I Always Knew The Universe Was Dancing to "The Rhythm of the Primes" ...

... and then I finally heard what I always knew was there...

In addition to being that kid who was always humming a tune or writing a little story, I was also that kid who played around with an eight-digit calculator and explored the wonders of natural and rational and irrational numbers without having any understanding of those things by those names … that kid who had learned her time tables by three years old and could hear the math in music and the music in math.

This is why the above piece of music just makes me happy in a way that few pieces do … it all comes together.

I love a polyrhythm, I really do … although I dutifully played all the 4/4 time and 3/4 time things that learning music from the classical standpoint required, I started on that by learning the first 12 measures of Beethoven's “Moonlight” Sonata by ear … already going for those triplets, those compound rhythms of 3 in 4... something I also heard in the music of the African American church I grew up in, how “Amazing Grace” is in 3/4 time but in my church is played gloriously in 9/8 … swing time, the rhythm of jazz and blues … because we all know “it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing,” as the great Ella Fitzgerald sang to us almost a century ago.

Still later I figured out that Sting always had a song on his album that few in the pop world could dance to, because he knew what I knew … 7/8 time, which you can group in three and four OR four and three OR two and two and three OR two and three and two OR three and two and two … put that with Dave Brubeck's “Take 5” and you realize: there's a haiku in music going on, five and seven and five, in popular music, and we never knew it …

… but maybe we did, because although classical music gets first billing when studying music formally, Africa and Asia and Latin America have never given up their polyrhythms, and Europe's folk music holds on as well … even 4/4 has eight eighths, and I will sit around and group sixteen of those eighths into four triplets and two duplets while folks count four fours twice over it … nearly got put out of choir in church by bringing those polyrhythms back to “Twelve Gates” the Negro Spiritual, because living in a society that dehumanized my people means many elders still suffer from having been made ashamed and afraid of their own African legacy … but then I tossed that rhythm to a young African American student of mine in English who also is an amazing musician and she threw it on Pharrell Williams' “Happy” and made that even happier … the thread continues...

It continues because the thread of rhythm is TRUE, and has been sitting there underlying everything all this time … Erastosthenes drew it up as a sieve as he was looking for numbers that had no divisors, numbers we now call primes, numbers that rhyme and do times but won't subside to divide … 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11 … and we could find more 'til we get to Heaven … primes, my friend, go on without end...

But what does all that have to do with polyrhythms and music?

One good day in September 2022, Mr. Marc Evanstein got on Kadenze, a coding program for Python that makes music, and put the Sieve of Erastosthenes in there as a program, with the musical output being in the harmonic series … let's just call that D minorish … with the time tables of all the primes playing out while the primes descend and the powers of primes boom out along with the primes as they occur in their own time tables.

And thus it was at last revealed to the world what else Eratosthenes had discovered and mathematicians also have been looking at for years: the primes have their own rhythm, some two apart, some four apart, some more apart, but repeating and diverging enough in their patterns to make a polyrhythm compared to the regularity of the natural numbers

Prime numbers have also been visualized as spirals, beautifully curving through the natural numbers and their straight lines of multiples and divisors up and down. It has long been known that their patterns have a beauty all their own, and that leads to the fascination of people with them.

But for me, the kid who listens to documentaries on math I still can't compute when not making fractal art (another offshoot of my love of math), writing on Hive, and making music everywhere, Mr. Evanstein's musical representation of the primes has confirmed what I already knew about the connection of math and music and all life in the universe all being on its own groove, a groove reflected in the rhythms of music everywhere that multiplication by two and three is not all there is.

Now, I'm not saying that “The Rhythm of the Primes” is the music of the spheres, because later today I'm going to be checking out a video of wind recorded on the sun … I'm sure that's going to be wild …

… but what I am saying is that people who dance to a different drummer in this world might just be connected to what is really going on, for even below what we can hear with our ears, dark and deep like the dark energy that holds up the stars we can see, the math behind the physics and the form and shape of everything is dancing to “The Rhythm of the Primes.” Some of us are dancing with it, through space and time and art and music and even here on Hive … and you are welcome to join us!


This is fascinating! I know little to none about music notation, but I find it interesting. I've heard that music is only good if its is mathematically correct. Is is that make any sense?

One of my favourite band 'Tool' have a album called Lateralus.
The title song introduction lasts exactly one minute and 12 seconds and the numbers 0, 1, 1, 2 are the first four in the Fibonacci sequence. The first verse starts in on 97 seconds, which is approximately 1.618 minutes - the golden ratio. I find it very interesting.

The idea that music has to be mathematically correct to be good is somewhat misleading, in the hands of those who AGAIN only can make music in some division of two and three ... I went through that phase of my musical development and moved on! BUT, there is a sense in which music and math are inextricably linked ... so, it makes sense that the golden ratio might be involved in good music too!

Thank you! I really like classical music, but not only Beethoven or Bach, but I love Stravinsky, and as far as I am aware he was using musical dissonance deliberately to add complexity and an unfinished quality to his melodies. So I guess - music shouldn't have boundaries :)

Music DOESN'T have boundaries beside the physical universe that binds everything else... and as a tip of the hat to Beethoven and Bach, both of them colored ferociously outside the lines of their day too... their late works show that... Stravinsky was of course more open in his approach, coming later ... but my ancestors were creating Negro Spirituals all that time and never knew there WAS a boundary of that nature... so while we nod at the greats of the European Classical world, that boundary they observed was never real...


Oh wow, music and numbers, playing the track now and love it, but the reading of the whole post will come tomorrow, I just came home from a lesson full of smoke 😬

Oh, yikes ... smoke and music don't QUITE match...

The smoke went away, the migraine came and finally, she went away too. I am listening again to The rhythm of The Primes while having the opportunity to read your awesome article 🤓. I will just mention my niece, who is very special to me... she definitely can dance to this Rhythm with her life, studying music and mathematics at the same time, and mixing it with creativity, ideas, vibes, laughter, and drawing...

Well, by all means, pass it on -- I wish your niece all the best in all her studies!

I had such great pleasure reading this article. They tell me I'm good at math (I know, don't need others to tell me, or you 😉) and like it, though not really practising it. I also like music a lot, music of all sorts but also the more 'repetitive music' in the darker sides of electronic music. But I never really dove into the math in music! Super interesting! Love the kinda harmony, rhythm, in the Pi sequence. A very special series of numbers.

You've got my interest activated. Will definitely spend time discovering the music in math. Thanks soooo much! 🙇

You're welcome!