Of Scales (not fish)

We humans are decimal creatures. We have ten fingers and ten toes, and so think of everything in tens (except for Spinal Tap, naturally).

So why do we use twelve notes in our musical scale?

I wanted to see what a ten-tone scale would sound like. But this is easier said than done. You can’t just skip two keys on a piano keyboard. We need another set of frequencies.

There are multiple ways to divide up octaves into notes. Equal temperament evenly spaces notes in a very useful way, and provides an easy formula to calculate the frequencies of any number of notes per octave.

Using 440 Hz as a base note, I created sound files for each note (in varying durations) in the new scale, plus some silences, then wrote some Perl scripts to randomly sequence them together. I am essentially re-writing the tool I used to create Happenstance and Birdstance, only not relying on another sound editor.

I’m still playing around with ways of making it sound more musical. But without any tweaks it sounds appropriately robotic.

In trying to algorithmically describe “musicality” in a ten tone scale, it has become clear that the reason we use a twelve tone scale is that there are more equal intervals amongst twelve tones than ten. So I don’t know how far this will go. That’s fine, though – ten tones is a very human choice, which contradicts the theme of robotic music, so I am thinking about powers of two. I wonder what a sixteen note scale would sound like…

Ten Tone Sample

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