Monday, June 15, 2009

Take that, Steve Reich

I've been having fun lately with Andre Michelle's Tonematrix. The site offers a blank 16 x 16 grid representing a musical score on which the x axis is time and the y axis shows ascending notes in three five-note octaves. By filling in squares one can create simple repeating songs that are quite mesmerizing. The rest of this post will make much more sense if you take a moment now to visit the site. Click on a few squares and watch what happens (making sure to have your computer sound ON).

I've found that it's virtually impossible to create an ugly song. You can enter a whole slew of notes completely at random and wind up with a nice mix of chords, interplay, and syncopation. I've entered designs, blocks, letters, figures from Conway's Life. Each one has a unique song that's surprisingly euphonious (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, monotonous).

Curious about the photographic implications, I began playing around with b/w square photographs as the root of my designs. The first was Nancy Rexroth's A Woman's Bed, Logan, Ohio, 1970:

I converted the image into a 16 x 16 pixel array...

Saved it as a two color gif...

Then copied the pattern into Tonematrix...

Here's what it sounds like:

Next up was Arbus' Young Brooklyn Family Going for a Sunday Outing, 1966:

Harry Callahan's Eleanor, 1949:

Irving Penn's Portrait of Truman Capote, 1965:

As you can hear, each image generates its own song which isn't quite the same as any other. I think they're a bit like audio fingerprints or whale songs uniquely keyed to the individual.

Beyond that fact I'm not sure what significance they may have. I thought about creating a quiz in which I'd have people guess an image after hearing its song but quickly realized it would be impossible to solve. For color photographs I can imagine other possibilities like a 3D graph with color representing multiple instruments across the z axis.

I think perhaps these audio clips are best appreciated as bizarre little experiments just weird enough to be of general interest.


Panagiotis Giannakis said...

Wow, so interesting!!
I will go and check what music my pics make!!!

Joe Reifer said...

Blake, you freakin' rule, man!

Toni said...

ahi ah

Michael Van der Tol said...

OMG...I'm hooked...the strange thing is I was just looking at QR codes last night.

Freaky...QR Code Music

Anonymous said...

That is interesting stuff. It is more a musical transcription of a visual information though (rather than a transformation), not unlike a music sheet is. But that is an interesting effort.