A HISTORY OF

MUSIC CRYPTOGRAPHY

AudioCipher’s algorithm may seem a bit esoteric. So we've put together this overview of music cryptography to help better explain where the idea for our app came from. The story begins long ago, in the Greco-Egyptian Temples of Initiation and the Mystery Schools of 6th century B.C.E.

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 ANCIEnT Egypt and GREECE

Pythagoras (570 BC)

Musica Universalis

A Greek philosopher named Pythagoras once taught a cosmology called Musica Universalis. He believed that every planet emits a unique vibration or "humming" sound. We are simply too small to hear the frequencies. 

He went on to say that each string of a musical instrument should be tuned to vibrate with the intervals found by astronomers in the heavens. Each planet was imagined to exist in nested spheres, like an onion, with earth at its center. And each planet had a tonal pitch.

The imagined correlation between musical notes and planets was the first major historical instance of a musical cryptogram in the Western world.

2nd Century Rome and Syria

Iamblichus (250-325 AD)

 Iamblichus was a biographer of Pythagoras, albeit many centuries after his death.  His work provides direct accounts of the inner teachings of the Greek and Egyptian mystery schools.

 

This era of speculative philosophy gave special attention to music and its impact on society, including the moods and emotions of each variation in the Greek musical scale. These scales had underlying mathematical correspondence to the intervals of space between each planet in our solar system.

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Medieval Monk music THEORY

Guido D'Arezzo

(991-1o33 AD)

Guido of Arezzo was a Benedictine monk and music theorist who invented the first version of "do re mi". His system helped students sing musical intervals more accurately. But unlike the song we sing today, he taught students to connect each vocal leap with a different shape made by their hand, as a mnemonic device.

 

Meanwhile in Palmistry, each section of the hand was believed to correspond to the planets. And of course, every musical instrument is played with the hands.

Classical Indian Music

Swaras and Ragas from 12th century

The roots of Indian classical music go back at least two thousand years to the Vedic hymns sung in Hindu temples. The seven note swara is the Indian equivalent to Guido's solfeggios scale. Each note in the system is believed to correspond to a word, an animal, and more. 

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As above

So Below

Marsilio Ficino (1489)

The European Renaissance is the real birth place of musical cryptograms in the way that we think of them today.

"Take note of what special star rules what place or person and then to observe what sorts of tones and songs these regions and persons generally use, so that you may supply similar ones, together with the meanings I have just mentioned, to the words which you are trying to expose to the same stars ... but remember that song is a most powerful imitator of all things. " 

Marsilio Ficino

The Magic Use of Music, ch. 21  (1489 AD)

The Magic of Words

Henry Cornelius Agrippa (1533)
 

"That the proper names of things are very necessary in Magical Operations, almost all men testify. For the natural power of things proceeds, first, from the objects to the senses, and then from these to the imagination, and from this to the mind, in which it is first conceived, and then is expressed by voices and words. The Platonists, therefore, say that in this very voice, or word, or name framed, with its articles, that the power of the thing, as it were some kind of life, lies under the form of the signification. First conceived in the mind, as it were through certain seeds of things, then by voices or words, as a birth brought forth; and lastly, kept in writings." -

Henry Cornelius Agrippa

The Magic of Words / On the Virtue of Proper Names (1532)

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SECRET MUSICAL CODES

"Mercury or The Secret and Swift Messenger" (1641)

One of the first overt references to musical cryptograms was in John Wilkin's book Mercury or the Secret and Swift Messenger. In this book he outlined a method whereby each letter could be assigned to a note. Letters like K and Q were left out because they could be represented by C. Strange rulesets like this were common with cryptograms, as their central purpose was to evade detection. This text outlined the use of music as a smokescreen for some other secret purposes like forbidden communication.

J.s. Bach

The Bach Motif (1732)
 

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One of the first concrete examples of music cryptography can be found in the history of J.S. Bach. Commonly regarded as the grandfather of Western music, Bach took advantage of the fact that German musical scales had eight notes labeled A-H and used those note to spell his name. Many classical compositions have been written with this four note melody, in homage to Bach.

