A colorful cavalcade of classical coolness

By | November 13, 2009

This excites me on many levels. It’s so simple, and yet so cool.

It’s not at all new either. In fact, there’s a multi-award winning film that uses something very similar in its most famous scene. (Comment below if you know what it is.)

What is it, and why does it excite me?

Don’t laugh.

It’s a bar graph.

Yes, seriously.

Wait, wait! Don’t go… it’s not just any old bar graph. This one moves. And it lights up. And there’s music.

Starting to see the cool yet?

Yeah, I probably wouldn’t either, if I was just reading this. Stick with me.

Let’s package it this way: This is a different way to experience music – visually and accurately. We’ve all seen light shows of one kind or another accompanying music, but most of the time it’s just pulsating to the beat or rhythms or some approximation thereof. What we’ve got below is accurate parts, durations, and relative pitch of the notes in a song depicted in a way that you could actually learn something about the music itself.

Check this out as a “simple” example from J.S. Bach:

I call that simple only because it’s one instrument and pretty easy to see how the thing works. But check out the first movement from Mozart’s Symphony #40 in G-minor (one of his best, for my money). For some people this may be a better example because you can actually follow a single instrument through the symphony (for instance, green is the violin (with other strings in shades of green)):

Beyond that fact that I just think it looks neat, I really think this could be used to get people to think of music in a different way. It could be used to help people see the connection between music and math (you can’t get a bar graph without math!). In our increasingly visually driven society, it could be used to help show the ebb and flow of the musical lines, and the intertwining of parts to create the whole. Heck, maybe it could even be used to help the deaf experience music in a new way (maybe it already is, for all I know).

Because this is based on MIDI, it would be pretty easy to single out a given part or parts for display to focus on just the brass, for example. All sorts of ways to slice and dice this.

Like I said, this excites me in many ways: as a music lover, as a technology geek, as an (extremely) amateur composer, and as a trainer/educator. It’s just plain cool.

In case you’re interested in how this works (from the technology side), it’s actually pretty simple. It’s a visual representation of MIDI, which has been around for quite a while (I actually programmed my computer to play the “Ghostbusters” song in MIDI back in the 80’s). MIDI is a mathematical representation of pitch and duration for each note in a score/song. Run that MIDI file through this free software, and it reads all that math and gives you that scrolling bar graph (or even a few other visual options). It’s fun! :)

Do did you figure out which movie used a colored bar representation for music yet? Here’s a hint… ba-ba-da-BUM-BUM!

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