Oskar Fischinger in Amsterdam

Oskar Fischinger (1900-1967): Experiments in Cinematic Abstraction

Cindy Keefer, director of the prestigious Center for Visual Music (CVM) in Los Angeles, invited me to attend the pre-opening of the exhibition Oskar Fischinger (1900-1967): Experiments in Cinematic Abstraction on December 15th, 2012 in Amsterdam's great, new EYE film museum. Oskar Fischinger's daughter Barbara will be giving one of the ultra rare Lumigraph performances.

Also, look very much forward to meeting with the other attending members of the CVM.

[ Visual Music ]

Generation Z

An ongoing project by Andrei Smirnov

Via Generation Z: "The late 1920s was also the period in which sound was being developed to accompany films and animations in Russia. In 1929 one of the leading experimental Soviet filmmakers, the painter, book illustrator and animator Mikhail Tsekhanovsky (1889-1965) was involved in the production of the first Soviet sound movie Piatiletka. The Plan of the Great Works. When in October of that year the first roll of film was developed, it was Tsekhanovsky who voiced the idea: 'What if we take some Egyptian or ancient Greek ornaments as a sound track? Perhaps we will hear some unknown archaic music?' He was referring to the shapes and outlines of vases and how these could be used as if wave forms to generate sound. It was at this precise moment that technology of synthesizing sound from light, called the Graphical Sound techniques were invented and, possibly the first electronic soundtracks ever created.

The group with whom he was working included the talented inventor and engineer Evgeny Sholpo (1891-1951) who was already working on new techniques of so-called performer-less music, but the most outstanding participant in the project was the aforementioned composer Arseny Avraamov. The next day they were already furiously at work on experiments in what they referred to variously as ornamental, drawn, paper, graphical, artificial or synthetic sound. It was Avraamov who completed the first artificial sound tracks in 1930 and by 1936 there were four main trends of Graphical Sound in Soviet Russia: hand-drawn Ornamental Sound (Avraamov, early Boris Yankovsky, 1905-1973); hand-made Paper Sound (Nikolai Voinov, 1900-1958); Variophone or automated Paper Sound (Evgeny Sholpo, Georgy Rimsky-Korsakov); and the spectral analysis, decomposition and re-synthesis technique (Boris Yankovsky). Yankovsky's idea was related to the separation of the spectral content of sound and its formants, resembling the popular recent computer music techniques of cross synthesis and the phase vocoder. It was certainly one of the most radical, paradigm-shifting propositions of the mid 1930s. Researchers involved in Graphical Sound had to overcome enormous technical and theoretical (as well as more mundane) difficulties during its short existence. The results of their work were surprising and unexpected, and ahead of the group's time by decades. However, collision with the state was fatal. In less than ten years, all of their work had ended and was almost instantly forgotten."

Thanks to Lena Willikens!

[ Visual Music ]

A Brief History Of Optical Synthesis

by Derek Holzer

Here is a great
timeline of the technology of synthesizing sound. Via UMATIC: "Optical sound technology was developed first solely for recording soundtracks for early speakies, and every one of the Russian innovators used their graphical sound techniques to provide music scores for the kino. But the connection with the Visual Music movement in cinema is also very close, with perhaps the works of Norman McLaren providing the strongest bridge. But the direct cinema techniques of many filmmakers from the 1920's and 1930's on through the 1960's and 1970's show more than a casual relationship with the techniques of direct optical sound synthesis. The works of Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye, Stan Brakhage, John Whitney, Hy Hirsch, Harry Smith, Jordan Belson, Larry Cuba and many others all reflect an ongoing lineage of this visual music tradition. (...)
My hope is that this small survey sparks more interest in all of these inventors, composers and artists and their incredible works (...)"

Maura McDonnell's website gives an excellent synopsis and timeline as well.

Thanks to Marcus Schmickler!

[ Visual Music ]


Insanely Futuristic 3D Music Interface


Via Create Digital Music: "Now, I could say more, but perhaps it’s best to watch the videos. Normally, when you see a demo video with 10 or 11 minutes on the timeline, you might tune out. Here, I predict you’ll be too busy trying to get your jaw off the floor to skip ahead in the timeline.

At the same time, to me this kind of visualization of music opens a very, very wide door to new audiovisual exploration. Christian’s eye-popping work is the result of countless decisions – which visualization to use, which sound to use, which interaction to devise, which combination of interfaces, of instruments – and, most importantly, what kind of music. Any one of those decisions represents a branch that could lead elsewhere. If I’m right – and I dearly hope I am – we’re seeing the first future echoes of a vast, expanding audiovisual universe yet unseen."


Thanks to Peter Thoma!