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Hiding secret messages

Harmonic ALphabet (1772)

"For who that examined a suspected messenger would think an old song, without words, in which perhaps the messenger’s tobacco or snuff might be put, contained a secret he was to convey?”   

 

Philip Thicknesse

A Treatise on the Art of Deciphering, and of Writing in Cypher: With an Harmonic Alphabet (1772)

Michael Haydn

Musical Cipher (1808)

Michael was the brother of famous composer Joseph Haydn. He took an interest in musical cryptograms and developed one that correlated each note to a single alphabet letter. This was done using a simple ascending chromatic scale.

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Schumann & Brahms

Carnaval, Opus 9

(1835 - 1858)

Robert Schumann’s Carnaval is a collection of twenty short solo piano pieces. Each song represents a masked person at a Carnival. The opus includes a subtext with a clue from Schumann: Scènes mignonnes sur quatre notes (Little Scenes on Four Notes).

The four notes refer to word puzzles that he encoded into the music. These themes recur during Carnaval in a series of combinations and refer to things that were personally meaningful to the compose.

German composer Johannes Brahms did something similar, writing a love song for a woman named Agathe. Removing the t, his melody was spelled a-g-a-h-e. Remember that in German, h = b note.

MAurice Ravel

Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn (1909)

In 1909, six French composers were commissioned to write music in commemoration of the late and influential composer Franz Joseph Haydn. Ravel’s 54-bar-long minuet is built on a five-note motif outlining Haydn’s name.

 

The French system for musical cryptograms involves the entire alphabet, with H-N, O-U, and V-Z in lines under the original diatonic notes A-G.

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The french cipher

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Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

Paul Foster Case

(1888 - 1937)

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, founded in 1888 by a group of English wizards, put forth a comprehensive set of techniques for ritual embodiment of planetary frequencies. Through ceremonial means, they intoned vowel sounds at specific pitches while under the influence of intense meditative states. 

Each musical tone in the Golden Dawn's system was set to a sympathetic color, Hebrew alphabet letter, number, astronomical body, and tarot card. 

There is no indication that any composers used the Golden dawn system for writing music.

Fantasia

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1940)

Disney's classic film Fantasia brought many of the esoteric philosophies down to earth in a whimsical tale of caution to anyone who would pursue magic. The film's soundtrack played an intricate role in the movie's animations. Although it featured no musical cryptograms, it set an important cultural precedent for other "magical music" themes that came later.

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Skeleton Keys

The Goonies

Organ Scene (1985) 

Musical cryptograms have been a well kept secret by hollywood filmmakers for years. You might not realize it but there are many films where a sequence of notes are used to open a door or secret passage. 

This classic scene from the Goonies features the kids trying to play a series of notes correctly on an organ made of bones, to keep from falling into a bottomless pit. The musical code determines their fate, as symbolized by the skeleton keys.

Zelda: Ocarina of Time 

Zelda (N64, 1998)

In Zelda's Ocarina of Time, the player uses special note combinations to open up multidimensional doorways, change the weather, and summon creatures. 

The notes were played by millions of non-musicians around the world. This game has been rated one of the greatest of all time, largely because of nostalgia for the magical musical cryptograms.

In 2002 the Zelda franchise release another game driven by a musical instrument, called WindWaker. It was a big commercial success, just like Ocarina of Time.

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Prometheus

The SpaceShip Activating Flute Scene (2012)

The archetype of a magic whistle can be traced back to Mozart's Freemasonic opera, The Magic Flute. However his own story draws from ancient Indian religious stories of Krishna's flute. In fact, the oldest instrument known to man was a flute made from bone, discovered near some caves.

From Zelda's ocarina to the alien's whistle in 2012 film Prometheus, the thing that makes it magical is the sequence of notes. In this way, the cryptogram has been implicated countless times in cinema.

So concludes our tour...

The future of musical cryptograms is in your hands... with AudioCipher.