Friday, November 09, 2007

Some old fashioned electronic music

You've got to hand it to the NASA publicity machine. A topic making it's way through the popular science press is the "similarity" between radio signals captured by the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft from Saturn and Louis and Bebe Barron's 1956 electronic soundtrack to the film Forbidden Planet. I'm a sucker for old fashioned beeps-and-slurps electronic music and probably take a bit too much pleasure in both examples. But while there is a resemblance between the two, it is the product of some substantial compositional activity -- transposition upwards (44x) and editing -- on the Cassini sample and that compositional aspect is probably responsible for most of the resemblance. Similar operations with other radio signal will likely produce similar results.

It's too bad that this exercise was not used to bring more attention to the name Christiaan Huygens, which does have some real musical significance, in his investigations of the perception of sound (repetition pitch, in particulat) and his independent discovery of the 31-tone equal division of the octave, a natural extension of the meantone intonation prevalent in his time.

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