by the numbers
April 28, 2007 7:59 PM   Subscribe

Pi to 1,000 places on piano is just one of the many catchy tunes on math sonifications. And check out more interesting things on on artist Tom Dukich's site.
posted by madamjujujive (27 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Hmm, how can you "catch" something totally random? There is a lot of redundancy in the song, but the digits of pi, I think, are totally random (right?) so any pattern in the song is the result of the software used to create it, not the numbers themselves.
posted by delmoi at 8:04 PM on April 28, 2007

Well, since they just mapped 0-9 to a note on a piano there's not much room for any patterns from software to arise.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:14 PM on April 28, 2007

delmoi, I characterized as "catchy" rather tongue in cheek. I sometimes forget the printed word doesn't pick up the inflections in my head ;-)
posted by madamjujujive at 8:19 PM on April 28, 2007

Well, since they just mapped 0-9 to a note on a piano there's not much room for any patterns from software to arise.

Additionally, the human mind often tends to locate patterns where none exists. For instance, I don't notice when my CD player in the car is on random shuffle and plays 15 different songs one after another, but I'm sure to notice if it plays the same song twice in a row, even though that's a pretty likely occurrence under totally random conditions. I had the same feeling of catching fleeting pieces of patterns in the Pi song, but I have no doubt the patterns were based more on familiarity with the notes themselves than their ordering.
posted by zeugitai_guy at 8:28 PM on April 28, 2007

madamjujujive sure does love the piano.
posted by homunculus at 8:36 PM on April 28, 2007

Y'know I bet if someone were to put a backbeat to this and some chord progressions, it'd pass for lite jazz or whatever new age music is called nowadays. Maybe Yanni could do the notes with a pan flute or something.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:52 PM on April 28, 2007

Ah... They already got people workin on it.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:56 PM on April 28, 2007

That's what I get of course for not clicking on all the links before opening my big mouth. After actually hearing attempts to make sense out of this musically, I can honestly opine that this is actually worse than pop music.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:57 PM on April 28, 2007

Neat, but . . .

It's just the number 0-9 mapped onto major scale. Seems like there should be more creative ways to approach this. Why not let pi influence other properties, such as duration or dynamics?
posted by treepour at 9:12 PM on April 28, 2007

If you listen for an infinite amount of time, you will hear Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:13 PM on April 28, 2007 [7 favorites]

Why not let pi influence other properties, such as duration or dynamics?

That's a pretty sweet idea... kinda reminds me of the "total serialization" practices of Boulez and Babbitt.
posted by the_bone at 9:44 PM on April 28, 2007

There is often something instinctively pleasing to the human condition when mathematics is applied to art.
This is not one of those times.
posted by kisch mokusch at 10:12 PM on April 28, 2007

So cool mjjj!

The first person to make the connection between math and music was Pythagoras of Samos...

Tom Dukich's site is full of interesting things, like his sonifiction of weather.

Love his contemporary birdhouses too.
posted by nickyskye at 10:14 PM on April 28, 2007

Eerily reminiscent of György Ligeti
posted by tighttrousers at 10:51 PM on April 28, 2007

Yeah, this is a pretty unimaginative use of mathematics and music. It's not that this is a bad post, far from it, but rather that on the annals of contemporary music there are much more interesting and therefore musical ways to deal with music and mathematical phenomena.
posted by ob at 11:00 PM on April 28, 2007

posted by nickyskye at 11:02 PM on April 28, 2007

I prefer Kate Bush's take on Pi.
posted by chuckdarwin at 2:02 AM on April 29, 2007

I prefer Hard N Phirm's take on Pi.

Or Darren Aronofsky's.
posted by erniepan at 3:25 AM on April 29, 2007

Or Yann Martel's.
posted by MtDewd at 4:20 AM on April 29, 2007

Hmm, another way to make this more interesting might be to do some sort of polyphony... for instance, if the notes in the main melody are primarily played as eighth notes, for instance, another voice could be introduced moving primarily in whole notes, and then another moving in whole notes tied to each other. The resulting harmonies could be neat in a pandiatonic sort of way. Maybe I'll work something up for MeFi Music next weekend (won't have time before then).

