I thought you said 6 seconds!

November 10, 2016 3:13 PM

This is for the 60 second Metafilter November Music Challenge. My software, the Platonic Music Engine, generates 6 glorious seconds of avant-garde electronic beeps and boops for your listening pleasure! Many, many, many more details inside.

The Platonic Music Engine is a program I've been working on for a couple of years now that generates music in any style imaginable and based entirely on whatever unique information you supply (name, birth date of your favorite child, the text of The Tempest, etc).

It does this by taking your initial input, doing math to it which converts it to a seed for the pseudo random number generator which is then guided toward creating a piece of music for you. For the works in this post the seed is "Metafilter November Music Challenge".

The particular musical style used in this submission is known as the Platonic Score. The idea behind it is to use the full capabilities of the underlying technology (Csound, Lua, and whatever computer you're using) to create a piece of music that is not reliant on any particular cultural expectation of music, ie, something that transcends human aesthetic constraints. An Ideal music. Or in the words of John Cage, a music that is free from human ego, our likes and dislikes, our memories.

We achieve all that using generic electronic music sounds (bleeps and bloops etc) and a massive range of audio frequencies.

The piece works by you choosing how many sonic events you want. Basically how many notes but I like "sonic events" better. This can be from 1 to like twelvity bazillion.

You also choose if you want the sonic events to be layered horizontally or vertically. If horizontally then they will occur one after the other. If vertically they will happen at roughly the same time, or, more accurately, during the same time period. You see, each sonic event has its own start time and duration and the whole piece is twice as long as the longest duration. So if you choose the vertical form then the sonic events will start and stop on their own within that set period of time.

The audio technology, Csound, allows for a single sonic event to last around 3 billion years. Unfortunately my software can't handle this and so we are limited to a rather pedestrian 8000 years or so at a tempo of 1 beat per minute. I know, why even bother?

Of course that all depends on your hardware being able to last that long.

But hey, let's give it a shot. Here's the Platonic Score with 150 sonic events stacked vertically at 60 bpm (136 years or so). Oh, but don't worry, we're just going to listen to the first 20 seconds (we ain't got all the days!).

The first 20 seconds of 272 years.mpg

You probably noticed that you didn't hear anything. So here's the deal. Given that the music can start at any moment within 136 years what are the odds that any of the 150 sonic events will actually begin playing within the first 20 seconds that we recorded? I can't do that math but I'm going to say that the odds are against it. And sure enough there were no sounds to be heard.

But do not despair! If you have Csound installed you can fire it up and listen to the following Csound score in it. It will last about 272 years and the first sound won't happen till sometime in the afternoon 283 days from now. But I'm sure it will be a heck of a sound!

All 272 years.csd

Assuming you don't have that much patience there are couple of different ways to make the listening experience more, I don't know, conventional?

There is the Time Lord Style which randomly chooses a moment in time where it knows a sound is just starting and will transport you there, through time, to be able to witness that event (and any other events that happen to be going on at that moment):

It's about the same size on in the inside.mp3

But the style you heard at the top (or I guess now at the bottom of the page) uses the "God's Eye View Style". It's based on the idea from Psalms in the Hebrew Bible and 2 Peter in the Christian Bible about a thousand years is a like a day to God. What it does is scale the start times and durations to fit within whatever amount of time you set. In this case I chose 6 seconds. So that's a piece lasting 272 years with 150 sonic events scaled down to happen in six seconds.

6 seconds goes by pretty quickly so here is the exact same thing scaled down to 20 seconds instead:

20 seconds instead of 6.mp3

In order to make the joke that is the title of this post I had wanted to make the piece last .6 seconds but a friend convinced me that 6 seconds works better. Anyway, here's the same piece in .6 seconds:

In these postmodern times who has more than .6 seconds for any piece of music!mp3

As always when I post music from the Platonic Music Engine I will make you a totally customized version! Just give me the initial input to use (your metafilter name is a popular choice but, really, anything will work), how many sonic events (1-huge number), whether you want it vertical or horizontal, how long it is to last (in seconds), if you want the Standard version (which probably won't have any sound), the Time Lord version (which will have sound but it will be the same one or few sounds for the entire length of time you chose), or the God's Eye version which will compress all the sonic events into what length of time you want. Leave your info in a comment and I'll post a link to the audio file in another comment.

posted by bfootdav (10 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

There's a lot of mystery and finality packed into those few seconds. I'm pretty sure it was the binary transmission of the Death Star plans, or possibly the Vogon demolition orders. Great concept, really interesting methods.
posted by BlackPebble at 6:06 PM on November 11, 2016


There's a lot of mystery and finality packed into those few seconds.

