The Friday post

What we want to do is to show people that “classical” music is a living, vibrant tradition that is far from being the museum art of dead men played incredibly formally by people dressed very uncomfortably.

That’s a statement by Armano Bayolo, director of the Great Noise Ensemble, which might be Washington, DC’s leading new music group. It’s printed in the program book for the concert they gave a week ago.

And this is the first of my Friday Posts, in which I’ll pass on things that I’ve found out about, mostly things that show how quickly — widely, deeply — classical music is changing. I can’t do full blog posts on everything that reaches me, but I think it’ll be helpful to pass along as much of it as possible.

And I’ll add some other things that interest me. The blog, as I’ve been writing it, reflects so little that I do, learn, think about. I’d like to fix that.

Something irresistible

turkish blogA Turkish youth orchestra rehearsing the end of the William Tell overture, with unbounded joy. And not exactly sitting still. Some of them started playing their instruments just four months ago, which makes the quality astounding. Much credit to their conductor, who, I’m told comes from Sistema Guatemala, which I didn’t know existed (much less that it was spreading itself into Europe). Many thanks to my Swiss friend Etienne Abelin for tell me about this! Deeply touching

Deeply touching

human req blogSomething else Etienne told me about — the “Human Requiem,” a Berlin performance of the Brahms Requiem, in which the chorus (accompanied by two pianos) sang from memory, while moving slowly around the performance space. Sometimes the singers moved individually, sometimes they moved in groups. The audience, too, was free to move. The effect, I’m told, could be overwhelming; the voices had an almost physical impact. Here’s part of a rehearsal, in which some of that impact really does come across. And here’s a review of the performance, skeptical in part, but also testifying to the power of what happened.

Amazing animation

rite animation 2 blogFrom Stephen Malinowski, a truly amazing — and I say this as a very serious musician — animation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. (First part, second part.) With bright, sharp dabs of color showing the shape of the music, as you listen. (Much livelier than what comes across in the bit I’ve reproduced here.) The piece comes to life before your eyes. It’s like score reading for people who don’t read scores, though in many ways it’s better than reading the score. Reading the score gives you musical information; Malinowski gives the impact of the music. I learned things I hadn’t quite been aware of — the persistence, in just about every melodic line, of something like the contours of the opening bassoon solo. And the persistence, too, of the crunch! offbeats in the first fast section of the piece, so famous in themselves, but also echoed by sudden jabs throughout the score.

Such a contrast, I have to say, to a Beethoven Ninth iPhone and iPad app from Deutsche Grammophon, with three attempts to visualize the score, all feeble. A truncated view of the score is almost impossible to follow. A view of notes in the piece, represented by horizontal bars, tells you almost nothing. A view of sections of the orchestra — dots lighting up when musicians sitting in each place play — is blah, and rather than enhance what you hear, simply echoes it. Maybe good for people who don’t know the sound of strings from trombones (and, of course, they need to be served), but not useful beyond that.

What you do get, if you pay $7.99 for the full version, is four very different recordings of the piece, a nice selection: Ferenc Frscay, Bernstein, Karajan, and John Eliot Gardiner. Not to sneeze at!

But the Malinowski animation is sheer magic. The performance is synthesized, expertly, with samples, much as orchestral-sounding TV scores are generated. Maybe some people will object to that, but again, it’s an expert job, and didn’t bother me.

Seattle singalong

The Seattle Opera publicized its annual Ring cycle with a Wagner singalong two days ago.

brunnhilde blogFrom an email press release:

All ages, voice types, and shower singers welcome!
(Want to just watch?  That’s ok too!)

Join Seattle Opera for a community sing-along on the occasion of Richard Wagner’s 200th birthday.  Enter a contest for best Ring character costume and/or give your best (or most creative) rendition of Brunnhilde’s “Hojotoho” war cry — judges will award prizes, both men and women are encouraged to join the fun.

Admission is FREE, and yes, there will be cake!

Here’s a story about this from the Seattle Times website, including video (ineffable) of a Brunnhilde contestant.

