29. A Bad Crossword

IXI Lang is a programming language used for making music – especially live coding music. The way it works is you have a bunch of “players”, and you give them statements like:

Jeff > piano[1 5 1 4 ]

Then your “piano player”, “Jeff”, plays a melody – based on the 1st, 5th and 4th notes of the scale (default C major), landing on beats 1,3,5 and 7 of an 8 beat pattern. You can make these melodies pretty much as long as you like, which is important for what comes later…

I came across IXI Lang via Emma Winston, who as Deerful recorded the Tell Me I Can Fix This On My Own mini-album using IXI. I really like her approach to singing and the way her music combines electronic music with personal stories. She was also incredibly helpful when I came to start fiddling about with IXI myself, and helped me to get it installed. IXI is easy to use, but very annoying to install – I finally gave up when I managed to get everything working except the drums – which is why the two songs I composed using IXI (this one, and Dental Health, the previously track) don’t have drums.

So IXI’s basic melodic engine is based on numbers – each one representing a note in the scale, and numbers above 7 being octaves of the basic scale – and so like every good maths nerd, I programmed the first 700-odd digits of PI into the engine to see how it would sound, and whether I could pick out a melody. When that didn’t work I started thinking about defining a harmony – in the song, the first 16 notes are unaccompanied; followed by:

[3 3 8 3 2 7 9 5 0 2 8 8 4 1 9 7 1 6 9 3 9 9 3 7 ]

Or, in the key of C major

[E E C E D B D G D C C F C D B C A D E D D E B]

I’ve highlighted the notes that chords fall on – so those notes were the basis for the chords I would use for the verse. Usually, but not always, the root of the chord was defined by the note; sometimes I would choose the note to be the 5th of the chord, for example. A “0” created a gap (with no note playing) for the third chord, so I had free choice there. So with the melody you see above, I built the chord progression, and then fixed these chords for future verses; the melody rumbled on through the digits of pi, but those chords remained. At some point we get to the chorus, and I followed the notes that were playing in the chorus and tried to work out which chords went best underneath. And then that was the chorus progression.

I don’t love the chorus for a couple of reasons; firstly because I’m not sure the lyrics distinguish finely enough between not asking for permission to do something (which is what I intended), and not asking for consent before doing something to someone (which is not what I intended). The second reason I don’t like it is that I think it sounds like Morrissey.

Next week, we travel underneath one of the oldest cities in the world. Until then, you can read about all the songs from Year of The Bird here, and pre-order the album here: https://palebird.bandcamp.com/album/year-of-the-bird-volume-3