Something Fishy

This edition of At Water’s Edge brings us another challenge episode, and it’s a good one!

“Fish” was the challenge wherein artists were to create a track using an unusual scale (you know, fish? Scales?), and make it about being underwater. The results were gorgeous and as usual, as varied as the contributors. Artists include George L. Smyth, Museleon, Carbonates on Mars, Skoddie, Mr. Spiral, playman54, and Joe McMahon.

In an unusual twist, one of the tracks that was *not* specifically written for the challenge nevertheless met the terms so precisely that we’re adding it to the album anyway. That is available via

The Challenge Tracks

Something Fishy (2019)

  • “Searching For Krill” – George L Smyth

The idea of this piece is about being underwater and scales.  For the first part I started thinking about krill, small crustaceans that are toward the bottom of the food chain upon which so many underwater creatures depend (a blue whale can consume up to four tons of krill each day).  Without krill an ecosystem can collapse, so searching for krill is as important as living.
For the scales portion I decided to create my own scale, holding eight notes instead of the common seven notes in most scales.  A Bb C Db Eb E F# G Each note within the piece holds to one of these eight, the result being a meandering foray through the depths filled with creatures seeking sustenance.

George L Smyth
  • “Circles” – Museleon

The challenge was to create a piece of music basedon alternate tunings and unusual scales and to make it about being underwater.

Scales = Fish

I have always loved watching Koi carp and they have appeared regularly in both my music and artwork. They not only look beautiful in their many golden shades but are also graceful, swimming in circles of varying sizes, in small groups, occasionally coming up to the surface to take the air.

With this image in mind, I decided to use the scale Min’yō (民謡), a scale used in traditional Japanese folk music, as my musical starting point.

I decided to create a piece solely using this scale and its notes with repeated phrases interweaving, to try and replicate the circles that Koi swim in the glinting water. I also added small ‘water blips’ from field recordings, as the Koi take in air and then continue on their never-ending circular motion.

Odette Johnson
  • “Ocean Floor” – Carbonates On Mars

This track is in the key of E in the Insen scale, a scale I’ve never used.

Gareth Farmer (Carbonates On Mars)
  • “Sleeping With Fishes” – Skoddie

This track was created entirely in Sonic Pi and relies heavily on randomness. Notably, while it will always begin in the same scale, it will change to a random scale from a predefined list of scales at a random interval. I don’t believe all possible scales from the piece are featured in this recording. Different elements of the track will also come in and out at random; scale changes are indicated by the chime. The source code is available at: and will run in a standard installation.

  • “Phrygian Physh Styx” – Mr. Spiral

An underwater exploration in a lovely and little-used mode. Underwater samples by benboncan, scratchikken, tomtenney, and felix-blume ( (used under CC BY license)

Mr. Spiral
  • “sonic songs beneath arctic seas” – playman54

This is my sudoku scale; it’s 9 notes:
4 whole tone notes 
5 semitone notes 
This 1 is in C D E F# whole tones
g a minor a b minor b seminotes 
The theme was life beneath arctic seas,
ice talking and maybe whales singing.

Colin Blake (playman54)
  • “Gamelan Dream” – Joe McMahon (originally from Ocean Music, 2009)

This is all Ensoniq SD-1 through the Vortex, set to the BLEEN effect and cranked all the way to its maximum. That’s what makes the ascending inharmonic notes from the marimba strikes. It takes advantage of the fact that the SD-1 has a tuning table feature that lets me tune everything to a Balinese pelog scale (also used for Pemungkah on Beneath Stars). I purposely overloaded the synthesis engine on the SD-1 to force those backward-sounding tones – that’s actually the SD-1 going into voice-stealing mode and cutting off earlier notes. That is being processed through SHIMMER to throw it randomly around the stereo image. This track was composed using the “blind take” method I used for several tracks on Ocean Music: record a track, mute it, record another, and so on, slow everything down to maybe half the original speed, and then listen to the final result, replacing anything that didn’t sit right with a new take, again done without reference to anything but memory.

Joe McMahon

The Library Tracks

“Moveless Fish” – Lucette Bourdin – Silver Moon (2009)
“Starfish” – Mark Mahoney – Beyond the Vaulting Sky (2009)
“Starfish” – Jack Hertz – Complex Silence 34 (2013)

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