Thursday, August 29, 2019

Adding a visual element makes music more memorable


According to a recent study by the University of Iowa people are more likely to remember something they see than something they hear. Amy Poremba, associate professor of pychology at the university explains that "If you really want something to be memorable you may need to add a visual or hands-on experience". This visual bias is being strengthened by the preeminence of graphic content in digital media - video games, Instagram, Facebook etc. Early in the 20th century the importance of visual stimuli was recognised. Wassily Kandinsky, who was a trained pianist and cellist as well as artist, highlighted the importance of synesthesia, the cross-sensory perceptual fusion of colour and sound. In Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911) Kandinsky wrote that:
Color directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposively, to cause vibrations in the soul.
During the intervening 100 years fusions of colour and sound have been exploited very successfully in events such as the wildly popular Elrow dance music parties - see photo below. Classical music needs to appeal to a wider audience and that means making listening to the music a memorable experience. But the possibilities offered by fusing sound and visuals are not being explored, despite pioneering efforts by synesthesia enthusiast Alexander Scriabin and 'Heavy Organ' exponent Virgil Fox. In fact, while colour and sound have converged in other music genres, they have diverged in the classical tradition, which remains fixated solely on acoustic excellence. Which is illogical given classical music's preoccupation with reaching a wider audience - a cohort steeped in visual stimuli.


But exceptions to this neglect of the visual can be found lurking on the unclassifiable margins of classical music. One of the boldest visual expressions of music comes from ambient composer Robert Rich with his latest and appropriately titled release Tactile Ground. The double CD comes in a gatefold digipak containing a 16 page booklet showcasing the composer's artworks created using the decalcomania technique of colour transfer - see accompanying visuals. In his autobiography the friend of John Cage and Zen proselytizer Alan Watts wrote how:
Conventional music, as well as conventional speech, have given us prejudiced ears, so that we treat all utterances which do not follow their rules as static, or insignificant noise. There was a time when painters, and people in general, saw landscape as visual static - mere background. John [Cage] is calling our attention to sonic landscape, or soundscape, which simultaneously involves a project for cleaning the ears of the musically educated public.
If you have a compatible replay system the track The Sentience Of Touch from Tactile Ground can be sampled streaming in the mp4 format with 442 kbps multichannel sound via this link. With this new multidisciplinary project Robert Rich builds on John Cage's sonic landscapes to create an immersive and engaging experience which provides much food for creative thought. The first step to solving a problem is understanding it. Ein Deutsches Requiem with disco lighting is quite obviously the wrong solution. But understanding and exploring the stimuli that the digital generation responds to is the first step towards solving the problem of how classical music can rejuvenate its audience. There is much that the classical tradition can learn from its trance music cousin....


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