When Hieronymus Bosch painted The Garden of Earthly Delights some time between the years of 1490 and 1510, the man clearly had a lot on his mind. His triptych shows a hallucinatory landscape: There is Adam and Eve, for example, and there is a man flying on the back of a bird-lion grasping a bear in its talons. The three sections of the painting, all of which are currently housed in the Prado Museum, Madrid, have captivated viewers for centuries, and this week a university student in Oklahoma found another reason to take a closer look.
Amelia, “a hard-of-hearing music and information systems double major,” posted a close-up on Tumblr of “the posterior of one of the many tortured denizens of the rightmost panel of the painting which is intended to represent Hell.” The figure has a musical score stenciled across both cheeks, and Amelia translated it into modern notation and made a recording.
So what does a 500-year-old “butt song from Hell” actually sound like? To my ears something like the creepy orgy scene soundtrack from Eyes Wide Shut—which, given the painting’s content, is oddly appropriate. But make up your own mind by listening here.
I did my own translation, assuming the second line down is middle C as was often the case with Gregorian Chant. To hear the Xeno version, click “AButtMusicFromHell” in the box.com widget to the left. When I looked closely there were different simultaneous notes so I take this as harmony. I also made a midi file of my version, the way I read the notes. Play around with the rhythm using the midi file and you could create much better versions.