We know that most musical analysis is driven by our hearing, but did you know that there’s a layer of sight to in-depth analysis as well?
In a recent video, David Bruce explores this idea and more as he examines the relationship between music and visual patterns.
David begins by observing how the overall structure of musical patterns can be seen from a zoomed-out perspective but, in a zoomed-in view, one can track individual notes and their repetition. These patterns can also be seen on the score of the music itself. He analyses one of Chopin’s works on a zoomed-in level: “the piece is composed of two alternating and utterly different components. The odd notes trace out a perfect descending chromatic scale while the even numbered notes wedge between them like pickets in a picket fence.”
He further discusses the history of pattern in classical music with the introduction of “total serialism”, a musical style developed after World War II which dictated that each of the 12 chromatic notes must be played in sequence before any are allowed to be repeated. “To me, this is music where the pattern has taken over,” David explains, examining a musical study from Karlheinz Stockhausen. “All these pieces represented something of a dead end rather than the fresh start the composers had hoped for. It was perhaps an interesting study to try, but it felt like the balance between the pattern and the human had got out of hand.”
“Music, you could say, is pattern modified by humanity.”
Stephan Malinowski was one of the first people to create computer software that turns music into animated patterns. The beauty of this experiment has led to many assertions that all music is pattern, and as a result, further attempts to have computers write music. This concept has been successfully put into practice with fully developed musical machines, like music boxes. However, in David’s view, these are never fully convincing. “What I think we find fascinating here is how close these things are to real music,” he says. “We think of music as the most human, the most expressive of art forms.”
‘Pattern is undoubtedly a large and important part of music, but the closer you get to pure pattern, the more robotic, or at least less human, it feels,” he adds. Exploring this concept of pattern-centric music has influenced David’s own compositions. He has begun to add in more intentional patterns, but this was interpreted by one reviewer as rather inhuman. “It seems that most of the music we want to sit down and listen to lies somewhere along this scale, balancing the patterned and non-patterned,” he concludes.
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