The Zen of Python

Written by Barry Warsaw in music on Sun 10 May 2020. Tags: python, music,

In December of 2019, Łukasz Langa reached out to me about a project he was putting together to raise money at the Pycon 2020’s PyLadies auction in April. He was asking a bunch of musical Pythonistas to contribute songs for an exclusive custom vinyl album, a unique one-off sponsored by EdgeDB. Łukasz was thinking that we might each do a cover song from a list of Guido's favorites. The song was supposed to be between 2 and 5 minutes long, and the deadline for submission was February 10th, 2020, my birthday. Of course, I agreed to do it!

And of course, I promptly forgot about it.

Then on January 24th, I got a ping email from Łukasz asking how it was going. “Oh, yeah, great Łukasz, really great!” I typed as I began to mildly panic.

So now I had about 17 days to think of a song to do, arrange it, track all the parts, and mix it. I realized I hadn't gotten a list of songs from Guido, couldn't ask for one now, and none of the covers I'd thought of really fit the project. I was running out of time to get a band into a studio to record, so it had to be something I could compose and perform myself.

Fortunately, I have a little home studio, and I had time on my hands, so I decided I’d write an original song. And if you’re going to write some original music that will be donated to the Python community, there’s only one source material you can possibly choose from.

PEP 20, The Zen of Python

The Zen of Python is a well-known collections of aphorisms, koans that describe the aesthetics of the Python language, as channeled by a famous early and still current Pythonista, Tim Peters. I actually had to email Tim and ask him about it, because I didn't remember much beyond the codification of the Zen as PEP 20 in 2004.

Tim wrote back:

It was a throwaway python-list post. But like all great triumphs of literature, it was written during commercials breaks while watching professional wrestling on TV, and munching on a ham sandwich. All true!

Here's the original post. Why PEP 20 when there are only 19 aphorisms? Tim left one open for Guido to fill in, but I'm not aware that he ever has!

Once I’d decided on the "lyrics", I had to write some music that would fit them. I basically just picked up my guitar and started futzing around with some chords. Pretty quickly, I came up with a nice groove and some changes that I liked, and so I started singing the words to a simple melody, and everything just fell together.

The Zen, it turns out, is quite poetic and musical, although I did struggle with finding the right hook for a few of the lines here and there. But deadlines are useful, so I laid down enough guitar, bass, and vocals to finish the arrangement. As usual, I took a fair bit of time to compose the drums. With a little bit of keyboard for spice, and an adequate vocal track, I managed to get it all mixed and sent off to Łukasz, on the deadline. What a great way to celebrate your pre-pandemic birthday.

Speaking of pandemics. Pycon 2020 got canceled and our plans for the big reveal at the auction got scrapped. Much as I would like to have kept this under wraps for a whole year, we musicians hate sitting on unreleased material, so I'm putting this out now. It'll still be on the vinyl record for the 2021 PyLadies auction and will be filled with lots of really great contributions by many other musical Pythonistas. I hope you will support PyLadies in 2021 by bidding really high on it.

In the meantime, I'm releasing this in two forms, both under the terms of the Creative Commons CC BY-NA-SA 4.0 license, which allows you to remix and share for non-commercial purposes, with attribution of course. I also threw together a quick video, but I am by no means a video artist, so I hope the creatives in the audience will take the music and do something beautiful with it. Something that illustrates the spirit of the Python community, what it means to you, and why we love it so much.

  • "The Zen of Python" audio in both WAV and MP3 formats
  • "The Zen of Python" lyric video

Liner notes

The Zen of Python

  • Lyrics: Tim Peters, 1999, placed in the public domain
  • Music and Arrangement: Barry Warsaw, copyright 2020
  • Performance or remix of the music and arrangement may be done according to the terms of the CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
  • No copyright claim is made to the PEP 20 lyrics
  • Barry Warsaw: guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals
  • 1990 Fender Stratocaster guitar
  • 1978 Fender Precision maple neck bass (MJC IronWorks strings NPS custom artist gauge 40-60-70-90)
  • Cubase 10.5.5
  • Superior Drummer 3 (Nashville Slam kit, modified)
  • Warm Audio WA12 MKII pre-amp
  • Focusrite Scarlett 18i8
  • Blue Bluebird SL vocal mic
  • Various digital plugins and effects
  • Apple Mac mini 2018, macOS 10.14.6

Special thanks to Max Warsaw and Emma-Lea Jacklin Warsaw for their ears, suggestions, support, encouragement, and love.


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