And a page from the Seattle Opera website, introducing the choral singalong for those who might want to join it.

Very human artist bio

Musicians’ bios, as printed in classical music program books and publicity, are mostly unreadable, long lists of blank achievements, with nothing about what kind of person — or even what kind of artist — the musician is. But here’s a big exception: William Eddins, music director of the Edmonton Symphony, headlines himself on his website as “Conductor, pianist, and really good cook.”

With a bio to match:

Bill has many non-musical hobbies including: cooking, eating, discussing food, and planning dinner parties. He is also quite fond of biking, tennis, reading, and pinball. Unfortunately, due to pianistic paranoia his days in the martial arts are long over.

His bio on the orchestra’s website is more restrained, but still very human.

The Cliburn loosens up

The irrepressible pianist/entrepreneur Jade Simmons hosts all kinds of online things for this year’s Cliburn competition — informal interviews with contestants, tours of Fort Worth fashion and nightspots, reactions from people in the audience after contestants play. This is no small thing — a major relaxtion, major explosion in how an established classical music institution presents itself. Bringing it right into the world we all live in.

That’s it for this week. A lot to write about! And this was only a selection. More in weeks to come, and if you’ve got something you’d like me to mention, let me know.


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  1. Steve Ledbetter says

    Wonderful column today, Greg…i’ll be awaiting each Friday’s edition eagerly. The Rite of Spring animation is sensational. Another thing it shows very clearly, in addition to the ubiquity of the bassoon figure that you mentioned, is Stravinsky’s way of composing in blocks, with abrupt shifts from one to another. I enjoyed all of the items today but that is one to keep and pass on to musician and non-musician alike.

    • says

      Steve, great that you like these animations! Did you know that Stephen Malinowski, the Rite visualizer, animated Bjoerk’s entire last album Biophilia for the iOS app?

    • says

      Thanks so much, Steve. And great point about the Rite! That’s one more thing that becomes so clear in the animation. Good call!

  2. says

    Rossini, Brahms, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Wagner….these are STILL the names we are offering?? Perhaps classical music isn’t the living vibrant tradition we’d all like to think it is.

    • says

      Peter, see Etienne’s comment above. But, beyond what he says, classical music is evolving in many ways at once. Some of them involve far more performance of new music, by mainstream groups, than we used to see. I was struck, just for instance, reading through the latest issue of Opera News, by how many of the singers interviewed talked proudly of how many new pieces they were doing, and how much they liked them. Wouldn’t have seen that 10 years ago. And orchestras are playing far more new works than they used to.

      And then there’s the explosion of indie classical composition. And, of course, what you’ve done with Broadway composers’ classical pieces.

      One thing to understand about my Friday posts, which wouldn’t be clear from the first one: They’re dependent on what comes to my attention each week. Sometimes it’ll be new music, sometimes not.

      But the most important thing is that all these changes evolve together. Changes in how old works are presented help free the field from its old ways, and help open the door to more new music.

      As one final thought, performances of old music aren’t about to go away. I’m very conscious of that, because of my teaching. My students are wedded to the old music, even if they love new music, too. So there’s not much point in haranguing the classical music world, demanding that it abruptly change its ways. Far better to help along the evolution of every change possible, and to make the performances of old music as free and expressive and individual and surprising as they can be. Even in the future, when classical music has been fully reborn, we’ll be hearing the old works, just as theater companies still do Shakespeare and Chekhov, and museums, along with all their terrific shows of contemporary art, are still showing the impressionists.

      • says

        Hey Greg, I understand and agree that the scene is changing, and that’s a good thing. However, as you know the classical music industry is really good at pretending to embrace change while doing effectively nothing. Reading a blog post about examples of the wide and deep changes in the classical industry makes it hard for me to ignore that this week’s examples (and yes, I know it’s only the first week!) contain Beethoven 9, Rite of Spring, and William Tell. If I were writing a comedy sketch about the unchanging classical industry insisting on its relevancy, those are exactly the examples I would have used. You know I deeply support you, and I appreciate that you can only draw from what’s happening in the industry in any given week, but these particular examples are (to me, at least) unpersuasive.

