Michal Levy

Dance of Harmony

Via Michael Levy: "One day when I was sixteen, I realized that I could see music. The saxophone I played and the jazz I loved listening to came to life before my eyes, or perhaps behind my eyes, in shape and color — little animated characters at first, then something more abstract. By the time I was nineteen, I perceived even letters, numbers, and days of the week to have distinct colors. 5 is blue, 3 is red, without a shade of doubt. It was years until I learned that I was not alone — I had a rare neurological condition called synesthesia, a sort of crossing of sensory channels in which stimulation in one channel produces a response in another. Synesthetes can thus hear colors, see sounds, or taste smells, depending on the variety of synesthesia they have.

As a child playing the piano, long before my first conscious synesthetic experience, I was fascinated by how even the tiniest alteration in the position of my fingers could change the harmony completely. These shape-shifting harmonies had emotional undertones for me – I felt like they were taking me on a journey, telling me a story, nowhere more powerfully than in the most famous Bach prelude. It became a dream of mine to create an animation that conveyed this emotional voyage of harmony.

During my recent maternity leave, I embraced this challenge with the help of my dear friend Hagai Azaz, an animator. My guiding question was whether I could show the cascading flow of emotion, to make the feeling contagious, by using only color, the basic shape of circles, and minimalist motion, assigning to each musical chord the visual elements that correspond to it synesthetically. For me, music is a multidimensional experience — an ever-changing flow of shape, form, and color moving through space. Dance of Harmony seeks to bring this experience to life for those who can’t experience synesthesia directly.

There is also a private requiem buried in the piece: The Bach recording I had chosen features an extra bar, which another composer – the editor of a sheet music publishing company – had added a few decades after Bach composed it. People seemed to like it, so his version survived. When I chose this recording and made the film, I knew none of the backstory — but I did feel that one bar was amiss, somehow tensed. I called it the bleeding heart. It became the only part of the animation where the circles stop moving and pump in place against a rich red background. “The bleeding heart” falls between bars 22 and 23. My brother died between the ages of 22 and 23 during an earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. Although it came about by chance, this synchronicity now lends a new layer of meaning to the animation as an abstract representation of my family’s story – configured one way growing up, then having to reconfigure as we incorporate the heartbreak of the loss into our lives."

You might also want to consider One and Giant Steps by Michal Levy. Wonderful, and in the tradition of Visual Music godfather Oskar Fischinger

[ Visual Music ]

Norman McLaren

Stripped to the essential

The wonderful documentary Creative Process: Norman McLaren (1990) includes one of my favourite experimental videos in the context of Visual Music - that is Spheres (1969). Although the films wasn't shot with the concept of Bach's music in mind, Glenn Gould couldn't believe that music and images didn't grow out of one initial idea.

The National Film Board (NFB) did not upload Spheres yet, but Lines - Horizontal (1962) is as good. It is accompanied by American folk musician Pete Seeger on wind and string instruments. Lines, ruled directly on film, move with precision and grace against a background of changing colors, in response to music specially composed for the films.

Thinking about McLaren another beautiful concept that McLaren used came to my mind: The tesseract, which is to the cube, as the cube is to the square. This mathematical construct allows us e.g. to understand the difference between three and four dimensions. Would love to have one of his tesseract sculptures in my house.

[ Visual Music ]

Center for Visual Music

A wonderful source

The Center for Visual Music is a nonprofit film archive dedicated to visual music, experimental animation and avant-garde media. CVM is commited to preservation, curation, education, scholarship, and dissemination of the film, performances and other media of this tradition, together with related historical documentation and other material.

This is were I buy my DVDs. Go check it out!

[ Visual Music ]

Sebastian Oschatz

Sound and visuals

If you are interested in Visual Music you will - without any doubt - at one point hear the name of Sebastian Oschatz. Whiz kid and genius. 

Via Generator.x : "Sebastian Oschatz is a German media artist and educator with a background in Computer Science. At one point he was a third of the experimental music ensemble Oval, famous for their uncompromising systems-based approach to the creation of sound. [...]

Oschatz is one of the founders of the Frankfurt-based media company Meso, established in 1997 to work with experimental media interfaces and interactive installations. [...]

Meso is also the developer of the visual programming tool VVVV, created originally to run Meso's own projects.."

[ Visual Music ]

Karl Kliem

Visual Music at its best

Had the great pleasure to work with Karl Kliem back in 2002 for the VIVA Plus launch. I constantly show Karl's work as excellent examples for Visual Music productions to my students.

His label and website Dienststelle is a wonderful resource and always an inspiration. From his site: "Karl Kliem is a founding member of Frankfurt based media lab MESO. He is developing realtime audio and video systems. Diverse works in the area of multimedia, webdesign, TV-design, music- and soundproduction for films and interactive installations. He is also a member of Involving Systems and founder of the label Dienststelle. Since 2007 he has a lectureship at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Offenbach within the faculty of Electronic Media."

[ Visual Music ]

Robert Hodgin

The hero of Flight 404

Via Eye Magazine: "Robert Hodgin claims not to experience synaesthesia, but his interest in the phenomenon of seeing sound as vision goes back to a fateful evening (1 November 1991) when he dropped four tabs of acid and put a Cocteau Twins boxed set on the autochanger. (This was in the days of Vaughan Oliver’s elaborate packaging design and actual vinyl clonking down on the turntable). This, as he titled his lecture, resulted in The Best 8 to 12 Hours of my Life. The next day, Hodgin applied to art school. He eventually studied at RISD, and a glittering career (plus lots of banner ads) ensued. And he hasn’t taken any illegal substances since."

[ Visual Music ]