Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Stephen Malinowski and the Animation of Music

Some people claim to see colors when they hear music. I’m not one of them. I wish I were. I would love to be able to visualize the tapestry of sound that so easily sets fire to my emotions. I would love to see what it looks like when my emotions change from sorrow to joy with a single key change. Music affects how I feel, but it does not evoke color in my mind’s eye.
Fortunately, I have Stephen Malinowski and his Music Animation Machine to help me with seeing the color of music. Malinowski creates animated graphical scores for great pieces of music, and I faithfully follow his YouTube channel to see his newest creations. 

I have always enjoyed following printed scores while listening to music. Knowing what’s in a score brings music to life. I can see individual notes and voices as they weave together, generating music’s magic. Following a printed score helps me understand how a piece of music is organized and grasp the musical narrative. 

Malinowski’s animated scores serve the same purpose — and they do it with much more power and excitement than printed scores. His videos allow me to see what I am hearing and anticipate what is coming. The persistent forward motion of the beautiful shapes and colors in Malinowski's videos has changed how I hear music. Malinowski helps me understand what it must be like to have some form of synesthesia and be able to see colors when hearing music. If synesthesia meant that music would conjure up colors in the manner of a Malinowski video, I would welcome the diagnosis. 

Malinowski published his first YouTube video — a recording of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor — in December 2005, and I am posting this blog in celebration of the twelfth anniversary of that event. 

Although Malinowski has posted well over 500 videos in the last dozen years, that first video has remained his most popular, receiving over 28 million views on YouTube. (That's right, 28 million!) Malinowski told me via email that his first video of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue was “crude and the recording was poor.” He recorded the music for that video on a synthetic pipe organ and decided to celebrate its tenth anniversary with the creation of a new version. His first choice for the new recording was organist Hans-André Stamm, and Malinowski was thrilled when Stamm agreed to collaborate.

Here's how Malinowski described his 2015 version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. (The video he is describing is embedded below. The toccata begins at 0:05 and the fugue begins at 2:26.)
“Since 2005, I've been developing tools and techniques for visualizing music, but for this video, I decided to keep it relatively simple (as a tip of the hat to the simple original video) and not distract from Stamm's performance: I use balls for the fast-moving parts of the toccata, rectangles for the toccata chords, and octagons for the fugue. The three-note motif that is the seed of the piece is highlighted in red."
Thank you, Stephen Malinowski! Thank you for bringing so much pleasure to those of us who love classical music and for introducing millions of people to classical music who might never have listened to it without you. 


Hans-André Stamm on the Weyland organ in the Catholic parish church 
Heilig Kreuz in Köln-Weidenpesch Cologne (Köln), ca. 1992.


Follow the links below for a sampling of what you can find at Malinowski's YouTube Channel. Enjoy!