I’ve recently released a new video for the song Knight in November off of the 2012 Agapanthus album Smug. I wrote the lyrics and music in the early 90s and recorded an ambient version of it circa 2002. This version was titled Night in November (not to be confused with the 1994 play by the same name) and also released on Smug. The original lyrics were about one particularly moody journey to Mount Hamilton’s Lick Observatory with a good friend. Driving up to Mount Hamilton was a frequent midnight pilgrimage in my youth while growing up in San Jose.
I recorded a heavier variant of the original song, now called Knight in November, in the summer of 2012. The lyrical verses sound like they just repeat the same phrase five times. But actually they form a set of (mostly) nonsensical homophones. Check out the video below to appreciate the effect. The tune can be downloaded for free from soundcloud (note the version on the album and soundcloud is a slightly different mix in the video).
One of my ambient music pieces, Boltzmann Brains (inspired by the weird physics idea of Boltzmann Brains), was just featured on the Australian radio show and podcast Ultima Thule. It was fun to see the tagline “The suspendedly animated sounds of Peter Challoner, Thomas D Gutierrez and Brian Eno.” (Oh, yeah, and that other guy we almost forgot “Brian Eno”, whoever he is). The Ultima Thule podcast is one of my favorite podcasts and long ago replaced Hearts of Space as my go-to ambient and atmospheric fix, so having my own music appear on the show was a real treat.
Ever wonder what π or e or other number sequences sound like when mapped into some musical sound space? I’ve written a little Mathematica Notebook, downloadable here, that lets you tinker with these possibilities with a simple interface. You can then save your work to a MIDI file which can then be loaded into your favorite music software like CuBase, Logic, Pro Tools, or even Garage Band. I would offer the full notebook as a free CDF file, but Wolfram’s current CDF format does not support writing out to files yet. However, below is the basic interface you can tinker with on this web page. You will need the free Mathematica CDF plugin installed (or a copy of Mathematica 8).
On my latest album, Smug, I use this software to create two pieces based on the trancendental number e and π. Descriptions below.
The first riff uses the first 15 digits of the transcendental number e=2.71828182845904 (0=C, 1=C#, 2=D etc.) in 15/16 time it then modulates so 0=F, 1=F#, 2=G
the interlude riff is the speed of light in vacuum c=299792458.0 m/s with (0=C, 1=C#, 2=D etc.) in 6/4. Yes, I cheated a little adding the “.0” on the end of c since, in m/s, c is defined as an exact integer.
Similar to above, uses the first 10 digits of pi and the speed of light with the mapping (0=C, 1=C#, 2=D etc.).
These are just a few of the literally infinite possibilities one can create using amusing number mappings. Let me know if you create (or have created) any of your own. I’d be interested to hear!
As a musical exercise, I’ve been experimenting with taking standard, famous songs and arranging a backwards version as a forward song (“backwards forwards” for short). I don’t use the original recording in any way, only part of the musical arrangement. The result is usually something that (naturally) has weird overtones of the original song, but also is a unique song in its own right.
My first effort was at tune called My Sweet Satan, an instrumental backwards forwards version of Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. The title is a play off of the famous backmasking fiasco that followed the song through its heyday and beyond. The haunting refrain of “my sweet Satan” can apparently be heard in verse five (somewhere around “There’s still time to change the road you’re on”). However, if you listen, it is clearly a combination of audio pareidolia and straightforward phonetic reversal rather than active backmasking. One can, of course, carefully craft forwards lyrics that do have phonetic reversals that sound like actual messages when played backwards. But Robert Plant’s lyric clearly isn’t that. I’ve tried doing such constructions myself and, with a specific backwards message in mind, you certainly don’t get anything nearly as coherent as the lyrics to Stairway (and that’s saying something).
Another effort is called But You Can Never Leave. Can you guess which backwards forward song it might be? A hint is that it is a song known (apocryphally) for having a backmasked message. The biggest clue is in the title.
If you like what you hear, take a look at my latest album called Pretty Blue Glow by Agapanthus and consider purchasing it (or parts you like). You can also find many of my tunes on Sutros under Agapanthus for free.