Now that I think about it, I don't think applying pi to duration is a good solution. I think the rhythms need more structure/repetition, not less. While I can appreciate the theory behind serial music, I think it never caught on with the public because it's too difficult to hear the patterns therein... and even serial music has an advantage over something as random as pi in that it's actually highly structured.
posted by the_bone at 7:24 AM on April 29, 2007

This is really stupid.

1. This is really old. My friend Geoff King did a piece just like this for flute in, shit, the 70s? when he was a composer-in-residence at MIT. Everyone who studies serialism probably does this.

2. Delmoi asked if the digits of pi are "random" -- ie, normally distributed. At least as of a few years ago, no one actually knows! What we do know is that the first million or so appear to be normally distributed in a bunch of ways.

What that means is that in practice this piece is indistinguishable from one where you roll a 10-sided die to get the pitches.

3. As several people pointed out, "10" is a stupid number when you're taking 12 semitones per octave, or 8 notes per major key scale. (It probably makes more sense to convert pi to base 12, because otherwise your notes won't be evenly spread over the keyboard).

There are definitely better ways to translate pi into a series of numbers which exhibit some sort of structure that humans would find interesting. This piece shows no feeling for mathematics or for music.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:21 AM on April 29, 2007

"Because he was too tired to think particularly constructively tonight he savagely selected and copied a whole swathe of figures from the spreadsheet at random, pasted them into his own conversion program, which scaled and filtered and manipulated the figures according to his own experimental algorithms, loaded the converted file into Performer, a powerful sequencer program, and played the result through random MIDI channels to whichever synthesisers happened to be on at the moment.

The result was a short burst of the most hideous cacophony, and he stopped it.

He ran the conversion program again, this time instructing it to force-map the pitch values into G minor. This was a utility he was determined in the end to get rid of because he regarded it as cheating. If there was any basis to his firmly held belief that the rhythms and harmonies of music which he found most satisfying could be found in, or at least derived from, the rhythms and harmonies of naturally occurring phenomena, then satisfying forms of modality and intonation should emerge naturally as well, rather than being forced. For the moment, though, he forced it.

The result was a short burst of the most hideous cacophony in G minor.

So much for random shortcuts."
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
posted by weston at 11:10 AM on April 29, 2007

This really simple-minded approach tends to be annoying quickly, especially when a static, percussive timbre like piano is used.

Treepour's right that the result *can* be made more interesting by letting pi influence other properties, such as duration or dynamics. Just imposing a rhythm or a few phrase structures helps a lot in making the result more musical. We quickly miss repetitive structures.

Wolfram has done a good thing with math notes.
posted by Twang at 2:52 PM on April 29, 2007

I'm at work now so I can't listen to anything (shhh!), but there's another application of music to natural phenomena that's pretty neat: protein sequences. These are not totally random, as the digits of pi appear to be, and although the (untrained) eye can't really pick out any motifs from a printed-out protein sequence, the ear can definitely hear repeat motifs and variations. I remember going to a seminar where a musical sequence was played on a cassette recorder (yeah, it was that long ago), and it was astonishing how much structure you could hear in that protein.
posted by Quietgal at 7:36 AM on April 30, 2007

Hey, that Wolfram tones thing is very nifty. I just lost an hour or so to it, and suspect I will lose more in days to come.
posted by treepour at 9:49 AM on April 30, 2007

I got it!

Take pi out to ten decimal places, play that over and over again, give it a backbeat and a synthesized symphonic harmony, have some gorgeous blonde coo and ooh breathfully through a microphone, echo that and run it through a few algorhythms to make her sound sexier, and you'd have an immediate top ten hit that'd last long enough to make lost of money.

1. Use pi for pop.
2. something something something
posted by ZachsMind at 10:11 AM on April 30, 2007

This post inspired me to print out the 1,000 note pi sequence used by that site, to see if I could turn it into something a bit more musical by improvising a slushy piano piece around it.
posted by chrismear at 12:20 PM on May 3, 2007

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