The Music Animation Machine is software that Stephen Malinowski has developed, with an aim to bring another sense into the experience of classical music: namely, sight. Although his background and training made him very capable of reading music notation, for several decades he has been creating videos of visualizations of classical works, which show notes, musical gestures, and independent voices. As the 250th birthday of Beethoven approaches, he’s working with the Alexander String Quartet to animate all 16 of his quartets.

You can find out more about his work at Stephen Malinowski’s website.

His first experiments in showing what was going on in music were done by hand, with long scrolls, and a grid that showed motives and themes as they appeared, color coded. “At this point, I was just doing this just to see it, and to show it to people. So I would unroll this on the floor, put the music on the stereo, and then just walk along and point to where it was so that people could follow and look around.” He thought about using stop-motion animation, then a friend suggested it would be easier on a computer. He sees the simplicity and intuitiveness of the videos as a good entry point for music lovers who can’t decipher a score, and a way for people who have more musical knowledge to notice things they hadn’t before. “When you’re reading a score, there’s a computational load on your brain to decode it. And the more complex the score is, the more work you’re doing. And there’s a cost to that. The cost is that mental machinery isn’t available to do something else with… The animated graphical scores play on our native ability to pull the visual and the aural into one object. You might not understand that this visual thing is like that visual thing, but if you see it, then you can hear it. You know, one sense teaches the other.”

Here are a few examples from the many at his Youtube page: