History of Pellegrino's Involvement in Visual Music
This history is written in response to email inquiries about my
views on the subject of visual music. The public interest in visualization
in general is growing rapidly especially with more people discovering
the power of multimodal and multimedia approaches to art experiences,
discovery, and learning. I offer this personal summary to establish
a reference and basis for my perspectives on visual music and
music visualization as expressed on this website, my other publications,
and my public presentations.
- A new major project undertaking in 2009, EMERGENT MUSIC AND VISUAL MUSIC: INSIDE STUDIES. The complete package for EMERGENT MUSIC AND VISUAL MUSIC: INSIDE STUDIES comes in four parts - Part One: The Book, Part Two: The DVDs, Part Three: The CDs, and Part Four: Leading Late 20th/Early 21st Centuries Experimental Artists in Emergent and Visual Music.
Explored in depth in the project, among others, are three key notions - emergent music, visual music, and realtime composition:
Emergent music: music that grows out of algorithms or systems with environments designed or naturally configured to promote self-organization. The composer's role is to create or to find algorithms or systems that are appropriate for this function, as well as to make aesthetic judgments on the musical value of what emerges from those algorithms and systems.
Visual music: an integrated multimedia approach to music based on the principle that there are both natural visual manifestations and invented visual representations, connections, reflections, translations, mappings, and embodiments of all sonic musical elements, structures, and processes.
Realtime composition: an exercise in composition that relies on the principle of "tuning on-the-fly," that is, making adjustments to compositional variables according to the requirements of the moment.
Click on the title for more information about EMERGENT MUSIC AND VISUAL MUSIC: INSIDE STUDIES.
What follows is my visual music history as it was originally written in 1997:
- Pre-1963 dance music: I put my first dance band together in 1953
when I was 13 and we played for junior high dances and parties.
In high school my bands were booked for dances, parties, and weddings.
As an undergraduate at Lawrence University I added clubs and bars
to the booking list. My fondest memories from all those years
of fronting bands of from three to twenty musicians was watching
people dance to our music. Stylistically the music we played was
all over the map -- swing, waltzes, rock, Italian folk, jazz,
polkas, Broadway tunes, whatever was appropriate for the time
and place or requested by the people paying the bill. Always the
visual forms of the best dancers were driven by the music as they
responded to tempo, rhythms, articulation, texture, dynamics,
and phrasing. Dance as a form of music visualization has its roots deep in pre-history
and remains with us in a rich variety of contexts today. I spent
many of my musically formative years immersed in a variety of
dance music forms.
- Post-1964 dance music: As a graduate student composer at the University
of Wisconsin from 1964-68 I collaborated with dance department
faculty choreographers on a variety of projects for performances
on campus and on the road. In North America and Europe, beginning in 1968 and continuing
today as a free-lance composer, an artist-in-residence, and a
university faculty member I´ve collaborated with choreographers
and dancers on projects that have included projected laser animations,
performance videography, and performance multimedia all focused
on creating leading-edge contexts for dance as a form of music
visualization. For the public attracted to academic and art settings, music
visualization based on dance integrated with emerging technology
is a powerful attraction.
- 1966-1967. My Ph.D. minor was philosophy. In the philosophy department´s graduate seminar on Aesthetics
I discovered Susanne K. Langer´s book on FEELING AND FORM and
the intellectual and aesthetic foundation for my work in visual
music was laid for life. Anyone serious about visual music should
study this classic book on the morpholigical resonances of dynamic
art structures to human feelings.
- 1967-1968 Ph.D. dissertation project: My original plan was to do a detailed study of the Arnold Schoenberg´s
mastery of tone painting, the music composition technique of using
musical materials to depict, color, and amplify the feeling and
meaning of words of a text or story elements of program music.
The sphere of tone painting intersects with the sphere of visual
music. However, that dissertation plan was scuttled when my major professor,
Dr. Robert Crane, presciently recognized that the music synthesizer
was to be the composer´s instrument of future and out of his own
pocket placed a Moog Synthesizer on the University of Wisconsin
campus. The first time I saw and heard the Moog Synthesizer I
decided that it would be the focus of my dissertation project.