        I’ll do my best to try and find you some others!:)

  3. says

    “What we want to do is to show people that “classical” music is a living, vibrant tradition that is far from being the museum art of dead men played incredibly formally by people dressed very uncomfortably.” And then every example – Rossini, Brahms, Stravinsky and Beethoven – is drawn from the museum art of dead men! Despite a recent major study that shows that audience aversion to new music is largely in the mind of conductors and symphony boards, the Prime Directive must never be disobeyed. Flash strobes, dance while you play – heck, hang the conductor from a rope if you choose – but never, never deviate from the Prime Directive: to play only approved music by dead composers. Sad, because programming art that reflects our time might make all the theatrics unnecessary. But how will we ever know?

    • says

      David, and Peter: that’s not entirely fair – while the examples Greg lists today focus on exciting re-contextualisations of music by dead composers, he has often and will often feature new music, as an absolutely crucial part of the living, vibrant “classical” music culture of today. Why demand that each post has to be perfectly balanced in that respect? I can’t even start to list the new music that has been featured on this blog: Mason Bates, New Amsterdam Records, Nonclassical London of Gabriel Prokofiev, Blind Ear and and and…

    • says

      David, please see my reply to Peter Sachon. I love the passion in your comment, but I think you’re exaggerating, rather greatly, what’s going on in the mainstream classical world right now. As I said to Peter, the amount of new music played has strongly increased, even if old music still dominates. And, as I said to Peter, we’re talking about a greatly varied evolution in the field, in which all the changes gradually flow together. I hope you can see that.

  4. ariel says

    The Rite of Spring is much like dinner theatre — where the dinner is second rate and
    the theatre is even worse .

      • Ariel says

        You know I meant the animation — even before the Stokowski & Disney 70 yr. old
        nonsense down to the present nonsense by Malinowski one imagines there were
        people who think images the moment they hear music . Turn off the sound and the doodling by Malinowski means nothing, just blips – Turn on the sound and a world opens up
        now just the doodles by Malinowski think Rite of Spring -nothing
        Play the music again and think Rite of Spring – The impact – stunning sound .
        A musician looking at the score can in his mind hear the sounds -Malinowski
        and his work tells you nothing -it is all after the fact game playing .
        The interesting thing to note is how the great music can withstand the the likes of Malinowski and those who think music to be a visual experience. Thank heavens one can still go to an art gallery
        and look at a painting in silence without some orchestra or fiddler playing music to enhance the viewing pleasure .It is disconcerting to note how music is game for any lame brain who
        thinks they have an original idea . There are even wonderful words to describe no talent
        “re-contextualisation ” -who would dare stand up to that word ?Certainly not those that
        see music. We need more those that just hear music .

        • says

          Ariel: fair enough that these and all other attempts of combining music and visuals don’t give you anything. And I’m sure the same is true for many other people. Nothing wrong with that. But if you read many of the comments on Malinowski’s channel, you’ll see that for a lot of people, it’s different: they often report a deeper experience and a successful first contact with classical music (“finally I understand something”). A good number of parents report interesting observations of their, sometimes small, children with the visualizations over the years. Why slash those experiences the way you do it? Aren’t they equally valid as yours? You mention “after the fact game playing”: if it were that, I might (partly) agree with you. But in the case of Malinowski’s visuals, you forget the right part of the screen – the “future”. I’m quite sure that it’s precisely this help of building an expectation that leads many people to resonate more deeply with the listening experience and grasp something where otherwise they are lost. And as for the visual experience: I’ve played countless concerts with artists like Abbado, Boulez, Haitink and studied many scores and can assure you that for me the visual component is absolutely crucial in grasping musical coherence. I suppose that different people learn differently: some with a stronger visual sense, some with much less of that and a different focus. Which may explain why some artists connect to these visuals and others don’t and some concert halls, festivals and museums start including the visuals in their programs and others don’t. So many interesting questions to explore and discussions to lead – and this is only the beginning. There’s enormous space to further develop the field of visualizations with music, be it in Malinowski’s style or completely different approaches.

