I’ve written before about the psychedelic-Satanic-otherworldly properties of John Coltrane’s music – which is a real thing, not just a stoner’s daydream. However, this bombshell new investigation by Adam Neely (the best music theory YouTuber out there, imo) sheds light on perhaps the most insane thing I’ve ever heard: if you play the right 200,000 notes in six seconds, your ear interprets it as the first few bars of Coltrane’s solo in “Giant Steps.”
I’ve watched this video a few times to try and understand it, and think I need to sleep on it. There’s a lot of biology and math involved in how this works – including cool sounding words like “periodicity,” “musical fractal,” and wild talk about 52/37 polyrhythms. The central idea is a riff on the old saying that “there’s no distinction between melody and rhythm,” or, melodies are just polyrhythms sped up super, super fast.
Basically, your ear is capable of conducting obscenely complex math calculations to make sense of the onslaught – and, when that onslaught comprises the chromatic scale in groupings of tens of thousands of notes, you get Trane. Allow Neely to explain:
This discovery generates yet another layer of intrigue to “Giant Steps,” which is one of those pieces of art that’s spilled millions of bottles of ink in analysis. Written partially as an improvisational exercise – the tune features an insanely difficult chord chart that moves ii-V-I progressions up major thirds – the recording has taken on a kind of mythic, artifact quality, as there are no surviving recordings of Trane playing this tune other than the original studio recording. It’s almost like a clue in the Zodiac case: a fleeting look into someone’s mind.
I hadn’t heard of this “musical fractal” business outside of Neely, who as a side project/shit-post/”the madman!”, started creating Smash Mouth fractal-covers using tens of thousands of MIDI layerings. Some other recent clips by Neely include a history of the tritone and how to play “offbeat” triplets, so if you enjoy this stuff, I highly recommend you subscribe to his channel.