Pi Day: Music and Math

On Pi Day, perhaps the geekiest of holidays, March 14 (3/14) is a day to celebrate all things numbers (irrational or not) and … pie. In celebration of this wonderfully nerdy holiday, we continue our Music and Data Viz series with a special Music and Math edition!

First things first, pi! Have you ever wondered what pi would sound like? Michael Blake made this wonderful video of pi. Sonified!

And Bence Peter’s piece for piano, based on the Fibonacci Sequence:

Now we turn to the beautifully mesmerizing work of Lawrence Ball. Ball is a composer, math teacher, and performer and is particularly interested in algorithmically-generated music. Here is one if his harmonic maths visualizations:
Lawrence Ball Harmonic Maths

Here is Ball’s “Triangles”: A “digital display of the waveform as you hear it as a low drone, with modulating harmonics, created by the shape you witness as it changes.”

And then there’s Beethoven! Natalya St. Clare’s TED-Ed video discusses Beethoven’s use of mathematics in the famous Moonlight Sonata:

 What is your favorite example of mathematics in music?


Did you know? The band Phoenix wrote Lisztomania in honor of composer Franz Liszt‘s stud factor.

Here’s Lisztomania by Phoenix (yes, it was featured on Gossip Girl, too. When that was a thing):

As for the term itself, “Lisztomania” was first coined by German critic/poet/journalist Heinrich Heine as he discussed the fanaticism and fandom surrounding virtuosic pianist and composer Franz Liszt. He was a bona fide chick magnet. And the phenomenon bore a striking resemblance to how today’s music fans revere icons such as Michael Jackson and The Beatles: swooning, screaming, and wearing broaches bearing Liszt’s portrait. Liszt lovers would fight over any physical souvenir possible; from coffee grounds, to cigar butts, and some even tried to steal locks of hair.

Lisztomania and Franz Liszt

A young, handsome, and enormously talented Franz Liszt.

Here is how Heine first described Lisztomania:

When formerly I heard of the fainting spells which broke out in Germany and specially in Berlin, when Liszt showed himself there, I shrugged my shoulders pityingly and thought: quiet sabbatarian Germany does not wish to lose the opportunity of getting the little necessary exercise permitted it… In their case, thought I, it is a matter of the spectacle for the spectacle’s sake…Thus I explained this Lisztomania, and looked on it as a sign of the politically unfree conditions existing beyond the Rhine.

And that isn’t where “Lisztomania” ends, either! In 1975, a film called Lisztomania was released; it has a reputation for being a pretty terrible movie.

Get started on your own Lisztomania with over an hour of Franz Liszt’s best!




Spooky Music for Halloween!

music for halloweenIt’s that time of year again,’tis the spooky-music-for-Halloween season!

Here are three classical Halloween hits, complete with fun facts and cocktail party-worthy trivia. Which is your favorite?

Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain

Modest Mussorgsky taught himself to compose by playing piano arrangements of orchestral compositions. And after his decline into alcoholism, he was known for his eccentric, erratic, and unreliable demeanor.

Night on Bald Mountain was originally titled “St. John’s Night on Bald Mountain” and celebrates St. John’s Eve, the shortest night of the year (June 23) despite the fact that we typically listen to this piece in autumn.

Mussorgsky’s composition was not heard in his lifetime. The version of Night on Bald Mountain we all know and love today was arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov–Mussorgsky’s original is rarely heard.

Learn more about Modest Mussorgsky and Night on Bald Mountain on the Salon97 podcast!

Camille Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre

Camille Saint-Saens, truly a compositional force to be reckoned with, began studying piano at age two-and-a-half and was known for writing in numerous classical genres: chamber music, orchestral music, opera, solo piano music, sacred and secular choral music, and concertos.

Danse Macabre was written in 1875, at the beginning of the darkest period of his life. He married in the same year, and both of the couple’s children died within six weeks of each other.

Hector Berlioz’s “March to the Scaffold” from Symphonie Fantastique

Hector Berlioz was an incredible romantic who pined after women, had torrid love affairs, and relished romantic literature. As a result of his father’s disapproval of Berlioz’ involvement in music, he never learned to play the piano but instead played guitar and lute.

