RGB Barcode Composition

The Disquiet Junto–Association for communal music/sound-making on Soundcloud.com–is a constraint based group partly inspired by the tradition of Oulipo. I became aware of them just a couple of weeks ago, thanks to an excellent post on The Ethan Hein Blog – Demographics of the Disquiet Junto. Ethan’s impressive survey of the instruments and software tools that the Junto participants use was just the ticket I needed to step confidently into the world of digital music education and production, since previously I had often been discouraged by the overwhelming array and complexity of software, hardware and acronyms. As a result I now have my eyes on Ableton Live and have rearranged my study with plenty of desk space for things like a MIDI keyboard and various gadgetry.

However, in the spirit of constraint based creativity, I felt I should attempt a Junto project with what I have at hand before letting said hand go to my wallet prematurely. After all, the levels of discouragement might return if I can’t even get a handle on the few basic tools I do have.

Disquiet Junto Project 0282: Berio’s Bach
Make a piece of music based on one composer’s observation regarding another composer.

I have since missed the May 29, 2017 deadline for this but I kept going until I had a finished product, so I guess that means I can justify upgrading my gear. Here are the steps I followed. Full details at the end of this post.

Step 1: The composer Luciano Berio once said that part of the attraction of some of Bach’s music is in its clear distinction between which notes are “structurally significant” and which are “decorative.” Consider this observation.

Step 2: Compose a short piece of music that opens and closes with there being a clear sense of which parts are “structurally significant” and which are “decorative,” but that in the middle gets ambiguous in this regard.

Re: Step 1. I think what Berio was getting at was Bach’s use of ‘melody’. I’ve read it said that certain of Bach’s music can be reinterpreted and genre bent all you like, but the identity of the melody remains all Bach’s. It must be Australian composer Andrew Ford who put that idea in my head: I’ve been reading a lot of him lately.

Re: Step 2. I loaded a barcode image into RGB MusicLab and resized it to 15 pixels x 60 lines. I also forced a rest at the end of each line, thus creating a 16th beat per line to give me 4 bars of 4 beats per line. This would be the ‘structurally significant’ part.

RGB Barcode Composition

After playing it back in black and white to get a sense for the inherent beat of the thing, I opened the Colour Sound Editor and started composing: the first 8 lines in red, the next 8 in red and green, and finally 17 lines in red, green and blue. The remainder of the barcode was left unused. I used the Analog Drum kit for the red notes, Woodblock for green, and Synth Bass for blue. These are the parts that are technically ‘decorative’, though theoretically an awful lot of the process could be described as structurally significant. Surely I played it back during construction many hundreds of times until I was satisfied, and conversely my neigbours were silently screaming at my beeping and chiming laptop.

I recorded the final into Audacity, then flipped the barcode over horizontally and vertically so it would play through the lines from back to front, and recorded this onto a second track. Finally, I joined the end of the original recording to the beginning of the second recording, at the middle. As instructed, the middle gets ambiguous in this regard. If you have a sharp ear, you might recognise the musical quote I placed in this section: the notes are transposed from part of Oops Up, by Snap.

“say oops upside your head, say oops upside your head”

More on this 282nd weekly Disquiet Junto project — “Berio’s Bach: Make a piece of music based on one composer’s observation regarding another composer” — at:


More on the Disquiet Junto at:


Subscribe to project announcements here:


Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co:


There’s also on a Junto Slack. Send your email address to twitter.com/disquiet for Slack inclusion.