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How sonar helped a mathematician compose the world’s ugliest music

Editorial Staff

Written by Matthew Parsons

Take a second and think about a piece of music you enjoy. Chances are there's some element of repetition in that music. The way that composers and musicians use patterns to fulfill and subvert your expectations as a listener is one of the key components of beauty in music.

So, what if somebody could write a piece of music with no patterns in it? Would that be the ugliest music ever written? That's what mathematician Scott Rickard tried to find out. But first, there was the problem of how to write pattern-free music.

That problem sent Rickard spiraling back through the history of mathematics, looking at innovations by 20-year-old number prodigies as well as U.S. Navy researchers trying to develop the perfect sonar ping.

Check out Rickard's TED talk for the full story — plus the premiere of his ugly, ugly piano composition: The Perfect Ping.

Find out more about the collision between music and science all week long: Science Week on CBC Music.

Follow Matthew Parsons on Twitter: @MJRParsons