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The “Ugliest” Music Known to Man – and Why It’s All Right

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I was intrigued to see a TED talk titled “The beautiful math behind the ugliest music”, since as a musician myself I have borne witness to what I would call ugly music many times.

I was expecting to hate the music, once performed – the main reason for me watching was to see the train-wreck unfold before my ears – so I was surprised to find that I actually quite enjoyed it.

Pretty Music?

Scott Rickard argues that music is made pleasurable to the listener by repeating patterns or motifs. These are usually melodic, but can be rhythmical.

Most songs you love will have a repeating chorus, or a rhythm that is very memorable.

Nursery rhymes are a great example of this. “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” has both rhythmic and melodic patterns which repeat themselves throughout the piece.

Why It’s “Ugly”

The music under discussion is apparently the most pattern-free piece of music one could create – designed using the mathematics behind the perfect sonar ping – which has the greatest absence of repeating ideas and patterns.

Basically, it sounds completely random and disconnected.

Why I Like It

The music itself is irregular, random and dissonant. However, the opportunities it presents are absolutely without limit!

Your average music listener wouldn’t have spent much time jamming, or playing free jazz (where there is no set style, tempo, chords or…anything!)

However, for those who have, you begin to find yourself filling in the gaps around sounds and notes; almost like you can hear the harmonies that belong to it.

So with that in mind a seemingly unconnected sequence of notes becomes very interesting, and in some ways incredibly creative.

It would be like giving a prolific writer a whole series of unrelated book or essay titles in rapid sequence, whereupon they fill in the details of the story in an instant in their mind.

Stefon Harris covers the concept of “Irregular” ideas in his video There are no Mistakes on the Bandstand.

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