John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” & Bach’s “Prelude in C Major” Get Turned into Dazzling Musical Animations by an Artist with Synesthesia

Colour is the key­board, the eyes are the har­monies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touch­ing one key or anoth­er, to cause vibra­tions in the soul.

—Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky

We may owe the his­to­ry of mod­ern art to the con­di­tion of synes­the­sia, which caus­es those who have it to hear col­ors, see sounds, taste smells, etc. Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky, who pio­neered abstract expres­sion­ism in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, did so “after hav­ing an unusu­al­ly visu­al response to a per­for­mance of Wagner’s com­po­si­tion Lohen­grin at the Bol­shoi The­atre,” the Den­ver Muse­um of Art notes. He was so moved by the moment that he “aban­doned his law career to study paint­ing at the pres­ti­gious Munich Acad­e­my of Fine Arts. He lat­er described the life-chang­ing expe­ri­ence: ‘I saw all my col­ors in spir­it, before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me.’”

Kandin­sky nev­er heard Coltrane, but if he had, and had access to 3D ren­der­ing soft­ware, he might have made some­thing very much like the short ani­ma­tion above from Israeli artist Michal Levy. “Rough­ly 3 per cent of peo­ple expe­ri­ence synaes­the­sia,” writes Aeon, “a neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tion in which peo­ple have a recur­ring sen­so­ry over­lap, such as … envi­sion­ing let­ters and num­bers each with their own inher­ent colour.”

Levy’s con­di­tion is one of the most com­mon forms, like Kandinsky’s: “chro­maes­the­sia, in which sounds and music pro­voke visu­als.” Where the Russ­ian painter saw Wag­n­er in “wild, almost crazy lines,” Levy sees the “rol­lick­ing notes” of Coltrane’s Giant Steps as a “kinet­ic, cas­cad­ing cityscape built from colour­ful blocks of sound.”

After visu­al­iz­ing her expe­ri­ence of Coltrane, Levy cre­at­ed the ani­ma­tion above, Dance of Har­mo­ny, to illus­trate what hap­pens when she hears Bach. Dur­ing a mater­ni­ty leave, work­ing with her friend, ani­ma­tor Hagai Azaz, she set her­self the chal­lenge of show­ing, as she describes it, “the cas­cad­ing flow of emo­tion, to make the feel­ing con­ta­gious, by using only col­or, the basic shape of cir­cles, and min­i­mal­ist motion, assign­ing to each musi­cal chord the visu­al ele­ments that cor­re­spond to it synaes­thet­i­cal­ly.”

It is fas­ci­nat­ing to com­pare Levy’s descrip­tions of her con­di­tion with those of oth­er famous synes­thetes like Vladimir Nabokov and, espe­cial­ly Kandin­sky, who in essence first showed the world what music looks like, there­by giv­ing art a new visu­al lan­guage. Levy calls her synes­the­sia art, an “emo­tion­al voy­age of har­mo­ny,” and includes in her visu­al­iza­tion of Bach’s famous pre­lude an “unex­pect­ed ele­giac side­bar of love and loss,” Maria Popo­va writes. Read Levy’s full descrip­tion of Dance of Har­mo­ny here and learn more about the “extra­or­di­nary sen­so­ry con­di­tion called synes­the­sia” here.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

An Artist with Synes­the­sia Turns Jazz & Rock Clas­sics Into Col­or­ful Abstract Paint­ings

Jazz Decon­struct­ed: What Makes John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” So Ground­break­ing and Rad­i­cal?

Decon­struct­ing Bach’s Famous Cel­lo Prelude–the One You’ve Heard in Hun­dreds of TV Shows & Films

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagnes

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