So imagine what message might be contained in 15,000 sonic events packed into 6 seconds. And based on your user name. Actually, don't imagine, listen to it. (Due to the very simplistic and naive compression method I "use", the volume is a bit too low with this many events -- you'll need a way to really turn it up to hear it in its full glory.)

Interesting side note, it took 11 seconds for my computer to generate that piece of music (the Csound file) but nearly 5 minutes to convert all of that into an audio file. The version for the post (150 events) was nearly instantaneous for the Csound file and only took a few seconds for the audio file.
posted by bfootdav at 8:42 AM on November 12, 2016

Thanks for the personal epoch, bfootdav! It's a fascinating shift to take on the time perspective of an immortal.
posted by BlackPebble at 10:06 AM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

If Marvin The Paranoid Android could do something artistic as a diversion from the boredom of eternity, this would be somewhere on the map of possible things he'd choose to do. Make these algorithms just to taunt humans. And then post them on a relatively backwater 21st century Community Weblog subsite. I love the idea that this song can be played for such long periods of time that humans wouldn't live to hear a note, kinda like the return of a bright comet every hundred-odd years, anticipating each note coming. I also like that each "sonic event" uses up the bandwidth of frequencies as well. This is music in its most mathematic and at the same time playful.

"Sonic Event" is such a fun phrase. This is not a song; this is a SONIC EVENT. onetwothreefour
posted by not_on_display at 12:08 AM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hey not_on_display, thanks for the wonderful interpretation! In celebration thereof I've created a particularly Marvinly-taunting piece based on your phrase "This is not a song; this is a SONIC EVENT" and using only one sonic event.

The Standard version (without any compression) has its one sonic event start in about 97 years from now and ends 43 years after that. It's a Csound file so you'll need that program installed in order to hear it:

Long version.csd

And now the God's Eye Version which compresses this into 20 seconds. This means that the first note will begin at around the 7 second mark and end 3 seconds later. HUGE WARNING: that one sonic event is one pitch at just shy of 14,700 HZ which is near the upper limit of what a person in their 40s should be able to hear (15,000 Hz is around the cut-off point). So it is a very high pitched whine that only younger people and animals might be able to hear. Also, I did not choose this note -- the Platonic Music Engine chose it based on the phrase I used above. Ie, blame yourself for this thing!

I think Marvin would have approved of the results:

Very high pitched whine -- y'all've been warned! Watch your volume levels!mp3
posted by bfootdav at 1:36 PM on November 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I could hear it; it sounded like that high-pitched tone old televisions make, but higher.
posted by not_on_display at 3:17 PM on November 26, 2016

Yeah, I could just barely hear it and I'm 47 so I think that's a good sign! The maximum that the PME can generate is 22,050 Hz which is well beyond what any human can hear (but what can be recorded onto CD if one should choose to do so).
posted by bfootdav at 3:31 PM on November 26, 2016

I'm surprised I could hear it. I'm 47 and thought I blew out my hearing at a motorhead concert in 1987; and if that didn't do it, there were plenty of other times I could have erased that whole area of Hz. Thanks for doing that!
posted by not_on_display at 5:54 PM on November 26, 2016

posted by cortex at 10:13 AM on November 29, 2016

Hey cortex, you didn't ask for it but you get your own customized piece as well!


It's 20 seconds long with 15 sonic events using the God's Eye View style. I've listened to tons of versions of this work and yours, based entirely on your user name, came out the most conventionally music (as far as something like this can be called conventionally musical) with a nice build up to a kind of dissonant free jazzy chord and even something resembling a cadence (in a kind of drone way).

And of course it's uniquely yours with no other combination of letters ever going to produce the exact same piece.
posted by bfootdav at 5:52 PM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

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