Fractal Music: Mountain

ambience: musical composition entitled “Fractal Mountain”

Imagine you are flying over a mountain range, following its contours as it dips and rises, and the only things that can help you anticipate the peaks and valleys are your ears. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by Dupont.

Gary Lee Nelson, a professor at the Conservatory of Music in Oberlin, Ohio, uses fractal equations, or number sequences, to create a musical composition. Each note on a scale, for example, is assigned a number. If the answer to a fractal equation equals one, well, the note “do” is assigned. The single note, or sequence generated is put back into an equation to create even more complex musical patterns. Consequently, fractal music includes many repeated sequences with slight variations. Gary Lee Nelson tells us more.

“When I am making a piece, I like to have some idea of what it’s about. Sometimes it can be a set of shapes, textures, gestures. Sometimes I think about a particular group of tone colors that I would like to use. And that begins to crystallize the piece in mind.”

Gary Lee Nelson also finds his inspiration in computer graphic techniques. In the composition we’re listening to now entitled “Fractal Mountains” he took his cue from landscape design programs to turn virtual mountain ranges into music.

“So I took the techniques that I found in the paper on generating fractal mountains, and I turned the process to music—where the contours of the mountains and the valleys became melodic contours and the general shape of the piece. In ‘Fractal Mountains’ I actually used two superimposed mountain ranges, where you can see the peaks of one range through the valleys of another. And you do clearly hear the rising and the falling, and a counterpoint, between two mountain ranges where one mass of sound is rising, where another is falling away.”

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 31-AUG-01

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