Numerology

Create music based on the winning lottery numbers. That’s the Disquiet Junto assignment for this week.

Here’s the track. The best way to listen to it is to listen once, then if you enjoyed it, go back and listen again in what I call “active listening” mode. Pick out one instrument and listen to it for 15 or 20 seconds. Then pick another instrument and listen to it. Repeat until you’ve listened to enough of the instruments to understand what is happening. You might be surprised how simple this complex song sounds (see below for why that’s the case).

My recording is called Numerology. It’s based on Wednesday’s Colorado Lottery numbers: 13-14-17-21-26-34. I used those numbers several different ways to create this piece:

  1. The string section plays chords and rising note melodies using those notes as pitches (offset by a few octaves).
  2. Six lines of other instruments (steel drum, kalimba, English horn, pan flute, vibraphone, piano) play Euclidean rhythms using those numbers, distributed over 64 beats, and quantized to quarter notes.
  3. The lottery numbers sum to 125. The tempo is 125 bpm and the track is 125 seconds long.

I composed this in Live 10 using an ancient Roland SC-88 hardware synth for all the instruments.

Euclidean Rhythms

I found out about Euclidean rhythms last week. They sounded like a really cool concept and I was anxious to use them in a piece. This week’s assignment based on lottery numbers was the perfect proving ground.

Euclidean Rhythms were discovered by Godfried Toussaint in 2004. The basic idea is to distribute notes as evenly as possible over a specified number of beats. A trivial example: say you want to play a rhythm of 2 notes in 4 beats. That’s easy, you play one note, rest one note, play the second note, and rest again to reach 4 beats. A notation for that would be 1010, where 1 is a note and 0 is a rest.

If the sequence length is not evenly divisible by the number of notes, you get a more interesting pattern. For example, 5 notes in 8 beats distributed as evenly as possible gives you 10110110. That happens to be the famous Cuban rhythm known as cinquillo. Many other rhythms used in music around the world happen to be Euclidean rhythms.

For this piece, I took the lottery numbers and generated 6 Euclidean rhythms, one for each lottery number, each distributed over 64 beats and performed simultaneously. The piano plays the fastest, playing 34 notes every 64 beats. Next fastest is the vibraphone which plays 26 notes every 64 beats, and so on until the steel drum, which plays only 13 notes every 65 beats.

Overlaying six Euclidean rhythms like this results in a complex rhythm, yet if you listen to each instrument separately, you’ll hear a simple pulse. Math is fun.

Decades ago I used to play with algorithmically-generated music using the rather primitive software tools available at the time. Now there is an abundance of tools and techniques. I’ve explored some of them in several of these Disquiet Junto projects and expect to head down the generative music path with gusto.

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