Do we hear music better by seeing it?

Many have experimented with computer-generated music visualisations, from as early as the 70s. There are countless examples of them, some as basic as Windows Media Player, some very complex and interactive, like Thom Yorke’s app PolyFauna. Sometimes a visualisation can highlight the intricacies of parts of the music that you might not have noticed otherwise.

With classical music specifically, an art form that is perhaps easier to appreciate once you have more insight into it, one can gain a lot from a visualisation. Here are three visualisation examples for three types of performance: orchestral, piano and string quartet.

1. BeatMap

Our orchestral apps show beautiful visualisations that demonstrate which musical instruments are playing during classical recordings. In the BeatMap, you can see dots that pulse and grow, triggered by the audio, with each dot representing an individual player of the orchestra. This provides an educational experience that helps viewers to understand the depths of orchestral instrumentation.

2. NoteFall

Notefall is a colourful and innovative way of visualising piano performances. Notefall allows the viewer to understand which notes the pianist is going to play in advance, without needing to understand traditional music notation. On our Apple TV app, Classical Music Reimagined, we present this alongside a beautiful animation created by Alan Warburton; a series of flashing neon lights synchronised to the notes of a beautiful Bach fugue.

Visualisations can help gain a deeper insight into a piece of music, by creating accurately timed visual cues that illustrate the audible ones. They also open up a lot of opportunities for creating beautiful pieces of art that become an integral part of the whole experience. 

3. Explosive Physics

Using a recording of Borodin’s String Quartet no. 2 in D Major, we created four creative visualisations to view alongside the audio. Floating shapes and structures, colourful creations and explosive physics enhance these recordings in a new and intriguing way. The particles are triggered and affected by the audio from the recording. The volume affects the size, gravity and colour of the particles, leading to creative visualisations that are responsive and expressive.

Audio visualisations have become an art form, and they’re a good example of technology being used to enhance music by giving it a new dimension. Of course, in order for these adventures to be successful, they have to be done well; a unique blend of culture and tech with a good understanding of both – which we’ve gotten quite good at, even if we say so ourselves. 

Have you seen any good examples of audio visualisations? Any awful ones? Please do share, we find it all quite fascinating.