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research & education: the search for perfect techno

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Donald Wiltshire, Curator of the Museum of Techno, leads the field in the study of recursive Kelly algorithms - equations which, applied many times to the same piece of music, produce progressively purer forms of techno.

Wiltshire's own procedure involves taking an existing piece of music, and using massively parallel supercomputers to apply his algorithms at many times real speed. He explains:
My intention with this research is to get as close as possible to the absolute, nuclear essence of all music. And I'm very optimistic: with tens of thousands of iterations of the algorithm, we're seeing a very clear trend towards convergent results, independent of starting conditions.
Wiltshire has processed a broad range of music already: the classical works of Stravinsky, Philip Glass's 5-minute silence for 3 women with potatoes, some really appalling Breton shawm music, and Safety Dance by Men Without Hats. And crucially, in all cases, a large number of applications of Wiltshire's Kelly algorithms have produced almost identical results. The following table gives a summary of the results of one of Wiltshire's experiments: 100,000 iterations applied to Alive and Kicking by Simple Minds. The first 9 iterations are omitted because they all sounded a bit rubbish.

iterations results
10 Jim Kerr's voice has morphed into a smooth, sinewave bassline. Some echo persists. All trace of 80s stadium pop-rock drumming has been eliminated, replaced by a synthetic 4-floor drumbeat with abstract high-hat noises and a neat handclap sound. Kickdrum sounds like a beautifully EQ'd, very gently overdriven 909 kickdrum. All verse-chorus structure has vanished; all drops, builds and breakdowns disappeared after iteration #7. Tune length: 5min 24.8s
MP3 button   Listen to 16-bar segment
100 Kickdrum sounds more simplistic - now obviously an un-EQ'd pitched sine wave centred around 40Hz. Lacks fine complexities of 909 kickdrum. High-hats, claps sound more raw. Bassline less dominant. All trace of subtle echo gone from bassline; overall the sound is simpler, drier, more direct and yet more synthetic. Tune length: 9min 13.8s
MP3 button   Listen to 16-bar segment
500 Bassline inaudible after iteration 426. Pitch characteristics of kickdrum less distinct. Handclap noise sounds more like a very basically EQ'd chunk of pink noise; offbeat open high-hat sounds similar, although differently filtered. Probably there's some people in Germany that would still dance to this. Tune length: 1hr 17min 12.0s
MP3 button   Listen to 16-bar segment
1000 Closed high-hat fades at iteration 717. Kickdrum becoming progressively less pitched and therefore more indistinct. Open high hat is now an unshaped section of coloured (approximately pink) noise. Tune length: 8hr 45min 0.7s
MP3 button   Listen to 16-bar segment
10,000 The "tune" now comprises 1,168,107 instances of a "kickdrum" - a fading sinewave, falling logarithmically in pitch from 200Hz to 20Hz over a 0.429s time period - followed by the "offbeat high-hat" - pink noise also persisting for 0.429s. By 10,000 iterations of Wiltshire's Kelly algorithm, all music sounds roughly like this, the length of the tune being the only distinguishing factor. Wiltshire describes this version as "only properly 'having-it' for the first 12 hours or so." Tune length: 278hr 7min 23.3s
MP3 button   Listen to 16-bar segment
100,000+ "Kickdrum" tends towards a pure, constant-pitch sinewave tone at 40Hz, 0.429s in length. "Offbeat high-hat" tends towards white noise, 0.429s in length. Tune length: tends towards infinity
MP3 button   Listen to 16-bar segment

This profound result suggests that, according to Kelly's Grand Unified Theory, the perfect form of music is an infinitely long, totally consistent 140bpm abstract kick with offbeat high-hat. And thus, sadly, it is impossible for human musicians to make! Some religious commentators have suggested that this literally is the music of the Infinite - of God - but they're wrong.

The calculations required by Donald Wiltshire's research are astonishingly complex and demand enormous computing power.

To help us with this research effort, the Museum obtained funding to commission a special "screen saver" which uses idle time on your PC (currently the screensaver is not available for Mac users) to download calculation work from our server cluster and process techno in parallel with potentially millions of computers worldwide.

The screensaver is probably safe. Download screensaver now (580KB download)
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