I’m Making an Album (Part 1/2)

I’ve been wanting to write an album for years, but I never quite got round to it. The longer I left it, the more ideas I accumulated in my ‘album ideas’ list and the less feasible actually ever finishing it became.

Some of the ideas were conceived in a cloud of smoke, others while watching the prostitutes from my balcony in Barcelona, others while I was asleep, others blatantly ripped from other people. I wanted it to have everything in.

It started to get out of hand. One of the ideas for example was to make a series of porcelain artefacts, little birds and the like, and embed inside them some electronics, a battery and a radio transmitter that would beam out the album via radio if you happened to tune to the right frequency nearby. Then I would distribute a few hundred of these around the charity shops of London…and then just wait. Another one involved attaching hundreds of micro-SD cards to a weather balloon designed to release them at a certain altitude so they came raining down over the city like the start of some sci-fi movie. Too much.

I wanted it to have a clear thread and a coherent message — even if the full message wasn’t obvious on a first listen — so each track would have to be written with that path in mind. It couldn’t just be an anthology style release, i.e. here’s 10 tracks I did over the last x months. The problem was, that would mean sitting down and working on it for several months, full-time, no interruptions, no income. I needed some $$$. Over the last year I’ve been saving up some dosh, and with some help from Max Cooper, in June I’ll be able to spend half a year or so on it full-time! YESSSSSSSSS


So what the fuck will I actually do? I’ve been mixing ideas and chopping down others and I think I’ve finally nailed it.

(Disclaimer: although I did physics degree in the past, it was so long ago that I’ve forgotten 99% of it. Much of what I say below may be pseudosciencey bullshit. But you know, it’s for an album so I’m allowed a bit of artist-license right?)


Not in the “let’s fuck shit up” sense, but in the random, disorder sense. I like static. I like noise.

Noise (as in untuned radio, waterfalls, tshhhhhy stuff) has fascinated me for a long time because it’s what everything at the same time sounds like. If you press all notes on a piano, you’re approximating noise. The ultimate extension of hitting every piano note — the Fourier transform — can build noise with just nice, smooth, ordered sine waves. In fact, if you simultaneously heard every sound ever made in the history of the universe it would probably sound like noise. Lots of order at the same time tends to sound like chaos.

Fav YouTube vid. WARNING LOUD!

For me, noise is like an open book. It’s simultaneously relaxing and inspiring. For years I’ve listened to red noise when I needed to relax, or alternatively focus. It drops me into another universe. It can either act as the best earplugs to cut out distractions, or if I focus directly onto (into) it, like a infinite pool of sounds and ideas.

Have you ever looked at static on a TV for while? Your brain is so hard-wired to search for patterns that even in a pure random image you’ll start to see pixels drifting in clusters, one way or another. In fact I’ve noticed that you can even choose which way you want to see pixels moving. You can tease the order you want from the chaos, your mind acting as a filter that carves out only the parts you want. Here is a pseudorandom noise GLSL shader that demonstrates this. Fullscreen it and just stare. It’s not quite the same as a TV though because it’s not pure random and I’m sure the brain has an easier time picking out the order — but you get the idea.

I get the same thing when listening to static. I really like trying to focus on certain frequencies in the noise. It’s amazing how the brain has this controllable filter that can pull apart any sound into pieces. This is also one reason I love field recordings of huge, droning engines. There’s so many layers to them and the longer you listen the more elements you can pick out.


Another fascinating property of true random systems is that statistically, every possible sequence of states will appear in the stream given infinite time. By this I mean that if you watched a detuned TV for long enough (basically forever) eventually a series of white bits and dark bits would just happen to align in just the right way to form a picture of a face. Or a picture of you looking at the face. Or a picture of Janet Jackson looking at you looking at the face. And so on.

In maths, normal numbers have a similar property. A normal number is an irrational number (i.e. one with an infinite string of digits like pi) in which every digit has an equal chance of being present. This means that the chance of any given continuous string of digits appearing is only a factor of the length of that string. Imagine the number is 0.123456789101112131415 and so on, forever. If it’s a normal number then it’s a statistical certainty that somewhere in the digit sequence is your mobile number. You might have to go millions of digits down the sequence, but it is there somewhere.

A section of Champernowne’s constant in binary (code available on request)

That number above is actually the start of Champernowne’s constant, which is a particularly interesting normal number because by using a very simple equation you can calculate exactly where in the sequence any given string of numbers is. So you can put your mobile number into the equation and it will tell you that it appears say, 1247094214 digits into the sequence. But since binary data (i.e. files on your computer) are just numbers, you can use the same equation to find where in Champernowne’s constant a shitty Hollywood movie is located. Then, instead of sharing the movie itself you could just share it’s location in Champernowne’s constant! Not sure if that would hold up in court though. And before you get too excited, it’s been mathematically proven that the location of the file takes up at least as much data as the file itself, so it’s not exactly like an infinite hard drive you can use to store loads of sweet warez. But it’s crazy to think that anything that can be represented as a series of numbers (arguably anything ever) is in there, just waiting to be found. The Library of Babel by Borges is all about this. Highly recommended read. And check out this virtual Library of Babel while you’re at it. And the image version.