        • says

          One thing I notice about you, Ariel, is that you talk as if you’re always right, and as if everyone who disagrees with you is always wrong. And also that you feel little need to explain yourself. I don’t presume to teach you manners, logic, or writing, but you’d be more useful here if you’d understand that sometimes what you say isn’t clear. That’s no shame. It happens to all writers. And it would help, too, if you’d understand that sometimes it’s not evident why you make some of your sweeping judgments. Malinowski is nonsense, you say. Well, why? I’m happy to hear a view opposed to mine, but you’re not giving me anything to work with. Just a word, delivered like a slap to the face. (I don’t mean my face.) Tell us something about what you don’t like about the animation. And also tell me why people who know music very well, and know that piece well, don’t think the animation is nonsense. I can read the score as easily as I watch the animation. Plus I’ve studied it. And still I learned things from the animation that I didn’t learn from the score, or from hearing the piece many times over my 30+ years in this business. I may be foolish, gullible, or even ignorant, but you’re not showing me why — in loving the animation — I might be any of these things. I’d love to learn from you. Help me to do that!

          • Ariel says

            But I have told you is that music is always about sound – a composer never asks you to see his latest work he asks you to hear it ,and from my over than
            40+ years in the field if the composer hands you the score he expects or hopes you hear it in your minds ear -at least it is so with the composers I have come across. The
            Malinowski doodling, is after the fact -and is sterile without the music – he gets between listener and the music and presents his personal response to the music with his
            doodling . You are not foolish , gullible or even ignorant just go back to the score.
            The score tells everything. Music is about sound ,to think otherwise is not to
            understand the abstract art …animation is about animation which more often than not uses
            sound to enhance itself but it ain’t music and doesn’t explain anything that is not
            already there . I make no sweeping judgement ,facts are facts.

