Friday Fun — Music Visualizations

When you’re a scientist, visualizing data can be crucial to understanding and communication. Graphs are almost always better than data tables and a smartly-drawn diagram can often convey more than a long, detailed paragraph.

I was thinking about this today because of a YouTube link a friend sent me that had a visualization of the famous Beethoven bagatelle, Für Elise.  It’s an interesting task, to try and visualize music. Pictures and words on a page endure, whereas something heard is transitory. Think about music. The sounds are heard and then gone. All the connections of sound and rhythm are made from our ears to our brains. You can listen with your eyes closed. Vision doesn’t really play a role.

Of course, the standard way to visibly present music is through sheet music. The marks on the staves instruct what notes are struck, their duration, and with how much force – all in a linear fashion. If you’re a good sight-reader (I’m not, but getting better), you can “hear” the music in your head as you read it. Here is the first page of the sheet music of Für Elise.

BeethovenForEliseWoO59Here is the visualization that I was sent (it’s done by Andy Fillebrown)

The left hand is in blue, the right hand in pink. The notes of several octaves are arced around the center. I love the way the notes to be played stream towards the “piano” and then continue steaming on. I also love the way that you can see the “flow” of the music more than you can (well, more than I can at least) on the sheet music. Very cool. I can actually play this whole piece pretty well, though in the “B” section my 32nds are a lot more like 16ths.

Here are a couple of others.

The first movement of Sonata No. 14 (commonly known as “Moonlight”), which I can fairly reasonably.

And its third movement, which I most certainly cannot.

I really like the way the visualization shows the long chords in the left hand, especially as contrasted to a rapidly moving right.

Really fun. Could watch this all day, though it makes me want to play.


26 thoughts on “Friday Fun — Music Visualizations

  1. Dude. Holy shit, that’s cool. He has a great collection of Schumann songs there too.

    My grandma had one of those antique players, the kind with the metal records with the grooves in them? I don’t remember what they’re called but this sort of reminds me of that. I think it printed out shapes? She was an antiques dealer so who knows how old those things are.

    • I was reminded of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” when the keyboard tech (musician?) communicates with the Extraterrestrials via a multicolored light board and music. I got to see the re-release of the movie in an Imax theater: I’d forgotten how moving the scene was, and how envious I was of the Richard Dreyfus character.

      • Oooh — I’d wished that I could have seen that in IMAX. That’s a great connection to make between something like this and that scene. I loved it as it started off slow, got a little faster, and then WHAMMO!

  2. I can’t read music. Never had the opportunity to learn.
    But I listen really well. Maybe one day you’ll upload an audio so we can all listen in!
    What say you???

  3. I love this! Addictive. I like the way the right side spirals during certain parts. I found “Flight of the Bumble Bee” Of course in yellow, and very cool.

  4. I like it! I used to stare at brother’s massive graphic equaliser for hours, some are more graphic than others and he had a really detailed one.

    • MT — I was always SO jealous of people that had really intricate equalizers. I didn’t know what any of those colored bars meant, but I knew it was cool. ;)

      • Brother blew about 20k back in 1982 on the biggest insane system ever. Cerwin-Vega speakers the size the Stones use–RLY!

  5. The visualizations are beautiful, but do they help us on any fundamental level? Do they show how to be a better piano player or better understand the music? As a scientist, that’s my main criterion. Then again, in my field, the visualization frequently *are* the data…

    IIn any case, here’s an alternative visualization of some classic music that you might like:

    • J — I like “seeing” the interaction between the left hand and the right hand notes. This visualization has made me appreciates certain parts of the pieces that I hadn’t quite fully seen in just the sheet music. So from that, I think they’re a success. If only they could make me a better player!!

      Had I seen those 2Cello guys on a TV show? It’s seems like they’ve created quite the phenomenon. I knew something was up when they didn’t have wigs… ;)

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