Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

26 JANUARY, 2011

Synesthesia Spotlight: 3 Visualizations of Music

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What Vivaldi has to do with motion graphics, John Coltrane and skyscrapers of color.

Synesthesia is a rare neurological condition that leads stimulation in one sensory pathway to trigger an experience in another. Basically, a short-circuiting in the brain that enables such strange phenomena like perceiving letters and numbers as inherently colored (color-graphemic synesthesia) or hearing sounds in response to visual motion. More than 60 types of synesthesia have been identified, with one of the most common being the cross-sensory experience of color and sound — “hearing” color or “seeing” music.

These neurological eccentricities, however, can often be a source of tremendous artistic inspiration. Today, we look at three mesmerizing near-synesthetic ways of experiencing sound and color.

MICHAL LEVY

Israeli artist and jazz musician Michal Levy (who also happens to be a dear friend) is an actual synesthetic: When she listens to music, she sees shapes and colors as different tones, pitches, frequencies, harmonies, and other elements of the melody unfold. Her fantastic animated film, Giant Steps, captures this unique experience, visualizing the iconic John Coltrane masterpiece as Michal sees it in her mind’s synesthetic eye.

Michal’s latest film, One, is yet another vibrant journey into sonic color. Her creative process is quite extraordinary, like peering into a mind that functions on an entirely different sensory plane.

LET YOURSELF FEEL

Let Yourself Feel is a mesmerizing animation by Argentinian motion graphics designer Esteban Diácono, visualizing “Slowly” by composer Ólafur Arnalds in spellbinding colorful smoke.

MUSIC ANIMATION MACHINE

Since 1985, composer, inventor and software engineer Stephen Malinowski has been bringing an intuitive, visceral understanding to classical music’s greatest masterpieces. His Music Animation Machine, which we have featured previously, distills some of the most complex compositions in music history into digestible, beautiful visualizations.

Music moves, and can be understood just by listening. But a conventional musical score stands still, and can be understood only after years of training. The Music Animation Machine bridges this gap, with a score that moves — and can be understood just by watching.” ~ Stephen Malinowski

Malinowski has made the MIDI player available as downloadable freeware (alas, no Mac version) to encourge people to create their own visualizations. There’s even a free visual harmonizer for iPad — a wonderful educational tool exploring the relationship between pitches.

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25 JANUARY, 2011

Animating Reality: A Collection of Short Animated Documentaries

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Stop-motion animation and documentary are our two favorite film genres. Naturally, we’re all over Animating Reality: A Collection of Short Documentaries, a highly unusual and highly rewarding marriage of the two, showcasing 13 remarkable animated documentaries from around the world. With entries from Sweden, the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, France, Finland, Canada, Belgium and the United States, the compilation covers an impressive range of themes, animation techniques and storytelling styles.

Animating Reality ties nicely into our recent streak of animation-based “documentaries” — from last week’s superb animation of Möbius strip animation of Flatland to yesterday’s uncovered 1968 Saul Bass gem exploring the origin of creativity.

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24 JANUARY, 2011

Why Man Creates: A Saul Bass Gem from 1968

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I love iconic graphic designer Saul Bass and have a soft spot for luminaries’ musings on the nature of creativity.

Naturally, I’m head over heels with Why Man Creates — a remarkable short documentary from 1968, animated by Bass and alluringly subtitled “a series of explorations, episodes & comments on creativity.”

Playful yet profound, the film is a series of sequences that at first appear unconnected but eventually converge into a compelling exploration of (wo)man’s most fundamental impetus to create, featuring such delightful tongue-in-cheek vehicles as this exchange between Michelangelo and da Vinci:

Whaddaya doin?” ‘I’m painting the ceiling! Whadda you doin?” “I’m painting the floor!”

For more on Bass’s design legacy, and its place in the context of other seminal design work, see the magnificent monograph Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design.

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19 JANUARY, 2011

The Gashlycrumb Tinies: A Very Gorey Alphabet Book

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It’s no secret I have a massive soft spot for alphabet books. In 1963, prolific mid-century illustrator and author Edward Gorey published an alphabet book so grimly antithetical to the very premise of the genre — making children feel comfortable and inspiring them to learn — that it took the macabre humor genre to a new level. “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs,” The Gashlycrumb Tinies begins. “B is for Basil assaulted by bears. C is for Clara who wasted away. D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh…”

Part Tim Burton long before there was Burton, part Edgar Allan Poe long after Poe, the book exudes Gorey’s signature adult picture book mastery, not merely adorned by the gorgeously dark crosshatched illustrations but narratively driven by them.

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies

The Gashlycrumb Tinies comes in a string of more than 40 gems Gorey published in his lifetime, including favorites like The Epiplectic Bicycle and The Doubtful Guest. His work, which spans over six decades, is collected in four excellent volumes entitled AmphigoreyI, II, III, IV — a play on the word amphigory, meaning a nonsense verse or composition.

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