a computer-generated blues in B-flat
by Reginald Bain
On March 14 (written 3/14 in America) math enthusiasts across the world celebrate Pi Day, a holiday dedicated to the world's most famous mathematical constant. Pi is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, a constant that appears throughout science and mathematics. Traditionally denoted by the Greek letter π, its decimal expansion begins: 3.14159...
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
My answer to the call for silly salutes to this mysterious number, Pi Day (2009) is a computer-generated blues in B-flat major. The music is algorithmically generated by a computer program (written by the composer using Cycling '74's Max) that maps the digits of pi to pitches in real time. Following a brief introduction, all of the notes are strictly sculpted from the first 512 digits of pi. The digits are artfully mapped to pitches, and other musical parameters, at a constant tempo and pulse in order to create interesting musical lines. The lines are then layered using an additive formal process: first a log drum enters with a steady eighth-note pulse, then a bass line with an idiomatic groove, then woodblocks in canon, then a 12-string guitar takes over, …. Contrastingly, the sampled voice part (spoken by my wife, Erin Keefe Bain) recites the digits at a slower pi-related tempo. The irrational polytempo relation between the foreground music and vocal recitation creates a subliminal rhythmic tension that is not resolved until the voice finally begins its infinity implying fade out.