A conceptual experiment in music generation from classic text. Yeah, it’s kind of weird.

A few years ago I had an idea to create ambient music from classic literature. The concept was simple: choose a piece of writing, remove every bit of punctuation, number, and letter other than A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, then play it. And that’s exactly what this is. I took a Loomings, the first chapter from Moby Dick, and played only those letters as notes, in real time, with no meter/note length. I didn’t know what it would sound like (although it is technically in the key of C major or A minor, take your pick). And I thought about using the unplayable letters (everything except the first seven letters of the alphabet) as rests, or using punctuation as sharps or flats. But I scrapped all of that more complicated, heady stuff for the simple translation, which is what you hear below:

Because I only used the single notes/letters from the book there is only one instrument. An alternative I had experimented with was to make every “C” a deep, bass sound. Or every “F” a retro synth with some serious delay. Ultimately each time I strayed from the monophonic approach that I originally envisioned, I liked it less and less. What remains is 82 minutes of music you can sleep, work, drive, walk, or whatever to. It’s fittingly whale-like, providing background ambience that demands little, not unlike my previous album Paths.

A portion of the 3,000 notes (formerly just letters)

Since “E” is the most frequently used letter in English language that note becomes somewhat of an unofficial center for the song, so much so that occasional “B”, “G”, and “F” become quite alarming to hear. But the little moments like that really transform the song, for me, from a simple drone to a quiet adventure. The song is available to download as an MP3 for free. The book is free to read online, too.


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