          • Rick Hefner says

            Stephen Malinowski is to classical music or music theory what Justin Bieber is to pop music. Like Bieber, Malinowski would not even be a conversation piece were it not for YouTube and the masses drinking the Kool Aid and encouraging others to follow. There are literally thousands of comments on Malinowski’s videos suggesting how amazing it is to show the mathematics or even the chemistry of music, and that it is real science, while Malinowski and every serious music professional who has watched and commented on his work in the positive, sit idly by without even attempting to correct these misconceptions. So over time, enough people are charmed by the shiny colors and actually begin to believe that his work is real science and maybe even proven. They find it quaint that Malinowski received his vision for this ‘art’ by taking LSD. Malinowski has never written an accepted scientific paper defining any fundamental science to his work, nor substantiated any proposed claims. In fact, in places on his website, he states that he could find no solution between color and sound. Music educators and theorists, don’t even pay attention to the details of his suggested theory, as they contribute to the cacophony. Has anyone even looked at his color circle? What music tuning is it suggesting? He never uses alphabet names or sharps and flats. Instead he uses Roman Numerals. On his circle there is clearly a [Sharp V’] next to a [Flat III]. By all classical definition, that defines a Wolf Tone. It also means that the circle is not closed, which by definition means it is not a circle. In no way is it then a Circle of 5ths (Fifths). Malinowski’s claim is that he correlates the artist’s color circle to the Circle of 5ths. Clearly there is no Circle of 5ths, so what does he mean by the artists color circle? Most musicians, and certainly the masses, don’t have the knowledge to even consider what Malinowski is suggesting. Most people, think THE color circle exists as a scientific fact, as if there is ONE accepted scientific color circle. Does he mean a subtractive or additive color circle? The word ‘artist’ in respect to color generally refers to those who use paint. Paint utilizes subtractive mixing and a subtractive color wheel. In no way is his color wheel anywhere close to any historically accepted 12 division subtractive color wheel. His color wheel also does not adhere to one of the accepted CIE additive color wheels or CIE color spaces defined by the opponency theory of color (Hurvich, 1957). His color wheel stands alone. It is arbitrary in so many ways. One serious flaw with his color wheel is that he has fully saturated colors next to highly desaturated colors which is completely skews a the perception of color by any scientific standard.
            So why is this important? This discussion began on two fronts. One was the Rite of Spring as a composition and two was new mediums of representation for the future of classical music. If the aforementioned performance of the Rite of Spring had been performed in an historical tuning which contained a Wolf Tone, it would have been a complete disaster and audiences would have cringed from the sounds they heard. They would have thought the performers to be amateurs by not being able to stay in tune. Is color any different? No. Malinowski’s color palette is so skewed, that if converted literally to pitches, it would be worse than any tuning which contained even 2 Wolf Tones. Certainly, the group of critics commenting on this performance would provide the most vehement criticism of such a performance if it were so poorly tuned. In fact, it wouldn’t even be music as it is accepted. Tuning matters. Choosing 12 arbitrary pitch classes does not music make. The same is true of color. If color can be correlated to pitch, would the correlation be arbitrary? By the fact that no one commented on these issues, one would assume that all of you (except for Ariel) would say that any assignment of color would suffice and be real science. If that is true, then why not use one of the other gimmickry colors schemes such as Boomwhacker, the Rainbow Piano Technique color scheme, or one of the color schemes of the many randomly colored toy pianos? Wouldn’t any one of them convey the things you think you perceived through Malinowski’s color scheme? Or is it because Malinowski has invoked the name Scriabin on so many occasions to give him an aura of credibility? For those interested, Scriabin’s color wheel did not even complete the full spectrum of color and included such colors as flesh or glint of steel. Anyone suggesting Scriabin’s color wheel would provide any reasonable correlation to pitch would encounter the same severe issues as those of Malinowski’s color correlation.
            Serious scholars should ask serious questions and not be fooled by shiny colors, nor believe everything they see in the movies. What is even more of a disservice, is that real science gets trampled in this process. There have been many serious scholarly investigations into possible correlations between color and various components of sound (not just pitch). For example, Yilmaz in 1967 presented a new theory correlating color to sound which was widely acclaimed by serious scholars and garnered much supporting evidence for the claims after the fact. Serious scholars should never outright dismiss that such correlations exist. However any individuals who attempt to correlate color to sound should never be taken seriously if they cannot demonstrate scientific validity to their claims which will hold up under scrutiny. Isn’t that the essence of the scientific method? Or is music just ‘art’ devoid of science? Maybe it is. Maybe that is why the classical domain has lost it’s influence. Its too easy for the Justin Biebers and Stephen Malinowskis of the world to garner pop attention and appear as something relevant by superficially hogging all the airspace. Maybe if music were still being treated as a science like the historical masters perceived it to be, the general public would regard it with different eyes.
            The claims of what Malinowski’s visuals convey could just as easily be conveyed in Western sheet music scrolling in realtime to a virtuoso performance with a few added markers. The color is unnecessary. Since Malinowski’s color wheel has serious scientific flaws, how could it be argued that unconsciously, the incompatibility between his color wheel and the various pitches might be psychologically subverting the actual perceived harmony of the piece regardless of what other perceptions are claimed? Wouldn’t it be more prudent for serious scholars to subject his work to serious academic testing before making so many assumptions and welcoming it untested into the academic fold? The Western music system was not created arbitrarily. In fact, there are still many heated debates on topics such as tuning, yet clearly, the tuning of color (according to the previous commentators) is irrelevant or not even considered. If serious scholars believe that Malinowski actually has created something of value, then let your voices be heard in the press and demand that Malinowski for one – publicly present all scientific evidence which supports his ideas and to quit hiding behind the sensationalism of the masses, two – charter academic studies which will validate or dismiss any proposed science of Malinowski, three – charter academic studies which would validate whether anything of substance is actually being obtained by watching his videos, and four – charter academic testing to demonstrate the psychological effects of correlating Malinowski’s arbitrary color wheel to various tunings of pitch. Otherwise, Malinowski’s visuals might just have the unintended consequence of undermining music education and theory in unforeseen ways.

