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Music For a Different Mathematical Ear

Last week discussion was about musical and mathematics...in a way I do not understand. So, lets turn to a math and music connection I possibly can understand....the jazz work of alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa.

His recent release Codebook (available from Pi Recordings) is inspired by cryptography and number theory. Consider the following tracks:

  • "The Decider" is a "internalization" of the Fibonacci sequence...and includes a drum solo where the drummer spells his own name in Morse Code
  • "Further and In Between" is based on the cyclical repetend 142857 determined by the decimal expression for 1/7. Musical pitches are mapped to digits and then...
  • "Frontburner" displays its "mathematical rigor" via its encryption of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps."
  • "Play It Again Sam" is based on techniques similar to those in "Frontburner," except now it incorporates a Biblical Hebrew cipher known as "atbash."
Mahanthappa suggests that Codebook allowed him to "approach the DNA of the compositions from fresh and previously unexplored angles"...all tied back to cryptography. His packaging of the album even includes encoded messages and a decoding device!

Source: Alexander Gelfand's "From Crypto to Jazz," Wired, September 2006