At that time there was absolutely no instructional material for
the Moog Synthesizer. To learn how it worked I devoted the better
part of ten months with an oscilloscope alternately hanging on
every Moog module, sub-patch, and patch so while listening to
their sounds I could observe the oscillographic images they generated.
At that time I wasn´t thinking "music visualization"; I was simply
trying to understand how the Moog modules worked individually
and in combinations. Listening to the sounds while simultaneously looking at their
evolving wavetrains was the key to getting a handle on the Moog
and to setting the stage for my work in emerging technology and
visual music. One third of my dissertation was the written log of what I learned
from that music visualization process while I was designing my
"orchestra", the 110 "instruments" or patches I used in the composition
of a multimedia music drama, another third of my dissertation
project. That log, the 110 instruments, and a tape recording of
audio examples of those instruments became the first published
book on modern music synthesizers.
- In 1968 I started teaching electronic music composition at Ohio
State University. I inherited a beautiful four channel Tektronix
oscilloscope and a mess of "classical" electronic music instruments
--discards from the departments of physics, engineering, communications,
etc. The four channel Tektronix suggested a new music visualization
routine for teaching myself and my students what these "classical"
electronic music instruments could do: namely, observe the source
signal on the first channel and observe its transformations at
various points in the patch on the remaining three channels. That
Tektronix was great fun! In 1969 when we installed a large Moog system, I did many demonstrations
not only for students but for faculty from all over the Ohio State
campus. Noticing that people were quickly seduced by the beautiful
organic movement of the music generated imagery primed me to begin
imagining other applications for the imagery. While at Ohio State I collaborated with faculty choreographers
and visual artists who did performance projections; at that time
I also worked with Dena Madole, a choreographer and principle
dancer with the Eric Hawkins Dance Company in New York City.
- In 1970 I started teaching at Oberlin College where I was given
significant resources to direct a suite of electronic music studios
and electronic music projects. In 1971 I received a grant to create a group of five films called
the Lissajous Lives Film Series using music synthesizer generated
oscillographic imagery. During the 1970s those films were an integral
part of my multimedia performances in the USA and abroad. As an
artist-in-residence I taught musicians how to read or interpret
the film´s imagery as if it were a dynamic graphic score. The films were also programmed by other touring groups such as
the Blackearth Percussion Group, Clarinet and Friend, The Real*
Electric Symphony, and others. With Toby Raetze, a light sculptor
on the Oberlin art faculty, I designed environmental algorithms
that integrated the movement of light, air, and people with music
from multiple synthesizers. The environments ran for days in Oberlin´s
Fairchild Chapel. I also did multimedia performances with the
Oberlin Dance Collective (ODC moved to San Francisco in the early
- 1972. I had a grant to work at the National Center for Experiments in
Television in San Francisco. One of the key elements of my work
there was exploring the use of music inputs on video synthesizer
- 1974-75. While still on the Oberlin faculty I spent many weeks at Project
Artaud in San Francisco with a group of light artists and dancers
exploring the performance combinations of projected laser animations,
multiple slide projections, video projections, music, and dance.
- 1975. I put together a portable music synthesizer driven laser animation
and projection system that I still use today. It´s a visual music
research tool as well as a performance tool and a favorite of
audiences and artists alike. With it I´ve spent countless hours
researching eye/ear connections and creating performance pieces
(ragas) that work for both the eye and the ear. I´ve worked with the laser system in my studios and on the road
in every imaginable context -- solo and group music and image
projection performances inside and outside, uptown and downtown,
SOMA and SOHO, on and along with dancers, lectures, demonstrations,
art galleries, art museums, cultural centers, book stores, computer
expositions, forums, classes, etc. It´s a little pink bunny system;
it just keeps going and going. I love it as much today as I did
the first day I assembled it.
