Understanding Visual Music 13

Video documentation (incomplete), a ‘script’ as PDF and iPhoto slideshow as M4V of my presentation at the Understanding Visual Music – UVM 13 Colloquium, 8-9 August 2013, General San Martín Cultural Centre, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I’m including this extract from the UVM 13 ‘Call for Papers & Works’ because it offers a working definition of and outlines an agenda for a better understanding of Visual Music – the main context of my creative outputs.



The term “Visual Music” is a loose term that describes a wide array of creative approaches to working with sound and image. It´s generally used in a field of art where the intimate relationship between sound and image is combined through a diversity of creative approaches typical of the electronic arts.


It may refer to “visualized music” in which the visual aspect follows the sound’s amplitude, spectrum, pitch, or rhythm, often in the form of light shows or computer animation. It may also refer to “image sonification” in which the audio is drawn – in some way – from the image.


Sometimes visual music describes a non-hierarchical correlation between sound and image, in which both are generated from the same algorithmic process, while in other instances, they are layered without hierarchy or correlation altogether. 

Sound and image may be presented live, on a fixed support or as part of an interactive multimedia installation.




The definitions of “Visual Music” vary significantly and, therefore, it´s not a simple task to understand its ranges, limits and possibilities. As a consequence of this situation came the first symposium Understanding Visual Music – UVM 2011 in the city of Montreal, Canada.


Understanding Visual Music – UVM 2013 is particularly interested in the process where the research and creation through interdisciplinary collaboration in different fields of art, science and new technologies becomes a key for the artistic results. Animation, electroacoustic music, image processing, sound design, and digital arts in general, can crossfade with the most diverse techniques and technologies or even with unexpected fields of science, generating the complex interweave that results in a “visual music” work.


Understanding Visual Music was born with the idea of trying to know and understand better this art.




The goals of this event are:

  1. to create an opportunity for artists and researchers involved with “visual music” to share and discuss artistic, aesthetic, perceptual, technological, educational, and sociocultural themes relevant to this field, and;
  2. to welcome interdisciplinary collaboration, innovation, and cross-fertilization among creators, researchers, and educators involved in visual music and associated fields (including electroacoustics, animation, computation arts, media arts, music, film, and more).

SYMPOSIUM (colloquium and concerts):


Understanding Visual Music – UVM 2013 offer an space to share and generate knowledge on “Visual Music”. The Symposium is structure is based upon:

  1. a colloquium which invites artists-researchers and academics to expose their explorations and findings in the field, dealing with topics such as aesthetics, technology, perception, education, history, social and cultural impact; and
  2. concerts -open to the general public- with “visual music” works, in some way acting as a complement to the colloquium, to see how to bring those discussions into specific artworks.

The event will run for 2 days , August 8th and 9th 2013.




While the colloquium is open to all proposals relevant to this field, it will focus on research that addresses visual music’s multiple definitions, questions around visual music aesthetics and meaning, hierarchy and correlation of sound and image in this context, the audience’s perception and historical and social topics that are in line with its development and could allow to understand better visual music’s creative trajectory through time.



Lewis Sykes
Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design (MIRIAD),
Faculty of Art & Design, Manchester Metropolitan University,
Righton Building, Cavendish Street, Manchester, M15 6BG


The Augmented Tonoscope is a Practice as Research PhD project working towards a deeper understanding of the interplay between sound and image in Visual Music.

The research argues for an aesthetics of vibration and a harmonic complementarity between sound and image. 

Sound can induce visible pattern. When physical matter is vibrated with sound it adopts geometric formations – the modal wave patterns of Cymatics (from the Greek: κῦμα “wave”). Dr Hans Jenny coined this term for his seminal studies into these phenomena in the 60s and 70s, using a device of his own design – the ʻtonoscopeʼ. So a key method in the research has been the design, fabrication and crafting of a contemporary version of Jenny’s sound visualisation tool – a hybrid analogue/digital instrument that produces dynamic Visual Music – the Augmented Tonoscope. By playing, recording and interacting with it, research outcomes are taking the form of artistic works for live performance, screening and installation.

A systemic series of artistic experiments has attempted to:

  • discern a direct correspondence between image and sound – using the natural property of vibration to generate visible patterns and forms and so reveal a real-time relationship between sound and image which is direct and elementary, analogs of each other in aural and visual form;
  • find a perceptual amalgam of image and sound that engages the viewer in a subtlety shifted way – a synchronisation between the senses of sight and hearing that results in a ‘co-sensing’ of a ‘co-expressiveness’, where the mind is not doing two separate things, it’s doing the same thing in two ways;
  • demonstrate movement as a key intermediary between music and visuals – building on compelling evidence that our experience of music is intimately linked to movement by also exploring it as a mechanism for a more intimate perceptual connection between sound and image;
  • merge audiovisualisation into a single workflow – demonstrating that sounds and images can interact with, influence and shape each other from the outset and then throughout all stages of composition, arrangement and mixing by devising a means and process whereby audio and visual composition occurs simultaneously.

The research has taken a hermeneutic approach – combining years of implicit practitioner knowledge with an investigation into the lineage of this practice through the ideas, approaches and techniques of inspirational artists –  such as the experimental computer-aided filmmaker John Whitney Sr. – and select research from a range of seemingly disparate disciplines that resonated with the study – from neuroscience to critical art theory. Divining a congruence between these varied perspectives has crystallised a central argument to the thesis – of a harmonic complementarity between sound and image. What is significant, is that since limited literature exists, an empirical demonstration through artistic practice has been a primary approach to confirm the validity of the argument. 

A presentation at Understanding Visual Music – UVM 2013 will highlight key stages of the research in looking for a cymatic visual equivalence to the auditory intricacies of melody, harmony and rhythm. 


Download the slideshow as M4V and presentation as PDF from my public WebDisk or watch via Vimeo and read via Scribd:


I’ve also included a brief ‘Critical Reflection’ of my contribution to the colloquium below: 

Despite the technical issues which were unsettling enough – I had ongoing problems with audio out from my MacBook Pro and my iPhoto Slideshow had a mind of its own – I can’t say I was that actually that happy with my presentation at UVM 13.

I regularly attempt different presentation approaches – for UVM 13 I tried a mix of techniques I’d not undertaken previously – I pre-wrote a script, talked to slides and video and showed brief software demos – but on reflection I don’t think it worked. It felt stilted and definitely didn’t flow. I think the documentation video shows as much.

I received mixed feedback afterwards from some of the other contributors – a bit of criticism about my not ‘framing’ the presentation at the outset but mostly positive feedback on the general content.

It can be hard to measure the tone of a conference in advance… and I think I was generally right in erring towards practice and examples of exploratory artworks than theory, but I did spend too much time at the start justifying my position and explaining my motivation… and I didn’t need to. I should have described and defined my general practice and specific approach and introduced a simple framework that would then have allowed me to weave the practical examples in.