In 2009, this section of my site, along with a number of others, was extended, developed, polished, and folded into my latest project, Emergent Music And Visual Music: Inside Studies. The new project includes a book, a set of four DVDs, soon to be released CDs, and, eventually to be released, Part 4 featuring the writings and compositions of other artists in field. For more details on the project, go to its Introduction.
Visual Music Flavors
Ron Pellegrino, May 1997
Visual Music is based on the principle that there are both natural visual
manifestations and invented visual representations of musical
elements and musical structures.
(This paragraph was added in November 2000 after I'd completed
an essay entitled Visual Music and the iota List. Over the period of my research of the iota list (about a year
and half) I gradually became increasingly uneasy with the "flavor"
metaphor as descriptive of the various approaches taken to visual
music. It's possible that ice cream could be flavored with garlic,
artichoke, potato, basil, or even unmentionables and still be
considered an ice cream treat by some folks but common sense says
that those incongruent flavors seriously digress from the notion
of a sweet desert. Similarly the essence of visual music grows
out of the principle stated above - natural visual manifestations and invented visual representations
of musical elements and musical structures - and the more congruent the flavors are with that notion the
closer the works are to the heart of visual music. There's far
more to the field of visual music than simply combining sound
with dynamic imagery. In a nutshell the dynamic imagery should
be variously informed by the music, integrated with the music,
embody the music, and/or grow out of the music.)
The popularization and accessibility of multimedia are two of
a number of forces driving the growing interest in visual music
and the desire by artists, scientists, and educators of all stripes
and ranks to be associated with the idea of visual music. Visual
music is just one facet of many in the current visualization revolution
in education, communications, and the arts. Visualization tools
such as vcrs, video camcorders, CD-ROMs, AV microcomputers, MMX
technology, test equipment, and relatively inexpensive yet powerful
software for doing high quality multimedia are commonplace in
2000 in the home, business place, and classroom. And DVD and Java,
a software multimedia synthesizer, are in the early stages of
exploding onto the scene. Add to that technology mix the genre
called "creativity"software (algorithms and generative systems
that make it relatively easy for the any user to produce the illusion
of a work of art) and a genuinely joyful creative attitude that
seems to be picking up steam in society and the conditions are
ripe for a visual music harvest.
Once you begin examining what people are calling visual music
in 2000, it becomes abundantly clear from the rich variety of
approaches that there must be a corresponding variety of notions
of what people believe belongs in the sphere of music. The following
visual music flavors grow out of those notions.
Visual Music Flavors
- Literal visualizations of music are generated directly from channelized
- Imagery and music emerge from the same algorithmic process.
- Literal visualizations are mapped to some of the symbols used
in traditional music scores.
- Scrolling scores in software MIDI sequencers bring the look of
the piano roll to the digital age.
- Software for the creation, animation, and sequencing of graphics
spinning out with musical gestures is modeled on the principles
of MIDI sequencers.
- Interpretive visualizations emerge from dance and theater traditions
which undoubtedly extend back to the dawn of human religious and
- Object oriented programming environments are endowed with flowcharting
procedures that represent instruments or orchestras that can be
performed or play themselves.
- Appropriately dramatic, humorous, or lyrical music closely synchronized
with natural or invented moving imagery is now a mainstay of the
popular media scene.
- Musical materials and/or gestures are mapped to imagery to create
visual instruments that are meant to be played by a variety of
- Using their understanding of the collaborative philosophies of
John Cage and Merce Cunningham as an argument for just about anything
goes, some music visualizers combine photos or paintings or drawings
or the outputs of algorithmic/generative animation systems with
live or recorded music and rely on coincidence and the predisposition
of the minds of the audience/spectators to create order out of
simultaneous sensory events.
- Landing somewhat closer to the Cage/Cunningham target are two
related approaches: the first is based on simultaneous real-time
composition by sound, image, and body movement collaborators;
the second involves performances by an individual creating music
with self-precomposed imagery or creating real-time imagery with
- Some performing musicians are so at one with their music that
they move their bodies in ways that articulate every nuance of
the music they´re creating as well as articulating the thought
processes that lead to the music they´re creating. Several nights
ago I was in an audience that was treated by Steve Williams, the
drummer for The Shirley Horn Trio, to a transcendental evening
of visual music drumming. Choreographers and dancers would do
well to study the drama and lyricism of the organic movement of
musicians like Steve Williams. No posturing. No affectations.
No waste. All one.
- Audio software manufacturers rely heavily on analytical routines
to visualize audio recording, editing, processing, and mixing.
Many of their software programs are so highly evolved that they
make excellent resources for multimodal learning and teaching
of music fundamentals based on the physical nature of sound, human
perception of sound, how music instruments work, auditorium acoustics,
and music recording and playback systems.
- Any good book, article, film, video, or CD-ROM on the science
of sound should be packed with charts and diagrams illustrating
the basic principles that tie music together with the fields of
physics, psychology, physiology, mathematics, speech, engineering,
audiology, architecture, etc.
- Sonification of visual forms is a sphere of activity that intersects
with music visualization enough to be considered a candidate for
another visual music flavor. Sonifying or translating into music
natural dynamical systems such as weather, ocean currents, planetary
or celestial movement, solar storms, and the like has gained currency
and momentum since its beginnings in the early 1970s.
- Rude and crude. The use of sound and light forms that use levels,
rhythms, and effects that are psychophysically painful and possibly
injurious. Commonly the perpetrators of this flavor, for legal
reasons, include a disclaimer.
Recently I spent a fascinating afternoon with two artists from
Trans-Hyperborean Institute of Science listening to their music based on the structure of DNA. Beyond
the repeated pattern on the sonic surface the music seemed to
be infinitely dimensional, amazingly rich in subtlety. According
to the creators "it was designed to evoke a natural healing response
in those who listen to it." Such explorations beyond the bounds
and formal constraints of traditional and academic music are fueling
the rise of a musical diversity that bodes well for the present
and future. The greater the number of creative people who feel
free of the pressures to conform to conventions, the richer and
deeper our cultural life.
Since 1967 I´ve explored and used in research, composition, performance,
and teaching most of the listed flavors of visual music. Tell
me what I´ve missed; I´d like to try it. Beginning to end, my
performances and residencies today are based on multiple flavors
of visual music.
Links to sites of music visualizers.
Site Navigation Links
Booking information and comments.
©1996-2009 Ron Pellegrino and Electronic Arts Productions. All