Research: the library

I have always been interested in the combination of my two main hobbies: art and music. The relationship between them, since the foundation, has fascinated me increasingly. And at almost every opportunity I have seemed to return to using elements of music in my final outcomes. So when it came to choosing the topic for the final major project, it was pretty straight forward.

I started by visiting the library. What a collection! They had far more resources specific to my project than I had expected. I found a couple of books that took my fancy, one in particular called The Hidden Sense, Synesthesia in art and science by Cretien van Campen seemed right up my street. And it was, it was perfect for my project and has played a central role in the early stages of my research. Various quotes and names of other books are in my notebook, although the information I have found the most useful I have written into my smaller sketchbook. 

The Hidden Sense was great. I struggled to discipline myself to read just the relevant parts to my work. Although, it all seemed to link in some shape or form. I started by reading the introduction as I wanted to be as thorough as possible. It defined key words for me which I noted down and made links to science and neurology, seeming useful at the time, but a little pointless a while after as it didn’t get down to the nitty gritty. So I then chose various chapters from the Index. These included the whole of chapter 2, Perception. Broken down into subsections, it covered interviews with synesthetes and their experiences of the condition. From coloured bars to moving images in front of their eyes, I got a real sense of the sensation of synesthesia and the way their bodies respond when they hear music. I noted down some of the descriptions of these experiences, already starting to imagine large projections of a video clip with sounds filling the room and responsive shapes and colours across the screen: a day in the life of a synesthete.

I also read that synesthesia is a two way process. Not just from sound to image but from image to sound. A fine art photographer from Massachusetts named Marcia Smilack notices how images evoke sounds. There was even a section on synesthetic composers! Twentieth century composer Olivier Messiaen was said to have composed with modes, comparing the colours of the modes to the coloured light from the stained glass windows in churches. An interesting comparison that provoked me to think about potential mediums.. glass? light? ..and again, projection? Off on a bit of a tangent, I like the idea of using projection. The translucent effect it has when the rays cast through the space. And when it hits the wall/ surface, it’s temporary quality. Delicate. Yet, when obstructed it becomes a hard and solid form, of nothing. Or is it nothing? It looks blacker to me.

Anyway, back to The Hidden Sense. I found a section on the Music Animation Machine.  A process to turn music into a visual form. Perfect! The process used vertical positions of coloured bars on the screen to represent the pitch. And the colour represented the instruments/voices/ thematical material/ tonality.

As a visual aid, I thought the process was clever and relatively interesting. Visually exposing patterns that listeners may not necessarily hear means that compositions become more easily accessible. However, I was not blown away. The figures shown in the book looked dull and intensely mechanical. And researching further on the internet I found the colours garish, with little thought to the impact they may have on the viewer and the way they are representing quality of tone.  Although perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised as it is the product of a computer. 

Thinking about this last subchapter, it made me want to invent my own process to translate sound into image. However, it also made me realise the significance of maintaining the spontaneity and human element of music. Music is a highly expressive and liberating form of art in aural terms as well as physical. I am a pianist, and when I perform it involves my entire body. If I were to attempt to communicate music through image I would have to ensure that I do it in a way that does justice to the music as well as to the visual outcome.

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