Hearing With Your Eyes

A sensory experience, not a logical experience.

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Hearing with eyes

Blog post by Rose Sebastian


Visual music is a sensory experience, not a logical experience. Imagine listening to Beethoven and thinking how the French horns sound like your grandmother’s car. That type of thinking uses the wrong part of your brain and takes away your ability to enjoy the musical experience. Instead, we try to sit back and allow the show to become a sensory experience—a treat for our ears without the need to find symbolism in every note and sound.

An audio composition derives its meaning from the sounds themselves and not from sounding like something else. If we added “real world” sounds to Beethoven’s symphony, our brains would process the music in different ways, which would work against the sensual communication that is the essence of music. Music is an instantaneous experience with sounds deriving their meaning from the sounds that came before them and not from what they represent in the real world. Our goal in visual music is to create a sensory experience similar to a symphony, where sensations and power come from what you feel and not what things represent.

Yet our brains are constantly seeking meaning when we look at visual art. We don’t experience a realistic movie as blue photons rushing across a screen. Instead we see what the photons represent—actors engaged in a daring car chase or clinched in an embrace. The pattern making part of our brain is expert at finding faces hidden in dots and representative images hidden in even abstract art. If our visual music included real world images or recognizable patterns, the pattern making part of the viewer’s brain would take over and begin to analyze the scene.

In order to transform the viewer’s eyes from data collectors and meaning makers to sensory receptors, we create worlds without patterns, without representation. The objects and images we create and choose do not resemble real world objects and images. Rather than remaining static those objects and images constantly change, giving the pattern making part of the viewer’s brain nothing to hold onto.

Instead of creating a representational world for the viewer, we create a world of sensory stimulation where motions, colors, and brightness elicit emotional responses without rational thought intruding. This non-symbolic communication represents a universal language, similar to that of audio music, one where communication occurs through sensory stimulation and responses rather than lived experiences or learned phrases.