Visual Music Systems

Stopping time

It was the early 1980s, maybe 1981. Bill had a fellowship type position at the University of Mass in Boston at the Center for Media Development. The university had a full television studio and state of the art audio equipment. About four levels below their library were the giant rooms that we almost hallways. They let Bill take over one of the giant rooms in the labyrinth.

Going solo

It was 1979. Bill was performing with Sun Ra’s Arkestra at the SoundScapes Performance Center on West 55th street in Manhattan. The band was doing breakdowns. Players were being called on to solo while everyone else put down their instruments. First Sun Ra called on a drummer and then a sax player and then he pointed to Bill and said it was his turn to solo.

Seeing color in a HMD

Light does not have color—and our perception of color is relative. You might not notice this in a brightly lit room but put on a HMD and you can create new colors and manipulate your perceptions of colors in a whole new way.

Some pioneering work in the relativity of color vision was done by beings Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid in the 1950s when he was researching the perception of color.

Inventing colors in VR

In environments where an artist has total control over the optics, colors can be created which do not exist in normal environments. Blues can be created that are more blue; reds that are more red; and other colors synthesized that lack names. Because the range of sensation exceeds what is possible outside these artificial environments, we call them “hyper-colors”. Visual musicians working in virtual reality can actually create—invent new colors.

Creating colors in a shadow world

When you work in a range too dark for the cones in the eyes to perceive, you can create images that the viewer half sees and half imagines. This is designing in the scotopic range, a range with too little luminance for the retina cones to function. This becomes a shadow world where viewers struggle to identify what they are seeing and what they are imagining.

Dr. Seuss and visual music

Besides Sun Ra, Dr. Seuss has been one of the biggest influences on the creation of the OVC-3D and on Bill’s approach to music and reality. The Cat in the Hat was released in 1957 when Bill was just learning to read. Back then, beginning readers were forced to endure Dick and Jane in their tame, uptight world in order to learn to read. Dr.Seuss changed all of that.

The perseverance in creativity

There are lots of theories out there about creativity from Skinner’s theory that creative people are no more original than a chicken laying an egg to theories of divinely inspired creativity. Here are some of our musings on the topic.

Creativity is about bringing something into the world that didn’t exist before

Mastering the moving target

Back in the 1970s, computers were clunky and the only way to make visual music was with a towering, looming machine. Flash forward to the age of super powerful computers, virtual reality headsets, and software that can create visual music even more beautiful than the old machine. Yet in the freedom of the digital age, something has been lost. The purity of playing, of mastering an instrument and working with its imperfections is in danger of being lost.