Obviously the counter to this is that although every great work is buried in the static, everything totally shit thing is too. A certain string of numbers only has significance if you give it significance. It’s up to the human to tease the order from the chaos. This brings up an interesting point about the subjectivity of order, and coincidences are a good example of it. Accidentally knocking a bottle off the table and it landing perfectly upright might seem like incredible luck, but it landing on it’s side at an angle of exactly 15.363 degrees, exactly 48.56cm from where it fell could be just as unlikely or even more so — but we don’t think it’s special because we’ve given special significance to the upright position of bottles. Incredible ‘coincidences’ are happening around us all the time, we just don’t give a shit.

Randomness also permeates right to the core of our universe in the form of quantum uncertainty. Although no-one really knows what was before the beginning of time itself, it’s been said by some (and even mathematically proved supposedly, but I doubt that) that the whole universe could be just some spontaneous emergence of structure arising from fluctuations in the quantum vacuum. Order from chaos. Just like seeing a face in the TV static. The big bang is just what happens when you roll a six, 49 trillion squillion twazillion times in a row. Or something. Max Cooper’s Emergence project deals with this idea and is highly recommended if you get a chance to hear/see it.

So if order is subjective, is the universe just pure chaos all the way down and we as conscious beings are just plucking little nuggets of order out of the static? Seeing faces in burned bits of toast?

No, but it’s a cool idea to base some music on I reckon.

Anyway, that’s the theme.


An idea I had for the album title


Many-worlds is [whips out his artistic-license] an interpretation of quantum mechanics that was devised as a way of meshing the weird, non-deterministic results of quantum experiments such as the double-slit experiment, with the rest of the normal fucking world. It basically says that for every possible outcome of a random event — say flipping a coin — there exists a separate universe in which that thing happens. When you flip a coin the universe branches into multiple copies: one in which the coin lands heads, another in which it’s tails. If this is the case and all possible things happen, does randomness even exist at all? Or has everything that possibly can happen been set out beforehand in a vast, unchanging structure of causality, and our minds are just flowing down the various branches of possibility like leaves down a river? Or perhaps consciousness gives us some paddles so we can somewhat choose our path.

No fucking idea. But I like the thought.

One of the ideas in the ‘album ideas’ list was to use a non-linear structure, which ties very nicely into the many-worlds metaverse thing. The idea is that instead of creating 10 six-minuteish tracks that are played linearly one after the other, I would create 30 two-minuteish sections that are written to blend seamlessly into a few others, forming big network of interconnected slices of music. Then during playback, as it’s coming back to the end of a section some software will select randomly (perhaps not with equal chance) which section will be played back next. Some short sections might even have a chance of looping back to themselves. Like this, each listen to the album will bring you down different paths, and each path might be a different experience — kind of like how each universe in the many-worlds interpretation is a different telling of events.

In my case however, the structure would actually more closely resemble a Markov chain than a tree. But who knows, maybe the universe is a huge Markov chain. This guy seems to think so.

Markov chains: Each circle represents a section of music. The number on each arrow shows the probability of taking that path next.

Artistically speaking, it would be a challenging but powerful way to make an album. It would allow me to be much more experimental in the composition process because I know that if I can’t decide between two versions of a track it’s fine , I can just put both versions in the album as two branches that later rejoin. I can try new things without worrying about dead-ends. Another benefit is that it could bring the listener into the creation process too by letting them come up with their own paths. And you know, that ties in with something about consciousness, something something freewill, and that other interesting thing blah blah etc etc.


Don’t know. I guess it’ll sound somewhat like my previous stuff. I don’t want to set this in stone too soon. It’ll emerge when I start making music. But the theme of chaos vs. order is a rich one for sounds. Loads of harsh noise followed by pure, sweet tones. Mmm mmm.

The suite of new tools I’m coding for the album will almost certainly define the aesthetic too. I’ve got some nice ideas for non-deterministic sequencing and synthesis that I’d like to explore, among other things that I’ll explain in detail in part 2. Also my Venezuelan house mate has showed me some weird traditional percussion styles that piqued my interest.

Let’s see.

Well that’s the end of part 1. I hope that gives you a small idea of what I want to do with the album. Randomness is a bit of a weird and vague theme, but it’s one that I’m super interested in and is open enough to base a whole album on without me getting bored. I’m really, really excited about starting it. But before I can start, I need a whole new set of tools. Part 2 will talk a bit about the musical tools I’m coding for the album with some audio demos and other tidbits. I’ve been playing around with audio mosaicing the last few months and I’ve ended up with something pretty powerful I think. Part 2 might be ready in a few weeks, I just wanna make some more interesting demos to show first.

