Greg Davis New Primes

Greg Davis Dives Into Compositional Properties of Prime Numbers with ‘New Primes’

On New Primes, Vermont experimentalist Greg Davis explores process-based composition, with a little help from a record label that revels in the concept.

New Primes
Greg Davis
23 September 2022

Joseph Branciforte’s record label, greyfade, is dedicated to releasing records based on complex processes to create striking, unique music. Working with artists like Kenneth Kirschner, Theo Bleckmann, and Christopher Otto, Branciforte is dedicated to swerving away from the norm, introducing sounds derived from mathematical concepts, and implementing complex software to create sounds unlike anything heard before. The latest greyfade release, New Primes, sees Vermont-based experimental musician Greg Davis using prime numbers as the basis for the music he creates. 

Branciforte was introduced to Davis’ music after purchasing a compilation album of works using “just intonation” – the tuning of musical intervals as whole number ratios (such as 3:2 or 4:3) of frequencies – and included in this compilation was a piece by Davis called “Star Primes (For James Tenney)”. Davis used prime number sets in the track to develop just intonation tuning relationships and intervals. To create the piece, Davis developed a custom Max/MSP software system using a network of pure sine tones. 

Eventually, Davis and Branciforte began corresponding, with Branciforte explaining that this was the kind of generative and processed-based music he wanted to release on his new label, greyfade. “This was a blueprint for exactly the kind of music I had imagined releasing,” Branciforte explained in New Primes‘ press release. “There was so much conceptual integrity to it, but it was still addictively listenable.” 

The conversations between these two forward-thinking artists led to a live performance of Davis’ prime numbers project at the Fridman Gallery in New York in 2019. That’s where Davis kept the basic structure of the original prime number software but tweaked rhythmic functions and selected a group of new prime number sets. That eventually led to a recording at Branciforte’s studio, resulting in New Primes

New Primes is a deeply felt, almost white-noise wall of sound that takes the listener on something of an alien journey across six tracks. On the opening track, “Sophie Germain”, low-end sonic waves move in and out of the sonic landscape with deliberate pacing. The listener is pulled into deep drones that pulsate with life, as if inside an elaborate yet organic computer mainframe. On “Irregular” (the titles of the pieces refer to the name of the prime number set used), the sound is more mechanical and foreboding, but a pattern emerges as the tracks begin to elicit the feel of a living, breathing organism.

This type of musical experiment – whereby the concept behind the music’s creation is almost as enticing as the music itself – is essentially the bread and butter of greyfade and Branciforte. He founded the label in 2019 to present works from artists exploring algorithmic composition, minimalism, and alternate tuning. New Primes certainly fits the bill. Branciforte also has almost puritanical integrity towards the availability of the music released on greyfade. None of it is available on any streaming services, as he believes these services fail to offer an optimal environment for engaged listening and a sustainable economic model for artists. If you want to hear a greyfade release in full, you have to buy the records, which all include digital downloads in various resolutions. 

As a result, New Primes – like the three previous greyfade releases – has a warm, textured, organic sound. On “Proth”, the listener can hear the deep lows that weave in and out. On sonically dynamic tracks like “Pierpont” and “Cullen”, the higher ends come across as barely contained, pulsating feedback, sounding marvelous on a good set of headphones (a highly recommended way of experiencing this album).

New Primes closes with “Euclid”, one of the album’s longer tracks, and one that moves through different harmonic points with almost balletic grace. There may be mathematical precision to this music’s execution, but above all, it’s a deeply human experience through what sounds like the sonic equivalent of space exploration. New Primes is the sound of an artist who is deeply curious about the world and the universe around him and is experiencing it with bravery and a sense of wonder.  

RATING 7 / 10