- 1975-1977. This was a field research period, a time to test my visual music
work in public on three continents. As a free-lance artist/educator not attached to a university
I was completely free to travel at will; so as a solo performer
and with my ever-changing virtual group, The Real* Electric Symphony,
I was involved in well over 100 public performances. During the
mid to late 70s, for The Real* Electric Symphony gigs, I sometimes
hired a brilliant young man named Bob Lansdon who was working
on Ph. D. in mathematics at UC - Santa Cruz in the field of dynamical
systems as well as doing opticial research for Dolby Systems in
San Francisco. He was do his work at UC - Santa Cruz with Ralph
Abraham, pioneering chaos theorist and author who was also a member
of a pioneering group of math visualizers there. During that period
I visited the UC - Santa Cruz campus a number of times to present
my work in visual music to graduate math seminars which included
some of the chaos and visualizing math researchers. It was generally
agreed that we were exploring the same field through different
- 1978-1981. During this period while I was teaching at Miami University and
Texas Tech University I worked on THE ELECTRONIC ARTS OF SOUND
AND LIGHT, a book that covers the fundamentals of visualizing
music with synthesizers, lasers, film, and video from my perspective
in the late 1970s. I also continued to tour, field-test, and spread the word and
public experience of visual music.
- 1981-1983. Again free from a university attachment, I finished
my book and with the help of the publisher toured extensively
with my visual music and multimedia messages appearing on network
TV and radio, cable, and educational networks as well as on the
usual university and museum circuits.
- 1983-1987. With an Apple IIe running some very sweet efficient progammable
animation software, I added live video-projected computer animations
to my multimedia shows. I composed animation pieces that were
triggered and controlled by playing the computer keyboard and
hand controllers like a visual music instrument in duet with my
music on audio tape. I used the alphaSyntauri, the first affordable
computer music synthesizer, to create pieces that generated laser
animations directly from the stereo music; the same wavetrains
feed the eye and the ear simultaneously.
- 1983-1992. At California State University-Sonoma I set up an electronic
arts facility and taught the Physics of Music for the physics
department, Computer Graphics for the art and education departments,
and Computer Music for the music department. I used this period to approach every class as a multimedia presentation
opportunity for creating visualizations of all music related concepts. I used every available campus tool and pressed campus officials
to acquire the affordable emerging technology that would help
me in my work. The CSU Chancellor´s Office funded one of my week-long music and
multimedia workshops for CSU music department chairs; music visualization
as a music theory teaching tool was one of its key features. I continued with touring and residencies including a yearlong
artist-in-residence gig at Western Carolina University in 1990-91;
the focus of that residency was on music technology, performance
multimedia, and visualizing all aspects of music as an aid to
deeper understanding and teaching of music.
- 1987-Today. Using an Amiga computer, a video digitizer, and a genlock I added
real-time performance videography to my multimedia shows. The
result is a real-time Music Television performance experience
featuring musicians and performance artists of the institutions
and locales sponsoring my appearances.
- 1987-1992. I collaborated with programmers of Euphonics International to
create LIGHTWORKS, a performance and composition system for the
Amiga computer that integrates music and animated imagery by MIDI
control and stereo music signals. Unfortunately the product hit the market when Amiga hit the skids.
As the LIGHTWORKS Alpha tester I managed to do a variety of visual
music video pieces that would not have been possible before the
creation of LIGHTWORKS. One of my other responsibilities was to
provide guidance for the macrostructural design of the product,
the so-called look and feel of the interface; its music and MIDI
visualization screens work exceptionally well.
- 1992-Today. Without university teaching responsibilities once
more I have time to focus on visual music research and other creative
work. I continue to work all the fields I´ve been cultivating
for the past 30 years including touring and residencies. In 1995 I set up this website featuring visual music information.
In 1996 I produced the Visual Music Forum for Ylem at the Exporatorium
in San Francisco. In late 1996 I did a set of visual music meditations
based on laser animations generated directly from stereo music. In keeping with my emphasis on affordable emerging technology
in the arts, communications, and education, I spend a considerable
amount of time on the WWW and at expositions and seminars in the
San Francisco Bay Area keeping my finger on the pulse of the affordable
emerging technology movement and my eyes and ears open to people,
products, and breaking events that will have an impact on visual
- 2003 -2009. The production of The Visual Music Studies DVD Series.
- 2009 and running... EMERGENT MUSIC AND VISUAL MUSIC: INSIDE STUDIES. The complete package comes in four parts -- Part One: The Book, Part Two: The DVDs, Part Three: The CDs, and Part Four: Leading Late 20th/Early 21st Centuries Experimental Artists in Emergent and Visual music.
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