Visualizing Music

Many (most?) readers of Tango Musicology do not read music. For musicians a score comes to life by looking at it. We “hear” it. But for non-music readers, music is just a mess of incomprehensible black symbols. From time to time I ponder how to make the music come alive on screen – some other way of visualizing music, capturing pitch and rhythm with a sense of moving through time.

Blogger Tango Immigrant has an interesting approach. There are a couple of visualizations on the site. If you haven’t seen them they are here and here.

Ideally a visualization would incorporate sound, something like the music/audio syncs I do, but rather than a score there would be a real time visual representation of melody, rhythm, dynamics, etc. That has been brilliantly done for many classical music compositions by Stephen Malinowski.

I first saw Malinowski’s “Music Animations”, as he calls them, several years ago, when they were still quite basic. Now they are absolutely stunning. More importantly than looks, they capture many of the musical elements I write about, including: melody, its pitch direction, note duration, and rhythm; texture, a mass of lines and colours visually represents a “large” sound and vice versa; dynamics, brighter colours mean louder notes. His visualizations contain much more than those few aspects. In fact they show us everything happening in the music, in real time.

The first part of Igor Stravinsky’s 1913 “The Rite of Spring” ballet:

Alas, not possible for music without a full score. That rules out tango and almost all non-classical music. It is possible for someone with the skills to accurately transcribe a recording into notes. But then what – Malinowski’s software isn’t available for purchase.

(Update: I used the 2006 freeware version of the animation software Malinowski makes available and created a very basic visualization of the piano sheet music for Milonga de mis amores)

I’ll continue pondering…

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4 Responses to Visualizing Music

  1. Stefano says:

    In my opinion I think that the best way to represent (any type of) music, and its emotional energy , is by the human body, the best instrument of the world.
    Dance, every type of dance, represents this human effort.
    Technology can try to represent it with bright bars and dots, but the result, for me, it’s quite cold (and I am an engineer!).
    Every body is different and different it’s the way that body feels the music, and this is fascinating!
    For tango I suggest this web page with a simple but effective way to represent tango music. It gives an useful hint about how to interpret it :
    http://www.tangoandchaos.org/chapt_6school/21pointispoint.htm
    Ciao.

    • tangomonkey says:

      I think dance is one way, not necessarily the best way, to represent music. There isn’t a best way, there is a range of ways, some which we respond to on an individual level more effectively than others.

      I’ve heard The Rite many times, the first time when my 20th century theory class studied it, and I’ve seen the ballet. Listening to the music, listening while watching it danced, listening while watching an animation – they are each different experiences, and I enjoy them all. I thought I knew the music quite well before I saw Malinowski’s animation. Now I know it better. Maybe “better” isn’t the right word. I now understand and experience the music on a different level, whether following the animation or not. A technology which accomplishes that is one I fully embrace. And it seems many others do too: Malinowski’s animations have been viewed over three hundred million times!

      Malinowski is now showing the animations with live performers. Here’s a TEDx link to one. I enjoyed it, others might find it distracting.

      It’s been years since I read T&C. I’ll take a look at the link.

      Thanks for your comments.

  2. I would love to do animated graphical scores of more non-classical music. You are right: my videos are based on scores (since they show notes, and I need to get the data from somewhere). I am happy to work with any composers, performers, etc. who want to provide me with recordings and note data.

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