Music and Data Visualization, part 3

With our Voyager: Interstellar Music and Science event coming up on April 26, we’re celebrating music and science all month long! And what better way to do so than with another music and data visualization/sonification post? Below are four fascinating science-based visualizations and sonifications that utilize classical music in incredible ways. So cool!

1. NeuroKnitting
Jenn came across this fantastic video awhile back. Brainwave activity of a person listening to a selection from Bach’s Goldberg Variations is tracked, recorded, and then visualized in the form of a wearable scarf. What a fantastic idea!

On why music instead of another sound sample was used:
“Because music is one of the most powerful mood inducers, provoking immediate affective reactions that can be deduced by looking at human physiology, as in the case of brain cortical activity.”

NeuroKnitting from varvara on Vimeo.

2. Solar Wind Sonification
solar wind sonification

True, the sound of solar wind realized as music is not a common consideration. But the result is incredible! The music in the video below was created from satellite-captured solar wind data. Thanks to composer Robert Alexander, we can listen to a representation of outer space!

3. What does 24hz look like?

Brusspup shows us that it is pretty easy to see what 24hz looks like. Definitely a fun DIY project! How many frequencies can you visualize?

4. Crystallized Sound

crystalized sound

Artist Tokujin Yoshioka created a stunning art installation based on growing crystals as influenced by musical vibrations. Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake was the catalyst for one of the pieces in his exhibition. Read more about Tokujin Yoshioka_Crystallize here.

Do you have favorite works of musical data visualization and sonification? We’d love to include them in our next post!

Spring is here! Let’s listen to some happy spring music.

Most of the U.S. is still waiting to thaw from a very long winter, so we put together a “Springtime Joy” playlist to help lift your spirits! Coax that snow to melt with this two-plus hour playlist full of spring music favorites. Most are happy, joyous, and light. And, of course, we included the intensely ornery Rite of Spring for good measure as well.

Head on over to our Rdio page and listen! We’d also love to add your springtime favorites–please add them in the comments section below. Happy Spring!

Marches Madness 2014!

marching band

March is here! In Salon97land that means it’s time for … Marches Madness! Throughout the month we are sharing an eclectic selection of marches across our social media channels. Join us on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or Tumblr to be a part of the fun! We’re also compiling a Marches Madness playlist on Rdio as we go along.

Do you have a favorite march? Let us know and we’ll add it to the mix!

The Salon97 Podcast is Now on iTunes!

itunesIt has been a long time coming, but we’re pleased to report that Salon97′s podcast is now available on iTunes! The series is nearly two years old now and has featured numerous composers and their work, complete with musical excerpts and fun facts. Listening recommendations and trivia in under 10 minutes can’t be bad, right? Start with our Martin Luther King Jr. episode and take it from there! All episodes are also available on Libsyn.

Is there a podcast topic you’d love to hear? Please let us know in the comments section below!

Gong Hey Fat Choy!

chinese new year

Image via ShareAlike 3.0

Happy Lunar New Year! The most important holiday of the year in China, Lunar New Year is also celebrated all over the world with parades, parties, lion dances, and more.

Here at Salon97, we celebrate Lunar New Year by putting together a playlist of great music to share with you! While China has its own musical tradition, many Chinese musicians have embraced western classical music as well, even after Mao Zedong banned western music during his reign. Those who wished to study western music in Mao’s era resorted to quietly practicing in secluded spaces and hiding sheet music under their floorboards.

Fast forward to the 21st century and musicians such as Lang Lang, Yuja Wang, Xuefei Yang, and Yundi have taken the world by storm. But it isn’t just Chinese performers who are contributing to today’s classical conversation–numerous Chinese-born composers are writing groundbreaking music that combines their native heritage and musical traditions with western classical music.

And it is awesome!

Below is a special playlist of music by Chinese-born composers:


Chen Yi
The piece: Sprout

Chen YiBorn in 1953 in Guangzhou, China, Chen Yi began studying piano at age three and took up violin soon after. Chen was one of many, as described above, who were forced to hide their western classical music study during the Cultural Revolution and was even sent to the countryside to perform “revolutionary operas” as entertainment for farmers.

Today, Chen Yi is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and is a recipient of the Charles Ives Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She was also the first woman to earn a Master’s degree in composition in China.  Over the course of her career, Chen has written works for Yo-Yo Ma, Yehudi Menuhin, the New York Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and many others; she is also known for her blending of western classical music and Chinese idioms.

Sprout was written in 1982 and is a depiction of dreaming and longing as evoked by meditation. Though composed for string quartet, the pitches are derived from a piece called “Secluded Orchid in the Mode of Jieshi” (written between 497 and 590) for an ancient Chinese 7-string zither called the guqin.

Other works by Chen Yi:


Su Cong
The Piece: Lunch

Su CongSu Cong was born in 1957 in Tianjin, China. His father, Su Xia, composed music in China’s revolutionary period. While studying at the Beijing Conservatory, Su Cong became interested in composition and went on to study ethnomusicology at the Free University in Berlin. He later became a film composer.

Su Cong won an Oscar for his contribution to the score for the 1987 film The Last Emperor. As a result of this success, he became a supervisor for the film music program at the Film Academy of Baden-Wurttemberg. He has also written music for several plays, a few string quartets, and a number of operas. Other film scores include: Empire of Silver (2009), Cell Phone (2003), and Jasmine Flower (2004).

“Lunch” was scored for guzheng (a zither) and dizi (a bamboo flute):


Kui Dong
The Piece: The Seasons

Kui DongKui Dong was born in Beijing, China in 1966 and is a composer, pianist, and teacher. She studied at the Beijing Conservatory after being forced to take up music by her mother, who was an opera singer. Her main area of study was western classical music, with a focus on French Impressionism. Like Chen Yi, she is known for incorporating traditional Chinese music into a contemporary context.