Symphony Fantastique tells the story of an artist with a lively imagination who poisons himself with opium in the depths of despair caused by his hopeless love. The work was written for Irish actress Harriet Smithson. Harriet did not attend the original premiere, but Berlioz remained persistent and finally convinced her to attend a performance. Upon attending, she realized the piece was written for her. They courted, and this being painful for Berlioz, he convinced her to marry him by drinking a lethal dose of opium. When she said yes, Berlioz drank the antidote. They married after he recovered. Wow.

What are your favorite spooky pieces of classical music? Happy Halloween!

Also Sprach Zarathustra: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

also sprach zarathustraIn honor of Richard Strauss‘ 150th birthday, we compiled a selection of tributes to one of his most famous works: Also Sprach Zarathustra!

We know Also Sprach Zarathustra best from the opening sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, but did you know that Strauss’ music was originally intended to serve solely as placeholder sound until the film score was completed? Alex North, the successful Hollywood composer who was hired to write the score, did not learn of Kubrick’s decision to forgo use of his composition until the film premiered! Ouch.


Other Also Sprach Zarathustra fun facts:

-Strauss’ piece is an homage to Friedrich Nietzsche’s poem by the same name.

-Human life and nature are illustrated in the piece by using contrasting tonalities. Can you tell what they are?

-Also Sprach Zarathustra‘s fame is a result of its presence in the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The work wasn’t often performed (or heard) prior to its placement in the film.


And now for the tributes!

First, the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Without this one, the others probably wouldn’t exist!

Eumir Deodado’s jazz/funk Also Sprach Zarathustra rendition was released in 1972. Shake it down!

Do you dig dubstep? Check out Koyunbaba’s remix!

Phish got in on it too!

The list wouldn’t be complete without some Also Sprach Zarathustra fails. This is probably the best one out there. Get ready to laugh ’til you cry! WOW.

Okay, one more fail. We’ll stop while we’re ahead! (Or behind?)

Do you have a favorite Richard Strauss remix to share? Let us know!

5 Amazing Classical Music Flash Mobs

When apparently random members of a crowd come out of the woodwork to present a rehearsed performance, you have a flash mob! And with the increasing popularity of online video viewing, flash mobs are not only fun for the crowd who gets to see an unexpected live performance, but for internet users around the world as well.

While almost any type of performance can be presented by a flash mob, some of the most popular flash mob videos out there feature classical music. The facial expressions of the unsuspecting audience members are priceless!

Here are some favorite classical music flash mobs:

1. The Copenhagen Philharmonic performs Ravel’s Bolero at Copenhagen Central Station

2. “Ode to Joy” in Sabadell, Spain’s Placa de Sant Roc

3. The Opera Company of Philadelphia brings 650 choristers to Macy*s to perform the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Wow!

4. People’s Opera of Vienna perform Carmina Burana in the Wien Westbahnof train station. Complete with back flips and ticker tape!

5. Another rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus. This time in a mall food court!

Do you have a favorite classical music flash mob? Please share in the comments section below!

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!

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!

Music and Data Visualization, part 1

From musical discovery (classical and beyond!) to consuming various other forms of arts and culture, to reading articles and books on virtually any topic under the sun, we’ll devour just about anything you send our way. So, it’s little surprise that we love infographics. It’s even less surprising that we love, LOVE seeing data visualized through and about music. What could be cooler than that?!

Luckily for web surfers the world over, there is a bunch of data visualization in music out there. This is our first installment of some of our favorite bits of musical data:

1. From Jenn: Narratives 2.0
Beethoven's Fifth
Narrative 2.0 visualises music. The music was segmented in single channels. The channels are shown fanlike and the lines move from the center away with the time. The angle of the line changes according to the frequency of the channel, while the frequency reaching a high level, the channel becomes highlighted by orange. The visualisation should not necessarily return exact informations, even if the arrangement and uniformity of the music canbe read. The purpose was to create even more an aesthetically responding visualisation with the music as an artist.More here.

2. From Carla: Brain Pickings’ Synesthesia Spotlight

In addition to Estaban Diacono’s visualization of Olafur Arnalds’ music, the post features Stephen Malinowski and Michal Levy’s work. All great stuff! See the post here.

3. The Composer’ Political Compass
Composer Political Compass
This one is pretty self-explanatory! See the original post here.

4. From Kevin: Visualizing a Drummer’s Movements

Polish audio-visual artist Bartek Szlachcic has created many visualizations, and Portrait of a Ghost Drummer is just one of them. See more of his work here.

Do you have a favorite piece of musical data visualization? Please share! We’ll include it in a future post.