Fantasia Apocalyptica Illustrated

by Duane R. Bibby and Donald E. Knuth (Stanford, California: Center for the Study of Language and Information, 2018), viii+255 pages.
ISBN 9781684000449 (paperback)

Donald Knuth spent almost 50 years planning a musical composition that would be based closely on the complete text of the Biblical book of Revelation—also known as Apocalypse (Uncovering). Then he devoted many weekends to actually writing the music; and he decided to incorporate three video tracks that could be shown as part of a performance: one track for the original Greek words and an English translation; one track for images of the story as it is being told; one track for the musical score as it is being played. He commissioned Duane Bibby to create the artwork for track two, the all-important visual interpretation.

This book presents the complete set of Bibby's magnificent images, as they were presented on January 10, 2018 at the world première performance of Fantasia Apocalyptica in Studio Acusticum.

Each image occupies a right-hand page. The corresponding left-hand page contains excerpts from the Greek text, the English text, and the musical notes that go with the artwork. Thus a reader can experience the première performance by perusing this book while listening to the online recordings of the music.

Here's the hype that appears on the back cover:

Artist Duane Bibby brings Donald Knuth's computer-assisted musical “translation” of the biblical Book of Revelation to life in this illustrated edition of Knuth's multimedia work for pipe organ and video, Fantasia Apocalyptica. Each of Bibby's handpainted illustrations captures an associated passage from Revelation, providing not only a vibrant and captivating complement to Knuth's music, but also the mysticism and drama of the Bible. Fantasia Apocalyptica Illustrated is a marvelous addition to the collection of any bibliophile or contemporary music aficionado.

Duane R. Bibby is well known as the illustrator of The TeXbook, The METAFONTbook, and many other texts.

This book can be ordered from the publisher (CSLI), and also from the distributor (University of Chicago Press).

Excerpts from Reviews

… This volume, then, presents in handheld form Fantasia Apocalyptica's accompanying visual material (text, translations, and artwork) along with the correlating musical motifs from the score. It is a short-hand synthesis, if you will, of the complexity and breadth of the Knuth/Bibby original.
Fantasia Apocalyptica Illustrated is a doorway into a complex and edgy cultural realm. While the book doesn't present the entire creative experience of the Knuth/Bibby pairing, it does offer insight into what a complete performance might offer. If you're intrigued by modern composition and an outside-the-box take on what can only be described as hallowed ground, this may well be worth your investigation. It is also your key to accessing the scores and creating an apocalypse of your very own. RECOMMENDED.
—Erik W. Goldstrom, The Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians (April 2019)

You can also experience most of this book by watching seven 10-to-15 minute online videos, created by Jan Overduin: Playlist for all seven


As usual, I promise to deposit 0x$1.00 ($2.56) to the account of the first person who finds and reports anything that remains technically, historically, typographically, or politically incorrect.

Here is a list of all nits that have been picked so far in the first printing (2018):

page iv, line 14 (13 October 2018)
change "9871684000449" to "9781684000449"
page 29 (12 January 2019)
[!] (the church's name is PHILADELPHIA not PHILADELPIA)
page 45 (12 January 2019)
[!] (the numbers 1,2,3,4 should be 2,4,3,1)
page 57 (12 January 2019)
[!] (the numbers 1,2,3,4 should be 2,4,3,1)
page 61 (12 January 2019)
[!] (the living creature should be lion-like, as on page 73)
page 65 (12 January 2019)
[!] (the living creature should be bull-like, as on page 61)
page 66, line 4 (12 January 2019)
delete the full-stop after “Come!”
page 73 (12 January 2019)
[!] (the living creature should be eagle-like, as on page 65)
page 169 (12 January 2019)
[!] (the beast actually has seven heads, not ten)
page 211 (12 January 2019)
[!] (the beast actually has seven heads, not ten)
page 227 (12 January 2019)
[!] (the beast actually has seven heads, not ten)
back cover, line 4 (13 October 2018)
change "Apocalytica" to "Apocalyptica"
back cover, line 19 (12 January 2019)
change "Éle" to "Élé"

(In that list, ‘[!]’ denotes an example of artistic license. In accordance with the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, I do not wish to change it; I've merely noted it here so that readers do not feel obliged to report an apparent discrepancy.)

I hope the book is otherwise error-free; but (sigh) it probably isn't, because each page presented me with many opportunities to make mistakes. Please send suggested corrections to, or send snail mail to Prof. D. Knuth, Computer Science Department, Gates Building 1B, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-9015 USA. In either case please include your postal address, so that I can mail an official certificate of deposit as a token of thanks for any improvements to which you have contributed.

I may not be able to read your message until many months have gone by, because I'm working intensively on The Art of Computer Programming. However, I promise to reply in due time.

DO NOT SEND EMAIL TO KNUTH-BUG EXCEPT TO REPORT ERRORS IN BOOKS! And if you do report an error via email, please do not include attachments of any kind; your message should be readable on brand-X operating systems for all values of X.

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