It was a story about a human colony on a planet where there were mysterious alien precursor devices all over. Each one had two (drums? poles?). Something musical at any rate. You beat the two poles 64 times and it would create an item for you. ABABAB...AB got you a pot, IIRC; more complicated rhythms got you more complicated items; since there were two poles and 64 beats, there were 2^64 possible items it could produce, and the humans had dictionaries of rhythms for useful items. The plot hinged around a character who had discovered the rhythm for an extremely powerful engine and then died, and the protagonist and others racing to try and find where the predecessor had written down the rhythm. (The story emphasized how completely impossible searching the possibility space was, and a lot of the contents are nonsense or at least stuff the humans don't understand and can't use.) I think they found and accidentally destroyed the record at the end, but I wouldn't swear to it.

I read this in (I think) the 2000s or maybe early 2010s, and I am quite certain it was in Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.

1 Answer 1


Based on your narration it matches the story "Rhythm of the Ancients" by Ted Kosmatka. A device called 'precursor drums' can produce items based on the rhythm by beating them.

  • As a minimum, will you please edit the answer to provide the name of the author?
    – virolino
    Dec 19, 2022 at 6:32
  • 5
    I can't find any evidence of this story by this author. Can you provide a link describing where you read this?
    – Valorum
    Dec 19, 2022 at 7:11
  • Yeah, that sounds right, but I can't find it under that name or author.
    – Zyzzyva
    Dec 21, 2022 at 2:15
  • unfortunately, I couldn't find any links to support my answer. will post the link once I find it.
    – Subash
    Dec 21, 2022 at 4:23

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