Number 11: Music, the Beginning

More than two weeks passed after I got my sequencer and sampler before they were put to use on a new composition. I’d given them a test run on second drafts of “Evil 1” and “Evil 2” to get comfortable with them. Then I started prepping for something totally new. I’m almost certain that I’d been thinking about “Music, the Beginning” for a long time, maybe a year or more, with its steady rhythm of vowels and primes. (I remember arguing with a coworker about whether or not 1 is prime. I think strictly within the logic of mathematics it is not. To me, it’s as prime as they come.…That was five years earlier. So, maybe even then I had this one in mind. Or at least something like it.) The basic rhythm is a steady beat of the vowel “a” on one. That is, every whole beat has an “a”. Every other beat—that is two, four, six, eight, et cetera—every two beats is an “e”. Every third beat is an “i”. Every fifth is an “o”. And, finally, every seventh is a “u”. It takes 210 beats or pulses to bring this all together, for all vowels to be sounded at once. So, the structure is ten measures of 21/8 timing for each verse paragraph connected with one measure of twenty-one single beats (“a”). Musically, I think the way it’s put together is meaningless, though I could be wrong.

I like to imagine a performance. I think I’d have passed out.

Originally there was little more to “Music, the Beginning” than the vowel/prime rhythm and a poem. Some rather pointless, random keyboard parts. I liked this first draft, though at the time I was annoyed with the technical failings of the recording.…I’m trying to remember if I’d played with the pitch of each of the vowels in the first set of samples. This would have been done by recording the recited vowels to tape, then playing the tape back at different speeds to record on the sampler so that each successive letter was a little higher than the last. It would seem my first set of samples was for this composition. (Draft 1 had a different sample set than subsequent drafts. There was no pitch shifting. And I think the other letters might have been random. The additional letters were only recorded to one audio track on draft 1.)

Music, the Beginning, draft 1, April 24, 1996:


After the first draft I became tricksy, as Gollum would say. I added five new instrumental parts to be played on or held in alignment with the primes (so something cycled on three beats or seven or whatever). On draft 2 the sounds all came from a Casio CTK-530, though it did not help at all when I later used a Roland XP-10. It was a bad idea. The addition did not in any way help convey the idea nor, despite the use of overtly musical sounds, add to the sense of musicality. (It seems, at least now, that all the additional parts were merely to maximize the inputs per track. Thinking like a poor person, not willing to let anything go to waste.) Also, on these incarnations I started spelling out words with other letters of the alphabet to create cryptic messages, left (“are we wise” and “there are no answers”) and right (“who is wise” and “only questions and art”) channels of the stereo mix—really tricksy. Drafts 2 and 3 were recorded in September, 1996 using the same equipment as draft 1, except that I also had a Digitech StudioQuad multi-effects processor so I could send all the sounds down into a pool of reverb. Drafts 4 and 5 were recorded in May, 1997 with the Roland XP-10 synth for the sound module (as I said, there was no substantive improvement). Draft 6 was recorded digitally on a VS-880 in October, 1997 but, really, it was just more of the same. The sound quality is better but the concept had in no way improved. I hate all these incarnations and will place them here with no further comment. Of course you can listen to them, just to share my loathing.

Music, the Beginning, draft 2, September 1, 1996:


Music, the Beginning, draft 3, September 16, 1996:


Music, the Beginning, draft 4, May 23, 1997:


Music, the Beginning, draft 5, May 25, 1997:


Music, the Beginning, draft 6, October 2, 1997:


Maybe some time in 2010 I began to rework “Music, the Beginning” with the idea of returning it to something resembling its original simplicity. The vowels were re-recorded, all at their standard pitch as I’d recite them (they were then set in Battery as a drum kit). Nuthin’ fancy. No instrumental prologue. No spelling of words in the side channels. What instrumentation there is is minimal, arbitrary, newly performed (in real time), and played back on some pleasant sounding Native Instruments’ preset patches (FM8, Absynth, Massive, and Reaktor). After reading the poem I processed it with a Lesley simulator in Guitar Rig (a Lesley cabinet, in the real world, has two speaker horns attached to an axel that spins at varying speeds to give instruments and voices a characteristic wobble…the effect was most commonly used on the Hammond organ though, as I now know, most bands in the early 1970s made use of them on guitars, saxophones and other instruments (Ozzy’s voice on “Planet Caravan”?)…you can kind of duplicate the effect by speaking through a rotating fan, as my kids have proven many times over the years).

“Music, the Beginning” went from being one of my most reviled compositions to one of my favorites with the completion of draft 7.

Music, the Beginning, draft 7, February 21, 2011:


The poem, as you may also come to notice in other sonic creations, reflects my general fascination with mythology and my specific interest in creation myths. But it also exhibits my fondness for science.

Music, the Beginning

In the beginning
the unimaginable.
Not of time,
not of space,
not measurable
by our senses—

is music
for the ascetic.
Even the most abstract
is an extension
of our senses,
of touch and hearing
measuring the pulses
of the universe,
and extrapolating,
and naming,
the movements
of the living

is our perception.
is existence.
is what we can know.
Complete stillness
is imagined
as the stillness
of a chair
is imagined,
as the stillness
of a mountain
is imagined,
as the stillness
of the heavens
is imagined.

Human stillness
is like floating
on a current,
like an electron
in its lowest shell.
Our stillness
is moving
just enough
to take a step,
to utter a word,
to see
and listen.

after stillness
is death.
Without fighting the current,
without rising
to a higher level of excitement,
we cease to walk,
cease to talk,
fail to see
or hear,
and drift
into coma
and death.

Like the universe,
for we are of the universe,
motion is our essence.
Whether mindless
or planned,
is our only certainty.

is the treadmill,
from the burden,
turning a tight spiral
of utility.
Or mathematics
is a prayer
or celebration
of motion, a euphoric cry
ticking along
like the metronomes
of chaos.

is the animal’s analysis
of the universe,
in the pulse of light,
the pulse of air,
the motions of water
and of plants rising,
the deepest vibrations
of the earth
and, most of all,
an animal’s own pulse.
Music is the cipher
by which we comprehend
the bonding of molecules
and the birth
of galaxies,
the replication of cells,
the shifting of continents,
the migrations of birds,
the ebb of tides,
and, most of all,
the only accounting
of ourselves
with the slightest hint
of truth.



7 thoughts on “Number 11: Music, the Beginning

  1. I listened to the final draft first, then the earliest. (Skipped the middle ones, I will admit..) The first was full of tricks, with the poem hidden behind the rhythms you created… I love how true you allow your voice to become by the later version.


    1. The trueness of voice you refer to has been the result of long debate, primarily with myself, about how I want it to sit in the mix. I started out with more of a rock mix, like early Black Sabbath, where the voice is just another sound and is more or less equal to all other sounds. In 2011 I started remixing everything with more of a pop mix, in which the voice stands out from everything else.


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