Conway’s Game of Life, interpreted in sound.

Posted on February 6, 2013


Some videos you find on Youtube fill you with questions. Questions like ‘why did I just spend 2 minutes of my life watching that?’ or ‘what is this?’

Sometimes though, you find videos that fill you with the right kind of questions. Questions that lead you through lots of different ideas and possibilities and inspire you to tinker, hack and code. The following video by ViHart is one of these. Her fascinating video mathematically plays with the idea of space and time notation using only a music box, some paper and a hole punch.

Towards the end of the video, she puts a continuous loop of paper through the music box, that will endlessly play the notes punched into the paper.

What if the punched notes could change every time the paper looped through?

What if, the notes changed and moved around on their own?

What if it behaved like a cellular automaton, like Conway’s Game of Life?

So, using a little bit of code, some MIDI sounds and a lunch break, I explored just that. I coded a bounded square of cells (32×32), and ran the automaton rules over the set. After each iteration, I processed it as if it were holes punched into a tape, being played by a music box. I experimented with different speeds of note and different musical scales and the following video is of “Gosper’s Glider Gun”, with each note being played in a fraction of a second. This allows the listener to hear the evolution of the game without having to sit through half an hour of notes!


Included in the code are some recordings of various examples, in .ogg format, that play much more slowly. I used QSynth as a MIDI synthesiser, JACK and audacity to record the audio.

Posted in: creativity, fun, idea, play, python