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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Visualizing music

On occasion at a music performance I'll close my eyes. I hope no one considers this disrespectful or thinks I've fallen asleep. I'm simply trying to concentrate. Listening to complex music has become more difficult for me because I've suffered substantial hearing loss. I don't know whether to attribute it to age, the severe ear infections that I had two years ago, or the antibiotic known to be ototoxic that I took for those infections.

I find it helpful, therefore, to visualize music. Here are three examples you might find interesting.

  • Try this "scrolling bar score" of the first movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony (7 minutes 38 seconds). It shows nuances, complex rhythms, and underlays that I would miss without the visual cues. Stephen Malinowski has been publishing these videos for 20 years -- since the days of DOS. If you live in Raleigh or another area where Classic Arts Showcase is available on cable TV, perhaps you've seen one there.
  • A different approach is Animusic, using light compositions of their own. This music for quintet (3 minutes 47 seconds) is composed in Midi and then run through an animation engine to produce video. I find it captivating. The camera angles and instrument designs are customized, but otherwise the software produces all the imagery.
  • Lastly there is the conventional orchestral score. The first few bars of the second movement of Dvorak's New World Symphony have glorious largo chords from the brass section, but see if you can follow the beat through the entire score. I find it gets more challenging as the piece goes on. Warning, the music cuts off after the 10 minute limit that YouTube once enforced.
Very cool.