Fractal Music

ambience: musical composition entitled “Goss”

All music is said to have some basis in numbers and now a relatively new branch of mathematics has given rise to its own incarnation of music. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by Dupont.

We’re listening to the conversion of mathematical equations into what’s called fractal music.

Gary Lee Nelson, a professor at the Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio, explains to us what fractals are all about.

“Fractals, in general involve, mathematics. Almost all fractals can finally be represented as a series of numbers. And if you were to use those numbers to produce graphic images, you would get digital paintings. If you interpret the numbers as musical elements—melody, harmony, rhythm—then the result would be called fractal music, or music derived from fractal mathematics. There’s a real life analogy to fractals that I think most people have experienced, or at least observed. Imagine you are sitting in a barbershop and you are looking at your image in the mirror. Of course, you see yourself, but you also see your reflection from the mirror on the opposite wall. And those reflections are moving back and forth, out to infinity. So this is a simple process, and a simple input—your image is the input—the process of the reflecting mirrors, and the complex result, is this pattern of images that goes off, shrinking in size, until they kind of disappear from sight.”

Just as the mirror image is reflected repeatedly, creating an intricate pattern, so does the process of fractal mathematics take inputs of numbers and repeat them, turning them into a complex result. Fractal music is created by just such repetitions and resulting complexity.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by Dupont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

First broadcast on 30-AUG-01

2000 Jim Metzner Productions & National Geographic Society. All rights reserved.