September 1st, 2010

Color a Sound

Color a Sound is an installation that uses an overhead projector, a camera and a laptop to allow the user to draw whatever they’d like and roll it past a point and have it trigger sounds, player-piano style. Red, green and blue control three different octaves, or different sound sets (I use blue to control a set of 808 drum sounds in the example video). The rolls used to draw could be played forward or backward, and people could play previous compositions made from past users. Everything is programmed in Max/MSP/Jitter. The code used will be available soon once I clean it up a little more.

I originally came up with the idea for the piece in 2008 and developed it for a Sound Art class I was in. It is very similar in concept to the color organ instruments that were developed in the early 1900’s, except in those instruments, artists were trying to represent sounds with colors. Color a sound for me is more of a playful comment on the naive idea of trying to represent such complex sounds with simple colors, and is more of a debunking of synesthesia than a champion of it.
The installation could have been more complex, employing more colors/motion tracking/dynamics sensing and a full chromatic range but I kept the interaction simple so it was something a child could figure out. Even with only three colors, one could just scribble something and have it make a quick melody, or actually sit down and make a rather complex composition.

Download the unorganized patch: Color a sound demo (902 downloads)

  • tonii

    Hello Blair Neal,
    I am a visual designer. I am interested in sound/ music visualization with colors. I made a research about visual music, and that it is how I found your project. ‘Color a Sound’ it is been a really good inspiration for my and my project-mate to develop an app for multittouch internet-tablet, which is about playing a sound with colors.
    However, while I was reading, I found something in your text, I can’except somehow:
    ‘ Color a sound for me is more of a playful comment on the naive idea of trying to represent such complex sounds with simple colors, and is more of a debunking of synesthesia than a champion of it.’
    Visualizing sound with colors isn’t naive idea as far as a literal strict visualization of a matter invisible such as sound, isn’t the goal. Even the input way (organ) is different between sound and visual. However, the sound consists of pitch, low-high pitch, tempo, velocity of the pitch, and sound is changing in time. Visualizing sound, I think, is more about this. Color is also very complex thing. And at last, the ways that a color could influence human’s emotions, moods and etc., has something to do with the way music could.

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  • irvn rynn

    I am using MAX6 to create sounds from colors.. the RGB values.. using the muse pointer on the computer monitor.
    The MAX patch itself is done— it is the choices of what to synthesize from the values.
    My music teacher liked the elementary tri-phonic method of adding 32 to the 3 values ( a DC reject/HP filter adjustment) and then simple sawtooth waves… rather cacophonous, but that’s him— and the range is only 3+ octaves.
    My next algorithm will be luminance (R + G + B ) for pitch, folded and scaled to 32 Hz -> 1 kHz—less than the piano range— and “folded” so white is not the highest pitch.
    Another might be a translation to the MIDI notes numbers, rather than frequencies.. or specific notes, like the major scale you use.
    A third is luminance as pitch, inverted, with B+G as volume, R+G as “modulation”, R+B as a “quality”, sawtooth, an FM synth, etc..