Watch Classical Music Come to Life in Artfully Animated Scores: Stravinsky, Debussy, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart & More

Stephen Mali­nows­ki has cul­ti­vat­ed his own patch of YouTube ground over the years with the Music Ani­ma­tion Machine, slow­ly scrolling visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions of clas­si­cal music. The videos, like the one above, use shape and col­or to inter­pret pitch, dura­tion, and more recent­ly dynam­ics and inter­vals in a hyp­not­ic style that ref­er­ences both Oskar Fischinger and Gui­tar Hero.

Per­son­al­ly, I’ve been a fan for years and watched his style evolve from the basics of a “piano roll” scroll to these much more com­plex ani­ma­tions, just as sma­lin (his YouTube name) has gone from work­ing with solo piano works to the den­si­ty of Beethoven’s sym­pho­ny scores or the chaos of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

Many music lovers who are not musi­cians but under­stand enough about com­po­si­tion will often fol­low a print­ed score when lis­ten­ing to clas­si­cal music; I would sug­gest that this is one bet­ter than the tra­di­tion­al nota­tion, as smalin’s method makes indi­vid­ual instru­ments in a quar­tet easy to fol­low; or show the inter­play between left and right hands in a Debussy piece; or lay out in visu­al terms the vari­a­tions on a theme or pat­tern (espe­cial­ly in Bach). For those who love but “don’t get” clas­si­cal music, these videos are a step towards clar­i­ty.

The Music Ani­ma­tion Machine start­ed long before the Inter­net. Mali­nows­ki (a grad­u­ate of my alma maters SBCC and UCSB!) dates the begin­ning to 1982, and the inspi­ra­tion came from a “hal­lu­ci­na­tion” he had while lis­ten­ing to Bach’s Sonatas and Par­ti­tas for Unac­com­pa­nied Vio­lin.

“As I lis­tened to the music, the notes on the page were danc­ing to the music — but at the same time, they were the music. It was so charm­ing and grace­ful — the flag of an eighth note extend­ing like a bal­let dancer’s arm; pairs of notes, mov­ing in par­al­lel thirds and sixths, like dancers step­ping hand-in-hand … I was delight­ed!”

The idea to ani­mate was sug­gest­ed by a friend and dove­tailed into the tech­nol­o­gy of the time, espe­cial­ly the birth of MIDI. Too self-crit­i­cal to be a per­former and too for­get­ful to be a com­pos­er, Mali­nows­ki turned to com­put­er pro­gram­ming and visu­al­iz­ing scores as the lis­ten­er, not the per­former, under­stands them. It’s been his life’s work. Explore his big col­lec­tion of ani­ma­tions and also his ani­ma­tion tech­niques.

Be wary, though. Watch­ing one isn’t enough–writing this arti­cle was a con­tin­u­al strug­gle between the dead­line and ani­mat­ed bliss. You just may find your­self sim­i­lar­ly and pleas­ant­ly lost.

Note: Here’s a list of Mali­nows­ki favorite and most pop­u­lar videos:

Grainger, Chil­dren’s March
Mozart, Sonata for Two Pianos, K 448, first move­ment
Bach, “Lit­tle” Fugue in G minor, Organ
Debussy, First Arabesque
Rim­sky-Kor­sakov, Flight of the Bum­ble­bee
Debussy, Pre­lude to ‘The After­noon of a Faun’
Beethoven, Sym­pho­ny 7, Alle­gret­to, mvt. 2
Stravin­sky, The Rite of Spring
Bach, Toc­ca­ta and Fugue in D minor
Sousa, Sem­per Fidelis
Debussy, Syrinx
Ligeti, 6 Bagatelles, III. Alle­gro grazioso
Bach, Bran­den­burg Con­cer­to 4, 3rd mvt.

Relat­ed Posts:

Opti­cal Poems by Oskar Fischinger, the Avant-Garde Ani­ma­tor Hat­ed by Hitler, Dissed by Dis­ney

Dis­cov­er the 1950s & 1960s Com­put­er & Cut-Up Ani­ma­tion of Pio­neer­ing Film­mak­er Stan Van­Der­Beek

The Genius of J.S. Bach’s “Crab Canon” Visu­al­ized on a Möbius Strip

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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Comments (2)
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  • Stephen Malinowski says:

    Hi Ted,
    Thanks for the nice arti­cle.
    Just out of curios­i­ty: did you hear about me because San­ta Bar­bara is my home town?
    Best regards,

  • Narayan says:

    I’ve always loved this web­site for being a source of pure, unadul­ter­at­ed cool stuff on the inter­net but I still did­n’t expect such beau­ty. This is, by far, the most beau­ti­ful thing I’ve come across. Thank you so much, author and cre­ator for this won­der­ful­ness.

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