What does negative harmony sound like? Here’s the answer!

By , June 23, 2019 11:00 am

In the last year or so there’s been quite a buzz in the music theory world about the concept of negative harmony, mainly thanks to a few YouTube interviews with Jacob Collier which have gone viral, especially the ones by June Lee.

But while this has been great for introducing the idea to many people, still most people don’t really know what music based on negative harmony actually sounds like! And as Jacob mentioned in some of these interviews, clever theoretical tricks are rather pointless unless you can actually make some great music from them. Most of the videos just focus on a few chords, which is a great start but far from the full picture.

Introducing the SHIMANator negative harmony app!

So I’ve built an app called “the SHIMANator” which can convert any music into its negative harmony equivalent, and I’m very excited to finally announce it to the world! Check out the video:

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OK, but what’s the point?

I mainly wrote this app because a) Jacob asked me to, b) it sounded like a fun challenge, and c) the thought of being able to instantly hear the negative harmony equivalent of any music was very appealing.

But in the process of getting it working, it became apparent that this could actually be a useful tool for generating fresh new musical ideas and sounds. For example, I’ve talked to film / TV composers who got excited about using it to quickly generate music which is coherent with and relating to their existing material. For example if a musical motif in a major key represented a character in a film, flipping it about an axis would give you the negative version, which would sound in a minor key and could be used to represent the “dark side” of that character’s personality.

Can I try it out?

Not yet, but I’m aiming to offer early beta access to a select group of people at some point soon. Please show your interest by taking the following actions!

1. Sign up for updates on the SHIMANator

2. Let me know what you think and win a free copy!

Do you find this app interesting? Could you imagine using it yourself? If so, would you use it for composition, or as an extra effect in live improvisation, or maybe even for something else?

So I’d love to hear what you think – and the person who gives the best feedback will win a free copy of the software when it’s fully productised and ready to publish!

Please leave comments on the Facebook page or the YouTube video.

3. Subscribe to my YouTube channel:

How does it work?

At the simplest level, it takes MIDI events in, does some magic to convert to negative harmony, and then outputs the same events with modified pitches. So it should work with pretty much any piece of MIDI-compatible software or hardware under the sun.

The actual algorithm for the conversion is very complicated, so I’ll save the explanation for another time. But you can see from the video how melodic motion is inverted, as is motion around the circle of fifths.

How did this all come about?

Here’s the history, in case you’re curious.

I was introduced to negative harmony a few years ago by Barak Schmool, who later taught Jacob in his role as professor of jazz and world rhythms at the Royal Academy of Music. (Barak’s awareness of the technique was heavily influenced by his friend Steve Coleman, an incredible jazz saxophonist who has been using negative harmony in his music for many decades.)

At the time I built a really dumb prototype for fun, and fed Mozart’s 40th Symphony through it. The results were promising, but also sounded amusingly terrible due to every high note being converted to a very low note and vice-versa.

It was clear that without some magic octave transposition algorithm, notes would stray too far from their original register and completely screw up the voicing “texture” which the composer had intended. So shortly afterwards, Barak and I basically forgot about it, and instead got distracted experimenting on Giant Steps with some brilliant ideas he had regarding unequally tempered systems of intonation (which later inspired some of Jacob’s great work with microtonal voice-leading).

A year or two later, Barak told Jacob about my prototype. He was interested enough to get in touch, and you already know the rest of the story.

By the way, there is already some great music out there made entirely using negative harmony. For example see Steve Cruickshank’s fantastic YouTube channel, which is full of negative harmony covers of famous music. And I’m not even the first to come up with a negative version of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. But I’m not yet aware of any other software which does what mine does. Hopefully you find its potential interesting.

Have you made any other music software?

Funny you should ask! Actually yes: in an earlier collaboration with Barak I built the Scale Matcher – a free app (web page) for finding which scales match a given chord. Check it out 🙂

If you read this far, congratulations – you are a most excellent and dedicated music theory nerd. Let’s have a pint some time. But until then, don’t forget to subscribe and let me know what you think!


