by Quarter Isogrid

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This is a collection of sounds generated from part patterns for hollow, cardboard-core surfboards. Emerging from those sounds is music, perhaps. If it sounds a little strange, that's because the composition is comprised of patterns for a laser cutter. What's strange is that it sounds like music at all.

Hundreds of parts go into a cardboard surfboard core - long, short and tiny pieces that fit together with thousands of notches. (see ) An algorithm composes the parts into a collection of efficiently-packed 1' x 2' panels. The arrangement is then refined by human intelligence, with an eye to further reduce material use and cutting tool motion between parts.

A mathematical mapping of part patterns to audible tones, and placement to time, turns the panels into a kind of musical score. An audio track can then be generated from the surfboard core patterns as easily as a CAD file for laser cutting.

With minimal layering, speed changes, and transpositions, the base audio tracks combine with themselves to produce something musical, yet guilelessly unconventional.

Whether as cut patterns or music, these files ship free, globally. Any place with cardboard and a laser cutter is ready to build these cores. If the will arises there, the patterns will be at hand here. Presently, pre-cut core kits are sold and shipped overseas from one location. Rationally, this is not necessary, or ideal. Distributed, local production is possible today, if we can make the right connections.

As with music, there is the question of how the poor, earnest, pitiable artist or engineer gets gas money to get to the beach, or how he can save up for a laser cutter of his own, when his works are published as digital files that are so easy to copy and share. The parallel prompted an investigation into how one might hijack an online music sales service that claims to work well for musicians, to distribute other works of art and engineering.

The only tasteful way to do it seemed to be to actually produce music as part of the intrigue.

Mustering the parts and tools at hand, addressing the fundamental bits and bytes common to digital geometry and audio, slipping in by a side entrance into the realm of music, entering at the computational stage, then working back to audible tones, and forward to distribution and sales, by unsound measures the album formed. From the vantage of that byte-level entry point, it was clear that there was room in the music data to stow away the original part geometry, with negligible effect on the sound quality. Why shouldn't it ride free within?

Yes, the patterns are in the music made from the patterns - and doing that alters the music, but not so much that you will notice.

So if you're building a surfboard, ZIPs of the CAD files, in EPS and DXF, are in the FLACs. Be sure to select the FLAC option on the download page, and then use in Firefox or Chrome to get your files. (If you need a different audio format for listening - like iTunes-compatible ALAC - select and download that after your FLAC download finishes.) The song titles are just the names of the surfboard models they contain. (They say nothing about the music.) "Glass Fish" has that and the other two fish models in there.

The music itself is something, though. It's rough and challenging, and the mix might only sound right on the cheap headphones that turned out to be the most advanced piece of audio equipment available here. Muddled voices? Discord? Obnoxious interjections? That's the way the parts sound. Those low-frequency soft clicks? Notches.

But take the album to a quiet, dark place, and listen as if there might be something worth discovering. See if melodic phrases surface, if voices call back and forth somewhat sensibly. You may find character, mood and feeling. It can be dark and anxious, or sentimental. Some pieces seem to have dramatic threads, and if you spend more time with all of them, you might even piece together a narrative for the entire album.

That's all absurd, and not at all what the part pattern arranger would have intended. You read all of that into it, and have the sense that it resonates with you. None of that can really be there - it's just parts, just math, just a scheme. It's a betrayal. But, if it's any consolation, I hear it too.


released January 1, 2012

Mike Sheldrake on the qwerty, math and rodent
washed up -- could use some paying gigs



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Quarter Isogrid Olive, California

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