Written in 2006, “The Seasons” is an expression of fusion between both Chinese and American cultures. It was written for string quartet and guzheng, dulcimer, horse-head fiddle, and sheng (mouth organ), along with bass, tom-tom, cymbal, opera gongs, and temple blocks. It is an homage to Antonio Vivaldi and John Cage for their respective works for the seasons and, according to Dong, depicts the “free spirit of nature.”

Happy New Year!

Latest Podcast: Martin Luther King Jr. Loved Classical Music

Yes, it’s true! Martin Luther King Jr. studied classical music as a child and had a special place in his heart for the genre. We uncover the details in this podcast and also highlight a famous classical work that played a prominent role in King’s life. Do you know which piece it is?

Classical Music at the Movies: Aaron Copland, Spike Lee and “He Got Game”

The year is 1998. Filmmaker Spike Lee is ten movies into his career but things have hit a snag.  The writer/director’s last three movies have all been adapted from other people’s material and have done so-so with both audiences and critics. The harsher among them say that Lee–successful, admired, and a long way from earlier films (like Do The Right Thing) which have his stamp on every frame–is now phoning it in. For his next project, Lee thinks, he’s got to bring the “Spike Lee” back to “A Spike Lee Joint.” He’s got to write and direct. This story has to be both untold and recognizably his.

He calls the movie He Got Game. The premise: a father-and-son story about basketball. Untold? Not really. But then Lee jukes:  basketball is not just any sport, he’s argues, but more than football or baseball,  America’s Game.  To prove it, Lee opens with slow motion footage of hoops being shot in urban playgrounds and suburban driveways, by high school girls’ teams, across amber waves of grain. The music underneath, in case we didn’t get the message, is “John Henry” by Aaron Copland, a less-recognized piece by the most recognizably “American” composer of them all.  Copland, eight years dead at the time, even gets an onscreen credit.

Music by Aaron Copland

The idea that Aaron Copland–white, Jewish, gay, with a musical style that can feel like the aural equivalent of a Norman Rockwell painting–and Spike Lee (who also had Public Enemy contribute new songs to the film) could make beautiful movie music together intrigued and baffled interviewers. Never mind Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” is as much a sport’s cliche as Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” But when asked about it, Lee didn’t get very deep: Copland = America; Basketball = America; and Copland’s music was shorthand for this argument.

Spike Lee, perhaps the nation’s most famous basketball fan after Jack Nicholson, is not a director of small gestures. Grabbing handfuls of Aaron Copland to exalt his favorite sport may just seem like ham-fisted overreaching. But he’s up to more than that even though he didn’t say so, right from He Got Game‘s magisterial opening and its use of “John Henry.”

Copland based “John Henry,” a 1939 score he wrote for radio, on an American folk ballad. “John Henry” is the story of an African-American “steel driver” so strong he is challenged to defeat a steam-powered machine in a race to dig a railroad tunnel using only his own power. Henry wins, then dies immediately afterward with his hammer in his hands. Though debated whether a John Henry actually existed, the legend of a working man defeating a machine has been used since as an icon of both the American labor and Civil Rights movements.

“John Henry” opening the film against soaring footage of young Americans playing basketball is vintage Spike Lee and his love of myth. But cutting against it is the film’s anger over the exploitative value we place on the labor of African-Americans. The son of “He Got Game” is the nation’s greatest high school basketball player being wooed, lied to, and fought over by recruiters. They don’t care about him, his family, or his life after basketball. They don’t even care if he dies on the court like John Henry, as long as they squeeze enough wins out of him first.

Lee using “John Henry” to open the proceedings instead of, say, a far-better-known “Appalachian Spring” is a quiet note from a filmmaker not prone to keeping quiet: the America Aaron Copland mythologizes and the sport Lee has loved his whole life and mythologizes here, too, distracts us from a unassailably American truth–we build many of our beloved institutions on the cruelty of greed and the backs of the less powerful. College basketball is no more exempt from this than the railroad barons of long ago. The orange and round symbol of America’s Game says Spike Lee, his movie, and his collaborator Aaron Copland–when we stop cheering–can look an awful lot like John Henry’s hammer.

Music and Data Visualization, part 2

We’re back by popular demand with more music and data visualization! From an aural portrayal of climate change to classical masterpieces depicted with bar graphs, this latest selection of music and data is full of creativity and beauty.

1. Classical Masterworks as Bar Graphs

classical music visualized
We shared one of these with you last year as part of our blog post celebrating Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring‘s 100th birthday. Time for more! Via Musanim’s YouTube channel, watch a wide selection of classical works visualized with bars and dots to help you see patterns in the music as it plays. Very enchanting, and a great way to hear musical details you may not have recognized before–even for pieces you have heard many times.


2. From Carla: Anna Reinbold’s Symphonic Complexities

Symphonic Complexities
Designer Anna Reinbold visualized the number of keys used in a selection of famous symphonic works. Fascinating! Learn more here.
3. From Jenn: The Classical Music Universe
the classical music universe
Click anywhere on the map and see the influence and connections of various classical composers. Wow! Play with the Classical Music Universe constellation here.

4. A Song of Our Warming Planet
Song of Our Warming Planet
Daniel Crawford’s “A Song of Our Warming Planet” gives us new way to internalize the changes in global temperature over time. Instead of reading a chart, we can easily understand environmental changes simply by listening to the patterns depicted in the piece.

If you missed part 1 of the Music and Data Visualization series, see it here! Share your favorite music and data combo with us and we’ll add it to a future post!