[ Visual Music ]


by Iannis Xenakis

Via Wikipedia: "UPIC is a computerised musical composition tool, devised by the composer Iannis Xenakis. It was developed at the Centre d'Etudes de Mathématique et Automatique Musicales (CEMAMu) in Paris, and was completed in 1977. The name is an acronym of Unité Polyagogique Informatique du CEMAMu. Xenakis used it on his subsequent piece Mycènes Alpha (1978), and it has been used by composers such as Jean-Claude Risset (on Saxatile (1992)), Takehito Shimazu (Illusions in Desolate Fields (1994)), Aphex Twin, Mari King, and Curtis Roads.

Physically, the UPIC is a digitising tablet linked to a computer, which has a vector display. Its functionality is similar to that of the later Fairlight CMI, in that the user draws waveforms and volume envelopes on the tablet, which are rendered by the computer. Once the waveforms have been stored, the user can compose with them by drawing compositions on the tablet, with the X-axis representing time, and the Y-axis representing pitch. The compositions can be stretched in duration from a few seconds to an hour. They can also be transposed, reversed, inverted, and subject to a number of algorithmic transformations. The system allows for real time performance by moving the stylus across the tablet."

[ Visual Music ]

Time Piece

by Jim Hen­son (1936-1990)

Via IMDB: "Dis­lo­ca­ti­on in ti­me, ti­me si­gna­tu­res, ti­me as a phi­lo­so­phi­cal con­cept, and sla­very to ti­me are so­me of the the­mes tou­ched upon in this ni­ne-​mi­nu­te, ex­pe­ri­men­tal film, which was writ­ten, di­rec­ted, and pro­du­ced by Jim Hen­son – ​and star­red Jim Hen­son! Scree­ned for the first ti­me at the Mu­se­um of Mo­dern Art in May of 1965, Ti­me Pie­ce en­joy­ed an eigh­teen-​month run at one Man­hat­tan mo­vie thea­ter and was no­mi­na­ted for an Aca­de­my Award for out­stan­ding short sub­ject."

[ Visual Music ]

Realtime sound visualisation made with "Partitura"

by Abstract Birds and Quayola, sound by Telefon Tel Aviv

Via Vimeo: "Partitura is a custom software to generate realtime graphics aimed at visualising sound. The term Partitura (score) implies a connection with music, and this metaphor is the main focus of the project. Partitura aims to create a new system for translating sound into visual forms. Inspired by the studies of artists such as Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Oskar Fischinger and Norman McLaren, the images generated by Partitura are based on a precise and coherent system of relationships between various types of geometries. The main characteristic of this system is its horizontal linear structure, like that of a musical score. It is along this linear environment that the different classes of abstract elements are created and evolve over time according to the sound. Partitura creates endless ever-evolving abstract landscapes that can respond to musical structures, audio analysis and manual gestural inputs. It is an instrument that visualises sound with both the freedom of spontaneous personal interpretation/improvisation and at the same time maintaining the automations and triggers of mathematical precision."

Thanks to Christian Sander and Tobias Gallé!

[ Visual Music ]

Bumbum Box


Via Heart Chamber Orchestra: "The Heart Chamber Orchestra – HCO – is an audiovisual performance. The orchestra consists of 12 classical musicians and the artist duo TERMINALBEACH.

Using their heartbeats, the musicians control a computer composition and visualization environment. The musical score is generated in real time by the heartbeats of the musicians. They read and play this score from a computer screen placed in front of them.

HCO forms a structure where music literally comes from the heart.

The debut performance of HCO was in Trondheim/Norway in October 2006, during the festival for electronic arts and new technology, Trondheim Matchmaking. The orchestra was the Trondheim Sinfonietta."

Thanks to Georg Brüx!

[ Visual Music ]

Page 5 of Composition No. 377, featuring an airport terminal, overlaid with a transparency showing trill notation

What I Call a Sound

Anthony Braxton's Synaesthetic Ideal and Notations for Improvisers

Via Non Projects: "What he sees as trans-idiomatic and trans-global, cultural purists of all hues still decry as transgressive. The challenge for players, for listeners, is to move beyond what Braxton refers to as the traditional parameters, as they have been defined; to escape from the little boxes labelled jazz tradition or authentic blackness or European only and all the other markers of exclusivity. Against these petty fundamentalisms Braxton sets his synaesthetic ideal of unity and openness, with its many aesthetic-cum-political implications, from personal affirmation to global harmony. And if the power and the beauty of his music can persuade us that the ideal is both desirable and attainable (because it works in performance), then his unique auditory perception, his vision of what he calls a sound, may help to change the way we all hear music — and see the world."

Thanks to Phillip Schulze and Christian Schäfer!

Also, check out the online home of composer Anthony Braxton.

[ Visual Music ]
rand halb
rand halb

Expanded Cinema

A Bibliography by the Center for Visual Music

The Center for Visual Music is a wonderful, awe-inspiring and stunning resource. It is one-of-a-kind.

CVM director, Cindy Keefer, send me the link to their Expanded Cinema online bibliography. Go check it out and get lost.

[ Visual Music ]