Visualising Music

Sunday 9 March 2008

This was going to be a simple post with a couple of fun links to cool music with groovy visuals to help pass some time, but then I remembered an unanswered question by Jodru on that post about new music concerts I mentioned before:

Okay, picture this:
You are performing “Pictures at an Exhibition” and you project Hartmann’s original drawings while you perform.
You are performing some of Virgil Thomson’s musical portraits and you project an image of the subject above the stage.
You are performing Cornelius Cardew’s ‘Treatise’ and you project the score above the stage.
Are you guys certain that these are not sure-fire ways to increase your audience’s comfort level?

Those first two examples: still pictures, as backdrop? Maybe. Projecting the score to Treatise while it’s played? No. It may increase the audience’s comfort level, but it undermines the purpose of playing the music in the first place.
If you exhibit the score to Treatise while it’s played, why not do this for every piece played? A conventionally-notated score is equally illegible to non-musicians; Treatise‘s score is just cunningly designed to be illegible to musicians as well. Is it because Treatise‘s score is a beautiful object in its own right? Then the score is made to justify the music, when it should be the other way around. George Crumb’s music is equally beautiful on the page, but exhibiting the manuscripts during the concert would distract the audience from the music – surely Cardew’s music should be treated with the same respect.
An audience might feel more comfortable listening to Satie if the funny instructions were read out over the music, but they’ll be reacting more to the witticisms than the music.

So, after all that harrumphing, why am I now linking to these two neat little animations? Because they exist as works of analysis after the fact, not of aesthetic interpretation. Rainer Wehinger drew a “listening score” of Gy├Ârgy Ligeti’s electronic composition Artikulation nearly 20 years after it was made, using symbols to represent the recorded sounds. The snappily-named d21d34c55 has posted an animation on YouTube that syncs up the tape to the score, to show how music and image correspond.

The Rambler has posted a link to the pianist John Mark Harris’ website, which includes a fantastic page that combines a graphic representation of Iannis Xenakis’ punishing composition Evryali with Harris’ performance of the piece. The graph gives a clear demonstration of how Xenakis used aborescences to compose the piece.
Finally, just to complete the circle, d21d34c55 has another page on YouTube showing Xenakis’ 1978 work Mycenae Alpha, an electronic piece written on UPIC, a computer interface that translates images into sound. This time, the images came first, but were expressly created to produce music.