III: H3PO4 by how the night came
I wanted to produce some ambient music in Ableton that, at least in part, helped to compose itself. I struck upon the idea of using chemical formulae to provide some basic structure, and began by selecting four simple acids:
- Nitric acid (HNO3)
- Sulphuric acid (H2SO4)
- Phosphoric acid (H3PO4)
- Citric acid (C6H8O7)
These acids - ordered from the lowest number of constituent atoms (5) to the highest number of constituent atoms (21) - contain between them six different elements, so my next move was to assign a different instrument to each element:
- Hydrogen = Sadness Pad
- Nitrogen = June O Pad
- Sulphur = Space Pad
- Phosphor = Seashore Pad
- Carbon = Light and Shadow
- Oxygen = Celestial Pad
Since hydrogen and oxygen appear in all four acids, I decided to make them the basic drone instruments in each track, and followed the general written structure of the printed chemical formulae by panning the hydrogen instrument (Sadness Pad) to the left channel and the oxygen instrument (Celestial Pad) to the right channel.
For variation, I assigned two notes to hydrogen and two notes to oxygen for each track. To keep things flexible for later in the project, I worked in fifths. This is what I ended up with:
- Nitric acid (HNO3): hydrogen (C0-G0-C1) + oxygen (G0-G1-C2)
- Sulphuric acid (H2SO4): hydrogen (G0-D1-G1) + oxygen (D0-D1-G2)
- Phosphoric acid (H3PO4): hydrogen (D0-A0-D1) + oxygen (A0-A1-D2)
- Citric acid (C6H8O7): hydrogen (A0-E1-A1) + oxygen (E0-E1-A1)
Then, to add subtle rhythmic variation across the tracks, I decided to use the number of hydrogen and oxygen atoms in each formula to determine the rate at which their respective notes played over the length of 24 bars. So, for example, phosphoric acid (H3PO4) has the hydrogen notes repeat three times over 24 bars (i.e. once every eight bars) while the oxygen notes repeats four times over the same 24 bars (i.e. once every six bars).
To impose a different rhythmic layer, I totaled the number of atoms in each acid and used that number to determine how many equally spaced chimes would ring out over the central 36 bars of each track. Using the Tinefull Ambient instrument with some delay, I added the following:
- Nitric acid (HNO3): 5 total atoms = one chime every 7.2 bars
- Sulphuric acid (H2SO4): 7 total atoms = one chime every 5.1 bars
- Phosphoric acid (H3PO4): 8 total atoms = one chime every 4.5 bars
- Citric acid (C6H8O7): 21 total atoms = one chime every 1.7 bars
I also correlated the total number of atoms of each acid with the tempo of it's respective track, arbitrarily starting at 80 bpm and progressing in increments of 10 bpm:
- Nitric acid (HNO3): 80 bpm
- Sulphuric acid (H2SO4): 90 bpm
- Phosphoric acid (H3PO4): 100 bpm
- Citric acid (C6H8O7): 110 bpm
I finally allowed myself some freedom when composing the music for the remaining four elements: nitrogen, carbon, sulphur and phosphor. I explored minors, majors and ninths.
After adding various delay, reverb, oscillator, pitch glide, and pulse plugins, I balanced each instrument's volume and timbre, applied gentle compression, then exported the audio files.
Using chemical formulae to ground the basic structure for a set of related ambient tracks was an interesting way to impose parameters within which to compose.