Nigel Stanford: Visualising Music

How did you decide to make a project including both science&art?
I have always been interested in music visualizers – things like graphic equalizers on stereos, and later on, visualizers on winamp and itunes. To me, they are always a little disappointing because they only have the mixed stereo track to drive them. I always wanted to see clean separation and have a visualizer for the bass and one for the guitar for example. Later on I saw that you could actually move matter with audio, and the idea was born.

Are you into science already?
Only as a hobby! I understand acoustics and resonance, and most of these experiments are based on this.

What was your first inspiration to begin such project?
In 1999 I watched a documentary on ‘Synesthesia’ – a disorder that effects the audio and visual functions of the brain. People with the disorder hear a sound when they see bright colors, or see a color when they hear various sounds. I don’t have it (I don’t think), but I have always felt that bass frequencies are red, and treble frequencies are white.

This got me thinking that it would be cool to make a music video where every time a sound plays, you see a corresponding visual element. Many years later, I saw some videos about Cymatics – the science of visualizing audio frequencies, and the idea for the video was born. 

[rev_slider nigel]

How long did it take to shoot and research process of this project?
Research was maybe 3 months. Another month to build the props, and the shoot was 2 days. Not long enough. The video took 18 months from start to finish.

Do you have any favorite scientist? Who is he/she, and why?
Perhaps DaVinci, because he was a scientist and artist, and amazing at both.

Your musical concept/attitude looks also very close to science. What do you mostly interested in? Universe and space stuff or more about electronics and engineering, or something else?
I’m interested in everything science and tech related. Space is a part of this, they are all related.

What do you think about interdisciplinary working? What would you like to mesh up if you have an opportunity? Tell us about your dream projects?
This was my dream project, now I need to think of something to follow up! For the next one, I would like to have access to an engineering shop and construct thing, perhaps robotics.

You made this music after the experiment, and what do you think about working backwards? Did you like it? Would you make music for another experiment and what could it be? Metamorphosis, biology, space science?
It was ok, it provided limitations for each instrument – for instance, the sand plate is not instantaneous, so each note needed to stay the same   long enough for the shape to have formed. Limitations are good, it makes things easier in some ways as you don’t have infinite possibilities.

Do you play live and do you plan to use such experiment on your live shows?
I have not played live for a long time, but I would like to. Almost all the experiments would work live.

How is life in Wellington? Do you play or join any natural ambient gatherings? Do you have any favourite gathering in NZ? Any underground interesting festivals?
Wellington is great to live in, but also the windiest city in the world! I haven’t been to any festivals or gatherings for a while so don’t know.

Can you tell us a bit about NZ music scene?
For a long time it was very small. When I grew up, studio time was expensive and not many bands could get a good sound. The radio only played US and UK songs and there would be about 1 NZ song played a year.   Then computers made recording cheap, and the internet made connecting to fans easy.  On the other hand, NZ is too small for bands to make a living from record sales.

I think overall it is better than it has ever been. Without the internet something like Lorde would not be possible. I’m sure she is inspiring other NZ singers and bands.

What can you tell us about the relation of frequencies and music? How do you feel about it?
When a sound has a consistent frequency we perceive it as a note. When two notes have frequencies that are related in a simple way, they sounds good together and sound like a musical chord. For instance the note A has 440 cycles per second, the note E has 660 cycles, or 1.5 times as many. Every 1.5 cycles they match up. All the notes of chords are related and all the chords are related to each other mathematically. I know all of this but I don’t think about it when I’m writing. I just hum a tune in my head and then play it out into the computer.

If you have to choose one of the experiments in your Cymatics video, which one would you choose? I mean, which one was your favorite as an experience?
I think the Ruben’s fire tube is the most fun. It’s visually cool, but also easy to control and consistent. Plus I built it myself.