Music is a language with certain grammars and parameters. John Cage’s 1948 piano piece »In a Landscape« was chosen to design a translation from audio to visual language.
The main emphasis laid on analyzing the track note by note. The audio parameters such as pitch, dynamic range and tone length are represented by visual parameters of colour, position, size and transparency. The piece's dramaturgy played the vital part in the choice of shots and tracking shots.
»In A Landscape« is the name of a piano piece written by John Cage for the dancer Louise Lippold, which had its premiere on the 20th of August 1948. The chosen interpretation was played by Stephen Drury, the original playing time is 09:43 minutes. The chosen sequence concentrates on the part between 03:50 and 05:06 minutes and therefore has a playing time of 01:16 minutes.
Design parameters
The audio parameters of pitch, dynamic and tone length are visualized by the design parameters of colour, position, size and transparency. The size of the dots represent the dynamic range of the piece, therefore it represents the perceived volume of the respective sound. The tone length has three gradients. Every single one of the 18 tones is placed on a specific vertical position. Also, every tone has been assigned to a colour.
Colour values
Over five octaves, every half-tone step has a specific colour value. In our sequence, only 18 tones are played and therefore the other tones are obsolete. Bright blue and green colour values were chosen for high tones, warm yellow and orange colour values for low, muted tones.
Piano analysis
To understand how a piano produces sound, this process was studied on a real instrument. By pressing a key on the keyboard, a hammer hits the relative string. The string starts to vibrate and produces the perceptible tone. This mechanic plays a major role in the concept of the visual design.
From piano to visualization
At first, a small white circle appears, which refers to the hit of a piano’s hammer. Then, the string starts to vibrate and produces a tone. Spoken visually: The circle’s stroke starts to wiggle. With its fade out, the stroke’s size and transparency decreases. The visualization of a piano’s mechanic relates to John Cage’s work – he experimented with the piano’s inner life by transformation and preparation.
Over five octaves, every note played has a fixed position in the grid. According to the layered tones in the track, the dot’s distances were chosen in a way to enable an overlay of the vibrating circles.
Film shooting
»In A Landscape« is played on a piano, therefore it is necessary to consider the human factor in the visualization. For this reason, the visualization was projected on a table and filmed with different shot sizes.
Shot sizes
The track’s dramaturgy is significantly determined by the fast sequence of the tones. This was of great importance for the consideration of the shot sizes and tracking shots.
Study project
Hochschule für Gestaltung, Schwäbisch Gmünd
Communication Design, second year
Course name: Audiovisuelle Systeme
Project Partner: Max Schulist, Moritz Hundbiß
Supervision: Prof. Michael Götte, Bernhard Sacha, Claudius Schulz
Support: Rasih Bayölken, Torsten Dodillet, Benjamin Thomsen, Manuel Minniti, Kerstin Wörn

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