I stumbled on some cool artistic transformations involving music and technology lately, and I thought I’d share / document them.
1. “Music Worth Watching.” I stumbled on a series of “animated graphical visualizations” of various songs in classical music. Different shapes represent different instruments, colors represent tones, and spatial orientation shows pitch, among other elements. The result is a really neat visualization; pyramids of sound cascading across the screen, creating a kaleidoscopic of swirling voices. Check out a video of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (notes here). Looks like it’s called the Music Animation Project created by a guy named named Stephen Malinowski – and the whole idea started as a hallucination in the 1970s.
2. “Transprose” – Novels transformed into piano music. This project involves assigning words to particular tempos, keys, and tones according to their emotional content (ex. joy, sadness, trust, happiness); The full list of songs is here. It’s a little simple right now, but the idea is so cool, and some of the songs sound pretty neat (my favorite is Heart of Darkness). Time did a short write-up about it: “By picking out emotion-related words and translating those into tempos and keys, two researchers found a way to connect music and literature.” A programmer/artist from NY named Hannah Davis and Saif Mohammad of the Canada’s National Research Council created it.
3. “Listen to the Sound of Wikipedia.” This project takes real-time activity on the different Wikipedia sites (English, French Punjabi, Wikidata… you choose the ones you want) and generates tones. The result is continuous ambient music. I think this is especially neat because it creates art out of something obviously not intended for art – the big data of Wikipedia edits – How cool is that! Here’s the description: “Bells indicate additions and string plucks indicate subtractions. Pitch changes according to the size of the edit; the larger the edit, the deeper the note. Green circles show edits from unregistered contributors, and purple circles mark edits performed by automated bots.” It was built by Stephen LaPorte and Mahmoud Hashemi and apparently was inspired by a similar idea for Bitcoin.
I think it’s clear that increasingly sophisticated technology is not the bane of aesthetics. Rather, technological innovations magnify the space for artistic expression by unveiling new modes through which art can proliferate. All three of these projects are powered by recent software and involve coding of some kind. All the more reason to learn to program, I think.