Friday, December 6, 2013


Here's a new piece!  I invite you to listen to it before reading my comments: 

This came from a flash inspiration I had while driving home one night (something I spend a lot of time doing these days), when Venus was blazing in the sky well after sunset.  The sight got me thinking about the orbital period of the planets and how they relate to each other and it occurred to me that these relationships might be represented aurally, in a kind of musical orrery.

Over Thanksgiving, I spent several hours pulling numbers off of Wikipedia into a spreadsheet and figuring out how to get the ratios of the planet parameters to fit within the range of human hearing and the limits of my softsynth modules.  I had decided to represent the orbital periods with LFO-controlled LPFs (making a wah-wah), while the pitch of each line would represent the mass of each object.  The orbital periods converted easily enough to frequencies within the range of my LFO, but the range of the masses was wild:  if I assigned Jupiter the lowest pitch, say a nice fat 32 Hz, Mercury would be about 185 KHz.  So I took a page from my statistics classes and did a square-root transform on them and they fit very nicely!

This was all well and good, but it wasn't very musical:  if you turned them all on at once, it was pretty cacophonous, kind of like Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and John Adams all going after each other with Wiffle Bats and piped through a tape delay.  Not to say that I don't enjoy a good cacophony now and again, mind you, but it needed, well, something. 

You can decide for yourself whether I succeeded in creating a passably engaging piece of music here; I was personally surprised by how well it turned out.  I filled out the family, of course, with tracks for the sun, the Asteroid Belt, a couple of innominate comets, and the Kuiper Belt.  As I worked on the piece, I imagined myself flying slowly (relatively speaking) outward from inside Mercury's orbit, through the rocky planets, across the Belt, around the Giants, and finally ending among the KBOs.  As I often do, I relied on texture to provide interest, playing with the wave forms (pre-LPF) and a few simple effects to create a voice for each object.  Overall, the piece is fairly representational, but not strictly so.  I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I did making it. 

This was created using Apple Logic Pro 9, its native ES2 softsynth, TempoRubato's NLog PolySynth, and sounds shared on