World’s ugliest music – Scott Rickard

Scott Rickard has degrees in Mathematics, Computer Science, and Electrical Engineering from M.I.T. and MA and PhD degrees in Applied and Computational Mathematics from Princeton University. At University College Dublin, he founded the Complex & Adaptive Systems Laboratory, where biologists, geologists, mathematicians, computer scientists, social scientists and economists work on problems which matter to people. He is passionate about mathematics, music and educating the next generation of scientists and mathematicians.



Scott Rickard, a mathematician and engineer, set out to create what he described as the “world’s ugliest music” during a TEDxMIA talk. The concept was not about aesthetic judgment in the traditional sense but was rooted in a mathematical challenge: to compose a piece of music that avoids any form of repetition, which is typically a key element in making music pleasing to the human ear. Rickard’s endeavor was to explore the boundaries of music and mathematics, particularly focusing on patterns and their absence.

### The Mathematical Basis

Rickard’s approach to creating the “world’s ugliest music” was based on the mathematical concept of a Costas array. In simple terms, a Costas array is a grid or pattern used in engineering and mathematics where each dot or mark is positioned so that no dot aligns vertically, horizontally, or diagonally with any other dot, ensuring a pattern of maximum non-repetition. This concept was applied to the composition, aiming to produce a piece where no note, rhythm, or sequence was repeated, challenging traditional musical structures that often rely on repetition for coherence and appeal.

### The Composition

The piece composed by Rickard, often referred to as the “ugliest music,” employs a piano for its performance. It meticulously avoids repeating melodies, harmonies, and rhythms, resulting in a composition that defies conventional musical expectations. The piece is structured around the mathematical principles of the Costas array, ensuring that each note and its placement are unique within the composition’s framework.

### Reception and Interpretation

The reception to Rickard’s “world’s ugliest music” has been mixed, with audiences intrigued by the mathematical and theoretical underpinnings of the project. While some listeners find the piece jarring or unpleasant due to its deliberate avoidance of repetition and conventional harmony, others appreciate it as an intellectual exercise and a demonstration of the intersection between music and mathematics.

Critics and enthusiasts of experimental music have pointed out that the concept of “ugliness” in music is subjective and culturally conditioned. What Rickard defines as “ugly” due to its lack of repetition and traditional structure may be perceived differently by individuals with varying tastes and backgrounds in music. Furthermore, the project invites discussion on the role of repetition in music and whether its absence necessarily leads to a lack of beauty or enjoyment.

### Conclusion

Scott Rickard’s quest to create the “world’s ugliest music” is a fascinating exploration of the boundaries between mathematics and music. By applying the principles of the Costas array to composition, Rickard challenges our understanding of what makes music pleasing or unpleasing to the ear. While the piece may be considered “ugly” in its deliberate avoidance of repetition and traditional musical elements, it also serves as a reminder of the subjective nature of musical appreciation and the potential for mathematics to inspire creative expression in the arts.

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