Music, Mandelbrot and self-similarity

I think Benoit Mendelbrot would have made a great composer.

He could see the pattern in things – the self-similarity in nature that is evident to composers, and that they make manifest in their works.

Great music isn’t just repeated, identical patterns of course. If you just repeat and repeat you end up with dross. No tension, no drama, no humanity.

Great music is a combination of self-similarity, plus direction and flow. It is the repetition of shape and form, plus the building of tension – like the growth, mount and eventual crash and wash of waves on a beach.

Without the interconnected combination of pattern and intent, you have nothing more than meandering notes.

So maybe what we composers are is really interpreters of nature, rather than creators of original text. And maybe the ability to compose is not so much about whether you play an instrument well, or sing well, but whether you can see well – whether you have your eyes and mind open, and can connect the stars to the earth in a sweeping picture of creation.

Then all you need is the musical skills to share your vision.

After all, isn’t that what painters and poets do – interpret nature? It isn’t about brush strokes, or words, but how the vision is pieced together.

It is the way the world is seen that catches our breath.

Those with the purest sight, the clearest vision, are those we hail as most successful, most visionary.

The more clearly we share the nature that is in us, and the nature we come from, the more magic is shared in our music. So maybe composing music isn’t so much about expressing self, as expressing the natural world as we see it.

I believe that is a secret that Mandelbrot – a mathematician – knew well.

Mandelbrot’s vision helped us to further understand our world. And really, when you take a bigger, broader vision, you can come to understand why mathematics and music are so closely connected.

To paraphrase the poet: We are the pattern-makers. We are the scriptors of reality.

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