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COMPUTER GRAPHICS: VISUAL MUSIC

AlgoRhythms...?

I call my computer graphic visual music pieces AlgoRhythms because they are, after all, algorithmically generated images that have visual and temporal rhythms. So why not take advantage of the homophonic relation between the word "rhythm" and the second syllable of "algorithm" to create a neologism that perfectly conveys what I'm doing? (Plus, coders are in the habit of slapping words together in CamelCase.)

To get an introduction to my theory of visual music as the essential artform of working with the medium of the computer as a computer, and how abstract animation relates to music, please visit my computer graphics statement page.

AlgoRhythm 1

I wanted my first piece to accompany the music of CPE Bach, my favorite composer.


When the director of the CPE Bach Festival asked me to write up something about this piece for the Bach-Archiv I came up with the following:

CPE Bach has long been one of my favorite composers, if not my very favorite; thus my first mature visual music piece had to be something composed by him, especially during his tricentennial!

Perhaps the first thing I consider when looking for a piece of music to visualize is: "How synaesthetic is it? Do I see the music?" CPE is a very visual composer to me: his prodigious inventiveness combined with his incredibly playful approach to structure are immensely suggestive.

Since this was my first serious piece I needed to develop a methodology in approaching the visualization of music. My methodology is not a black box where music goes in one end and animation comes out the other: such an approach can produce works of great beauty, but without a satisfying temporal structure to the animation working in conjunction with the musical structure it is little more than wallpaper, and not visual music (in my humble opinion). Thus each piece must have its own visually and temporally satisfying aesthetic structure to coincide with the music's.

The piece I chose to visualize is a surprisingly minimalistic quasi-rondo which possesses CPE's characteristic structural playfulness, plus it has an almost machinic rhythm. This made it a perfect piece by which to develop my methodology: these were musical motifs I could see, and the machinic rhythm would make analyzing and converting the musical notes into visual ones much easier than something more rhythmically complex.

First I needed to analyze the score with the soundtrack so that I know the time each beat falls. I then wrote the code that would create the images: each musical motif has its own algorithm, designed so that each musical note has a corresponding "visual" one. Finally I render out the final piece frame by frame in one pass: as a purist in my approach to procedural computer art I want to let the code do all the work.

Here, then, is the first of what I hope will be many more pieces of Visual Music...

 

AlgoRhythm 1, MSU Variation

This is a three channel site-specific animation created for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, Croatia for Animafest 2015. The museum has three large display windows, each of which serves as a projection screen. I used the algorithms I developed for AlgoRhythm 1, hence the MSU Variation subtitle. There is no audio.

The piece has four movements:

  1. Fanfare
  2. Scherzo
  3. Trio
  4. Finale

You can see examples from a previous Animafest here and here to get an idea of how it will look at the site.

This is the MSU in Zagreb, Croatia showing the three screens from across the street.

 

Sabre Dance

There was an open call to submit a piece of visual music to this year's (2015) Speechless Film Festival in Mankato, Minnesota. There were five pieces to choose from. I chose Aram Khachaturian's Sabre Dance because it's a piece I've always loved. (And it was the shortest piece.)

The piece is called by its proper name and not given an AlgoRhythm title because it was not strictly procedurally generated. I had to do a lot of massaging by hand, primarily because of the limited time I had to complete it given the deadline. This is also why it's not as polished as I would like it to be: it needs a bit of work here and there, which I shall get to some day. But here it is for now.

It was created to prove the viability of Ion Concert Media's application called MUSÉIK, which syncs video to live performance, and judging from the screening I attended the application works. (Though I must say hearing Sabre Dance performed by a wind quintet doesn't quite do justice to Khachaturian's driving percussive orchestration. A bassoon is not a timpani.)

(And, if I may say so, the piece was a real crowd pleaser too, which was very gratifying.)

 

AlgoRhythm 2

I've always loved the music of Domenico Scarlatti, an astonishly original composer with a truly remarkable gift for inventiveness. I chose a surprisingly minimalistic, motoric, and even frenetic piece by him, his Keyboard Sonata in C Major, K. 95. It's a particular challenging piece for the keyboardist since the right hand has to perform many crossovers to play the bass notes as the left hand furiously repeats the same arpeggios.