It’s no accident that the word “Chromatic” starts with the Greek word for colour “Chroma”, the chromatic scale shares its name with colour due to the interwoven nature of colour and music in western musical history. (Gage, 1999) Many composers have tried to use colour as a tool for composition with varying degrees of success and some composers have been influenced by the colours they experienced whilst hearing music, a phenomenon known as “Synaesthesia”.

Using colour to directly generate notes, sound designer Yuri Suzuki’s “Looks like Colour” is an installation which invites visitors to draw their music along a looping black line using the provided coloured pens. Following these lines are small robots that can sense the colours along the way and then convert them into sounds (Suzuki, 2013).

“Sonochromatic Cyborg Artist” Neil Harbisson harnesses the power of music and sound to allow him to see colour. Born without the ability to see colour Harbisson has a device known as the “Eyeborg” attached to his head which contains a colour sensor that translates the colours into tones, allowing him to identify the colour. This relationship between colour and sound has allowed Harbisson to create images based on music he has heard and likewise create music based on things he has seen, “Sound portraits” or “Sonochromatic Portraits” (Else, 2012).

In a more orchestrated way, Olivier Maessiaen’s “Couleurs de la cité celeste” uses music to paint a picture based on his own experiences of Synaesthesia. Sequences of notes are used to create complex blends of colour. (Classic FM, n.d.)

Project Summary

To explore the relationship between music and colour, I am going to create an application that takes image data as its input, analyses the pixel’s colour and then generates MIDI instructions to “play” a collection of virtual instruments. Although the compositions may not be “musical” in the sense that they may not follow the conventions of common musical genres, they should serve to be an interesting look into how music and colour can relate.



Classic FM, n.d. Synesthesia: 11 great artists who have seen the colour of music. [Online]
Available at: http://www.classicfm.com/discover/music/synesthesia-gallery/olivier-messiaen/
[Accessed 1 January 2016].

Else, L., 2012. CultureLab: Cyborg makes art using seventh sense:. [Online]
Available at: https://www.newscientist.com/blogs/culturelab/2012/06/cyborg-makes-art-using-seventh-sense.html
[Accessed 1 January 2016].

Gage, J., 1999. Color and Culture: Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Suzuki, Y., 2013. Looks Like Music « YURI SUZUKI. [Online]
Available at: http://yurisuzuki.com/works/looks-like-music/
[Accessed 1 January 2016].

Categories: Music

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