A Musical Prime Number

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The song 'Popcorn' by Gershon Kingsley is a melody you can't resist. Even people who hate the song, have to admit it has a stubborn quality.

Gershon Kingsley discovered a funny sound in his synthesizer, which reminded him to the sound of popcorn. Everybody knows the song 'Popcorn' by Gershon Kingsley. Older poeple will remember it as the crazy summerhit of 1972. Younger readers know it as a jingle, the Crazy Frog popcorn remix or as ringtone. Tup-tup-tup-tup-tuptuptup. If you don't know what it's about, do a search query on the internet. You know it. And if you didn't know it yet, you won't forget it from now on. 'Popcorn' is a classic earcrawler. The song has been covered hundreds and hundreds of times: by Japanese punkbands, Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin and now the Crazy Frog.

It is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, instrument hits of all time. 'Popcorn' was written by the now 82 years old synthesizer pioneer Gershon Kingsley, who will release a new album in November [2005]: God is a Moog.

In the Book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks tells us about the peculiar autistic twins John and Michael. The boys had a thing with numbers. If Sacks called just a number, there usually was no response. But the boys jumped up when he called a prime number, a number which can be devided only by one, or itself. It made them happy. Everybody can reason that thirty-seven is a prime number. But John and Michael recognised prime numbers of six or seven digits without thinking about it. Something that would be unimaginable at first glance.

Maybe this is a case of a sensitivity that everybody knows. A sensivity that resembles the sensitivity that 'normal people' experience when listening to music. You can interpret 1373 as a melody: the first note of a tone ladder, then the third, then the senventh and then the third again. There are numbers (melodies) which tells us nothing. There are numbers who make us sad, there are numbers which move us and there are numbers we immediately recognise as special. Who enter the brain and stay there. Melodies which drive certain people insane: musical prime numbers.