Interactive Synesthesia (part 1…)

I love music visualization and explorations of synesthesia. MOCA’s 2005 amazing exhibition Visual Music, highlighted a wide (and deep) range of work tracing the development of music in the visual arts. For example, one of the show’s featured artists John Whitney (who’s son, by the way, was one my earliest employers), created amazing work which stands among of the pinnacles of early computer animation.

There are lots and lots of other fantastic examples (and I’ll keep trying to insert references to them into my future posts). But finding interactive works is difficult, and they are rarely very satisfying. But… there are two, which I just recently discovered, that I think are pretty cool, and worth a mention.

The first is the iPhone and iPad app Bloom. Created by music pioneer Brian Eno, Bloom allows you to generate ambient audio, with supporting visualizations, using the simplest of touch gestures — it doesn’t try to impress with technical tricks. It’s “just” gentle and beautiful. And it doesn’t require constant interaction — so you can control the pace and intensity of the experience.


The second, on the more pop end of the spectrum, is the website for the Spanish band Labuat‘s song “Soy Tu Aire.” It’s a linear journey, in which you get to be the the conductor of the song. You don’t have any control of the audio, but your command of the visuals is very engaging. Eye blog has an interview with Rafa Soto, one of the designers of the site. The post’s author, John L. Waters, describes expressions like this as:

“Intimate experiences like this, which can be enjoyed on a laptop or iPad using headphones, are perhaps the natural successor to the involvement fans used to feel with twelve-inch sleeves, as something to dote on.”

It may not be perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction. Finding the right mix of user interactivity and artist control (ie. storytelling), so that you want to participate, but aren’t overwhelmed by choices, is tricky. I’d love to see more and more forms of this type of experience in the future…