What is visual music, and why is it important to classical music right now?
Visual music is imagery based on music or sound. It often uses colors or shapes to depict the notes and textures of music. One of the most well-known visual music artists was Oskar Fischinger, who painstakingly created visual animations of music by hand. Oskar Fischinger’s work has had a lasting influence in both commercial and fine art, and partly inspired the creation of Disney’s “Fantasia.”
In the everyday world, many people are familiar with visual music through the “iTunes visualizer”, which offers colorful and abstract visualizations of music playing on their computer.
If you asked the average person if they’d rather go to the new Beyoncé tour or a classical concert, my guess is that they would probably choose Beyoncé. Although Beyoncé’s concerts feature amazing vocals and songwriting, a lot of listeners come away talking primarily about the visual experience. A Beyoncé concert pairs riveting projections with mind-blowing dancing, stimulating the audience through multiple senses. It’s virtually impossible not to be entertained - there’s just too much going on. Beyoncé may be using visual music in a different way than Oskar Fischinger, but it is visual music nonetheless.
Although visual music is occasionally used in classical concerts, it’s still fairly rare to see a visual behind a solo piano or instrumental recital. This is a something of a shame, because these events potentially stand to gain the most from the use of a meaningful visual. Although experienced listeners may be ready and willing to stay focused for the duration of a 30-minute sonata, newer concertgoers will often find their minds wandering after 45 seconds of classical music. The great classical repertoire is full of rich and universal meaning. An amazing classical performance can reach across cultural and social boundaries, touching listeners at their deepest emotional core. With the right use of visual music, classical concert halls can potentially bring in an entirely new set of listeners.
Luckily, there are new technologies that make it easier than ever to add visual music to live events. SeeMusic is one new app that could potentially revolutionize the modern concert experience. It lets performers choose colors of each of the 12 musical pitches, and projects the individual notes of their playing as a riveting visual behind their performance. SeeMusic even lets performers create set lists of pieces, so that they can customize colors for each piece in a recital. There’s no reason that concert halls shouldn’t start using this technology today - it even has a 4K resolution option for large-scale projection. Visual music makes it easier and more exciting to communicate the meaning of music to listeners. Hopefully it won’t be much longer before we see even traditional concert halls using visual music in live performance!