24 Responses to “What does negative harmony sound like? Here’s the answer!”

  1. Arcangel Olivari says:

    I ama composer I would be interested in your software for composition process

  2. Andy says:

    Hey Adam, watched the video and this looks really cool! (Actually I first heard about the project from your dad a while back) I’d love to try it out at some point. I made a fun little video trying out U Can’t Touch This in negative harmony (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMz9L5xzpyA).

  3. carlos says:

    excelente ,estoy interesado

  4. Markus Hediger says:

    Hi Adam,

    where can I sign up or is the app out already?

    Thank you and best regards

  5. shawn says:

    Hi This App sounds really cool can i get it ? thanks !

  6. Eduardo Loureiro Jr. says:

    I’m interested. Mainly for composition purposes.

  7. Peter John Bailey says:

    Fabulous and inspirational. My search for ways to invert midi notes in a DAW brought me here. I found Mirror a plugin for Musescore 3 which will also do the trick, but not in real-time. Here, although initially I can see that in real-time it can be disorientating and confusing, I can see the real benefits when improvising and composing at the keyboard. I would love a copy of your SHIMANator software. Thank you for your work

  8. I’m from Argentina and my english sucks……Sorry
    I’m interested too. Mainly for composition purposes.

  9. patrick says:

    sounds very good – I would be interested to try!

  10. Martin Frank says:

    This is pure genious..extremely practical application of neg harm. I see what looks like a way to change the axis as well..so do we get the E half flat axis between C and G or just Eb?

    Also, if we were to set those parameters to an axis “between” C and C, do we get identical but reverse-from-positive structures going down in the reverse from tonic? Man i want to try this out… VST functioning will be critical!!

    • Adam says:

      Thanks Martin. Yes you can see the E half flat in the middle of the circle of 5ths. No, the axis can only be halfway between two notes a fifth apart.

  11. Juby Thomas says:

    this could be a real big deal for a lot of us musicians and others interested in theories of relativity in terms music… Waiting to try this out.

    • Adam says:

      Thanks a lot for the interest Juby. Make sure you’re signed up to the mailing list and facebook group – I’ll certainly send an update when it’s ready!

  12. Jordan says:

    This is a great idea and I would use this as an inspirational tool for composition such as spicing up existing music I’ve already done and generally doodling with existing songs to see what their doppelganger sounds like (I really want to do purple rain!). Also, will this work as a plugin in a DAW? I’d really like to get my hands on this, is it available for purchase?

    • Adam says:

      Thanks Jordan. It won’t act as a plugin but a separate program which can be hooked up to a DAW via a virtual MIDI bus – at least I got that working with Logic on the Mac, and with Jack on Linux. I’ve heard it’s harder to do virtual MIDI on Windows but haven’t tried. It’s not available for purchase yet because I need to find the time to package it up into an installer, but hopefully I can do it this summer!

  13. Brad Bradly says:

    This is so cool! How do I get involved?

  14. Tore Landro says:

    I’m interested!

  15. Todd Patterson says:

    Please let me know when a Mac version is available. Thank you.

  16. Alexander Hessenkamp says:

    Iam from germany and my english not good……Sorry
    I’m very interested.
    thanx a lot

  17. Cliff Douse says:

    Hi Adam,

    I want to include a page about the SHIMANator (when it’s ready) in my book, Mirror Your Music (a beginner’s guide to chromatic inversion, diatonic inversion, negative harmony, retrograde, and retrograde inversion). Is it still going ahead? Is there a release date in sight? I’d also love to test drive a beta (on a Mac) and, of course, purchase it!

    Best regards,


  18. Markus Anthony says:

    I’m very interested in it as a compositional tool (for Mac). But this page is now more than 3 years old. Has the project been put on hold? Abandoned? Hope to hear from you!

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