally useless knowledge for a pianist here.