Monday, 30 August 2010

Q&A with: Thomas Leadbetter

Explain your Synesthesia project:

I created new a system to enable me to visualise a piece of music. The system I made is explained through three keys; A key to explain the length of notes and additional devices, such as slurs and tied notes, a key that describes how pitch is shown, and a key with different colours aligned to the different orchestral instruments used in the piece of music I translated. I used the system to translate the final fugue from Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, only about three minutes long when listening, but when printed up is about four meters wide!

Where does your interest in synesthesia come from?

When I started building the new system of notation I was looking at Wassilly Kandinsky's work and the effect of his experience of synesthesia on his images. He described an occasion when whilst watching Wagner's opera Lohengrin, he experienced "colours in spirit, before (his) eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of (him)." It occured to me that this notion fit well with my plan to visualise music, and so I tried to incorporate this notion of sound having inherent colour into my work.

What thought process is behind your pieces?

The inspiration for the project was a track from the new These New Puritans album- Hidden- which I was listening to when I started thinking about ways in which music tends to follow strict patterns and rules. I tried to visualise these patterns, and it occurred to me that traditional notation wasn't very effective at demonstrating the shapes that music forms. The project involved a lot of trial and error and using a variety of basic grids to fit the triangular notes to.

What's the purpose of the designs?

Simply put, to create a visual way of showing music. In slightly longer terms, to demonstrate the workings of music notation and composition by revealing the mathematic patterns inherent in music, whilst demonstrating the tone created by a piece of music based on the instruments used in a piece.

Is the subject ongoing?

Absolutely! I'm in the process of turning the Britten piece into an animation that has already had interest from various VJs at a couple of London club nights. Im also looking at ways of turning the piece into an installation. I'm also trying to find ways of exploring how different genres of music create different images, the first step of which will be turning the orginal These New Puritans song that inspired me and translate this into an image.

Which other designers do you admire and take inspiration from?

Oh god there are tonnes! Specifically for this project I looked a lot at members of the Black Mountain group, especially John Cage, who devised his own system of music notation in the 1960s.

There is a lot of disagreement on the 'colour of sounds' - what sort of feedback have you had on your colour choices?

Deciding on the colours that should represent instruments was perhaps the most challenging aspect of the project. I am not a natural synesthete so I did a lot of research on which colours tend to be associated with different groups of the orchestra, and classifiying the instrument according to things like tone, material the instrument is made from, perception compared to similar instruments- again this stage required a lot of trial and error. I've had a few people saying they would have perhaps chosen different colours for different instruments but overall I think the amount of consideration I gave the colours paid off- I've had people who've worked with music for years say its changed the way in which they;ve thought about music- which is nice!

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