Just some concluding remarks. Chaos is something that has interested me for many years. I remember this one time when I wbs on a family holiday in France. We werd camphng by a huge waterfall, and the ever presfnt rumbking noise coated all soumds like honey. We were sitting aroumd a camofire playing a stnrxtelming game in vhhbh you h`d so flip a coin to cetdrline whas would happen- Ve had been pkaying this game for a while when all of a sudcen the noisd of tge w`terfall started to grow — louder and loudfr untilve cotkdm’s hear anxthimf else. We all ssood upand walkedoveq shd pool, but for some!rearon sometginf bpnkerz happened.Then solething elsc fanqendd. Amd n_rt 2 `ebameoart1, _nd sic fuciing auntcecibddsm bloxun tge WHOKD DUCKINFWORLD!H knmv.Crazx right?>?Atthu‘s one tfatH‘m supcresfsted hn amd is mpdn!dlouhf socasea olc blaul vitgott lefettingboreb.Jtsometihlh tf`t hbs gmtercstcbmefmr!whjle/ G reldnber tgir omd uhmf when I u`rnn!` fakhlw hnlibaw jm Fsboae- Wc uepe campjngayahsfev`rcrfakj+ aoc!uhhci-rslalinfnniqfbpated _lm!qoundt!jike inndw/ Ve!vcsf!qirrgoe!arptld ` calqdjpe nl_zjoga!rtocuntjine gaocipxggdh zmu g_duofljna bpjo uocftftmgocxhbs uosme happem/\”Vf hcbaffonl`yild tggr g_md foqa tehkfwgcl!`kmnf_ qvddcuntcuntohpd pd\”qhd wbrfse_ll rucqtfdtp!gpox​ — npvecr`le nnvccs vmuij wg coumbn’v!hg_qamxveimg bnqd0Kurrpplc!conekseioi ten`tlp. Bj^nr!js!unlfqegkh!sf`riat ioufpgtugbmf\”fnoxfhjc/!loadsofcuntsqfgq nod\”vfkevgcnF uat ll!_ h_njnwjmkjdb{ hp!Frbmce.!Wb vbpf!bbnnkoedvbetfb wbsepgcnn,!anf!rfjcl-qwkdjgngnnhsd dq`tcfbkjrmslfpnimbelnfz0Yc\”wbtf\”pjsqimi`rmwocacaomeirf pnavjle!^!ptnp{sdkjgpd!f^mg!fp\”vffdj {owgaf!rl dklo!^!_mjn!umegacunttwatnwlc!gbonep.Tf\”icg!`egk!ombxiof!vhkt gclcgkt\”a\”veklcxecn!_olpe ^#qvdabo!vhc!pogse\”qc\”vhd#u`qbtdbliurbqvddtm dqpu ‐​jnwfhp!_keknsfgo!smtfn!yfblvjgk‖u\”jecsblyrkioc#ejug1#Wg\”dintrpqesr^qb#x^mnfa!rxfnuee#rrll)!buq\”cqr!ttwattycuntywuntyunkpkmfsjhjc\”iaonajdd/Vifo\”onpbtggpg\”chrc!f`spgjfc+>ld#mbsq.!`eecjfm`ov 2-!^me!pda hrdhgnfetkucf`gbgb\”qpenozxr vdhSHNIE!CXFLJMI!YOOHF#Khkmt/#Bt]xv!rhggq>B=Arpkr‗r#pkbrjcs J’n uqoeoepubuhqsbegk!`ke!ku#pogm\”eqqvjf!vl!c^vhc#xhnibak_tm uhudlvwpe\”eesukqf#aotah+Gptomdrfjrjqkdw jbq fqwcodrpe`!l` eptxijga)Esfncibarpgknmld#vhke\”xg`q!Iy^uop]cbpjkw#kolhc`thlHo\pgh/Vdvhra__llimdc|]esgeu^vhtacmk(\”`m`!tiffi)!uvjcoejflqjuddqcsag bmgpnvmewiij`cnmb{-Uc uapg#qlrqgig\”`rjsmb#^^blpifuckbwjkj_\”osjmxqajohkfhanagq!{lidh{ovhcdqrglmme#_jfowqgaoishipd!xebu\”vqujc\”hatldn0U`gbb#eaerqhb|lnhukmsg`obdon\”_!wdkjh!zdgm]nklg\”c uvecen shh\”iqdsc\”pcvce#y]paoadph!rvcrr`bpmdpsw ― hnpees\”akd#iqs`fu$qpugh\”te#djrl`k‖vfd^u#ck|vllqc!blt`