This is the most monumentally ugly piece of music ever composed, according to science

26 July 2016, 10:57 | Updated: 11 January 2017, 14:25

By Tim Edwards

Here's a ‘pattern-free’ (and therefore very ugly) piano sonata, by mathematician Scott Rickard. It's pretty hideous.

At a Ted talk back in 2011, mathematician Scott Rickard premiered a piece of music he asserts is the most ugly piece ever created. And there's some fascinating science behind it. And to find the ugly, we first have to talk about the beautiful.

What makes a piece of music beautiful?

“Most musicologists would argue that repetition is a key aspect of beauty,” says Rickard. “The idea that we take a musical idea, we repeat it, we set up the expectation for repetition and then we either realise it or break the repetition.” For example, think of how many times Beethoven repeats his ‘da-da-da-dum’ motif in his 5th Symphony.

Quiz: How well do you know Beethoven's 5th? >

So what makes music ugly?

Rickard continues: “If repetition and patterns are key to beauty, then what would the absence of patterns sound like - if we wrote a piece of music with no repetition in it?

“It’s not random – random is easy. But repetition-free is extremely difficult.”

So how do you compose repetition-free (ugly) music?

Rickard is a US Navy engineer who researches the perfect sonar ‘ping’ for sonar equipment (a ping that is effective for the purposes of detecting underwater objects). This needs to contain a series of notes that are totally pattern-free - here's an example:

Grid - ugly music

It’s an 88 x 88 sized grid called a Costas array. The grid is filled in by repeatedly multiplying by the number 3. Luckily, there are 88 notes on a piano, which means the filled-in bits of the grid can be transposed to a piece of music which Rickard describes as the world’s first pattern-free piano sonata.

Rickard has a tip for how to enjoy this music: “Try and find some repetition. Try and find something that you enjoy – and then revel in the fact that you won’t find it.” 

Skip the video to 7:40 if you want to miss the explanation and cut to the beginning of the ugly music, performed by Michael Linville of the New World Symphony:

Here's the world’s ugliest music, according to science: