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Jace Clayton Translates Stocks Into Sound

Aug 28, 2015
Originally published on September 8, 2015 5:26 pm

News about the stock market's ups and downs hardly comes as music to the ears — unless you happen to be experimental musician Jace Clayton.

Clayton, who also performs and records as DJ /rupture, is working on a new composition called Gbadu And The Moirai Index, which uses an algorithm to translate the market's movements into a piece for four voices. Each singer plays a mythological character — the Moirai are the three Greek goddesses of fate, and Gbadu is a dual-gendered West African fate deity.

Linking the stock market to powerful figures of fate makes sense to Clayton. For him, the Moirai work as sonic manifestations of Wall Street's neoclassical architecture, with its imposing Doric columns and colonnades. Gbadu carries deeper historical resonances.

"Lower Manhattan has so many black and African bodies buried, back from the colonial period," Clayton says.

So he picked a god from West Africa that many of them might have known.

Clayton runs the melodies sung by the four voices through an algorithm that interprets the day's market performances as echoes and reverberations. Each character is linked to four or five stocks that reflect the deity's cosmic role.

"So, for example, the Moirai, the Fate who cuts the string of life," Clayton says. "Her portfolio will include Lockheed Martin — weapons manufacturers."

So what happens to the piece on a day like this past Monday, when the market went berserk? When Clayton runs the algorithm, the melody stays the same, but it sounds heavy and compressed by all the fluctuations.

Clayton says he hopes the project helps people connect with two different things that can feel intimidating and enigmatic: the stock market and experimental music. He plans to stage Gbadu And The Moirai Index somewhere around Wall Street next year.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

News about the stock market's wild swings hardly comes as music to the ears - well, unless you happen to be a musician using an algorithm to translate it into an experimental composition. And yes, there is someone doing this. NPR's Neda Ulaby visited that composer, Jace Clayton, in New York.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: To be clear, this is a work in progress. Jace Clayton is writing for four singers who are playing mythological characters.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACE CLAYTON SONG, "GBADU AND THE MOIRAI INDEX")

JACE CLAYTON: The name of the piece is "Gbadu And The Moirai Index."

ULABY: He knows.

CLAYTON: A lengthy and semi-unpronouncable name.

ULABY: The Moirai is another word for the three Greek goddesses of fate.

CLAYTON: And Gbadu is a duel-gendered West African fate deity.

ULABY: Linking the stock market to powerful figures of fate made sense to Clayton. For him, the Moirai work as sonic manifestations of Wall Street's neoclassic architecture - all those imposing Doric columns and colonnades. Gbadu carries deeper historical resonances.

CLAYTON: Lower Manhattan has so many black and African bodies buried back from the colonial period.

ULABY: So he picked a god from West Africa many of them might have known. Composer Jace Clayton runs the voices through an algorithm that interprets today's market performances as sound effects. Echoes and reverberations.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACE CLAYTON SONG, "GBADU AND THE MOIRAI INDEX")

ULABY: Each character is linked to four or five stocks reflecting their cosmic role.

CLAYTON: So, for example, the Moirai, the fate who cuts the string of life, her portfolio would include, like, Lockheed Martin, weapons manufacturers.

ULABY: I asked Jace Clayton to run an algorithm for this past Monday, the latest black Monday, when the market went berserk. The melody is the same, but it sounds heavy and compressed by all the fluctuations.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACE CLAYTON SONG, "GBADU AND THE MOIRAI INDEX")

ULABY: Composer Jace Clayton hopes this project helps people connect with two very different things that can feel intimidating and enigmatic - that is to say, the stock market and experimental music. He plans to stage this work - Gbadu and the Moirai Index - somewhere around Wall Street next year. Neda Ulaby, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.