Sonic Innovation #10 - Turn Your Favourite Songs into Art
Music paints an instant picture in the mind. Morrissey conjures up forlorn seaside towns, Drake illustrates VIP lounges, and Prince exhibits a land where everything is purple, even the oranges. The combination of music, melody, and lyrics transports us into their world - we depict an alternate universe based on a song. A graphic designer from Germany called Hendrik Hohenstein has this idea out of our mind and on to our computer screen - he’s designed a website that turns music into a series of patterns.
Called (Dis)play That Song, the system divides a song intro three components: music genre, song length, and lyrical content. You put in the song that you’d like illustrated and bango - you’re treated with an image that can be printed out and stuck on your wall. Every song in the world isn’t available - I really wanted a poster of JME’s “Serious” and couldn’t find it - but most popular songs can be found on the site.
I spoke with Hendrik Hohenstein about the patterns that are created, the meaning behind the project and the future of visual music.
Noisey: How did you come up with the idea?
Hendrik: Music is one of the main ingredients I use as inspiration - I’m a graphic designer. When I listen to a song I like, I wonder about how it would look like if it was a visual element. What would the colours be? What shapes would it consist of? It’s not just about visualising the music itself, the different sounds and rhythms, but rather about what the song communicates. Is it a ballad about heartbreak or a rock song about a peculiar lifestyle? All these questions were the starting point for this project.
How does the system work?
The system of this application divides a song into three components and analyses them: music genre, song length and lyric content. Each component provides graphic elements to be combined afterwards, in order to generate the final poster layout. The music genre determines the colours that will be used in the poster. For example, pop music indicates a bright yellow and rock music a dark red. When a song is considered to belong to more than one genre, a gradient is created. The patterns in the poster visualise the lyric content of each song - keywords were created and the patterns were used depending on how the keyword was used in a song. The duration of the song defines the arrangement of the patterns.
What was your aim with the project?
At the beginning I just wanted to experience what it would be like to transform music into an image. But after designing the graphic system I wanted the project to become something more. I decided to convert the project into an online application in order to enable people to experiment and discover what their favorite song would look like. It also provides them with an opportunity to explore different genres, artists, and songs purely through a visual medium. I hope people will use my application as a tool to have fun and to discover different visuals. (Dis)play that song is my personal interpretation of looking at music which I want to share with people.
What artist/song displays the most striking pattern to you?
Two of the nicest posters I have (Dis)played are "Shake it Out" by Florence and the Machine and "Addicted to You" by Avicii.
They’re amazing to look at - could you explain the pattern of one of the keywords?
When I designed the patterns, it was important for me to visualize the vibe rather than something literal. For example, for "love" I would never have used hearts. The pattern had to communicate visually what the song is about and give a first impression. For example, negative keywords like "accident" or "war" apply opaque backgrounds in order to seem more tense. Calm categories use rounded and light elements, and negative and vibrant categories use sharp elements. One of my favorite patterns is "loneliness" which is based on a couple of little dots. There is a lot of space between these dots in order to evoke the feeling that something is missing - these dots seem to be lost in the big space they are placed in.
Could we catalogue music using patterns?
This would be difficult because pattern representations are objective. I don't think all patterns will work equally for everybody, specially thinking about other cultures. Maybe an arrow or a circle do not make the same association in different continents.
Makes sense, thanks Hendrik! I'm going to go print out Taylor Swift's album and stick it on my wall.
Follow Dan on Twitter: @KeenDang