  5. says

    Rick, you write: “Or is music just “art” devoid of science? Maybe it is.” I think you are correct. Music is generally considered an art and not a science. You lament this. But most people, me included, think that this makes for the beauty and mystery of it and art in general. What which melody, rhythm or an entire piece means is open to discussion, depends on contexts of all sorts and on the poetic framework with which we choose to approach it. Hence the intriguing variety in interpretative takes on composed pieces of music. Sure, there are certain more or less logical frameworks that at certain times influenced composers in their writing. But that doesn’t turn music into a science. And the same is true for choices of color for certain pitches in visualizations. I have my preferences, someone else has others and certainly there’s room for debate and further investigations and developments. But that all this undermines music education is a really bizarre claim. The many educators who are already using Malinowski’s work successfully in their classrooms would certainly shake their heads in disbelief.

    • Rick Hefner says

      Malinowski and others have mentioned priming in discussion of his videos. The idea being that the videos prime the viewer. Consider then the following series of tests.

      Group A Testing:
      Test 1: Introduce a specific Malinowski video to a class of music theory students at a university in which no student has ever previously heard of Malinowski. Use a simple composition by a composer such as Rameau which is not likely to be known aurally, and which has only one modulation from tonic to dominant and back. In order to ascertain the validity of the tonality claim, the sound should be turned off so that the test is strictly reliant on the visual. After the video has played, ask the students to write down anything they may have observed through the lens of color. There should be no commentary on the results.

      Test 2: Play a new composition which does not modulate from tonic. Apply all the same conditions as in Test 1, including a song which is not likely to be known. Again ask the students to write down anything they may have observed. There should be no commentary on the results.

      Test 3: Play another new composition which does not modulate from tonic. Apply all the same conditions. Ask the students to write the points in time when the piece modulates. There should be no commentary on the results.

      Test 4: Prime the students by suggesting to them that they can tell when a change in tonality occurs by a change in the color palette. Play another unknown new song which modulates from tonic to dominant and back with all the same conditions. Ask the students to identify the time in the video when the modulations occurred. Apply the same conditions. There should be no commentary on the results.

      Test 5: Pick another new composition of a less known composer from the Romantic period which contains multiple modulations to different keys, including a Circle of 5ths progression within the development section. Ask the students to write down the time at every modulation. Furthermore, they should attempt to define the interval distance between keys at every modulation point, which is really to say that they should be able to define each key by a color region. This would be particularly challenging. Think about it. According to Malinowski’s color palette, the tonic of the key of C is Blue. Yet the tonality that Malinowski states is apparent would not define the color of the key of C to be Blue as the totality of color for that key would be more prevalently defined by the Reds to Orange would it not? This point should be deeply considered as a legitimate issue in that this concept of color tonality is in stark contrast to how key is evaluated in sound, where the key is defined by the tonic. In no way can it be stated that by using Malinowski’s color palette that overall color of his key of C is Blue. There can be no suggestions to the students for how to accomplish this task. They must figure out a strategy on their own. Apply all the same conditions. There should be no commentary on the results.

      Test 6: Use Scriabin’s Black sonata for the next test. Especially since he made his own attempt at a color/sound correlation and clearly stated that he used it to construct his compositions. That must mean that tonality can be observed in this composition. Ask the students to write down the time at every modulation. Apply all the same conditions. There should be no commentary on the results.

      Test 7: Use Scriabin’s Black sonata again, only this time apply Scriabin’s color scheme. This means that whatever for current key of the piece, every pitch would be the same color. Ask the students to write down the time at every modulation. Apply all the same conditions. There should be no commentary on the results.

      Test 8: Tests 1-7 should be readministered with the same group hearing only the music without the visuals.

      Test 9: Tests 1-7 should be readministered with the same group hearing the compositions with the visuals.

      I would venture to speculate that the results would demonstrate that the color without sound would not convey tonality to the students. Especially, for tests 5 and 6 which would likely confound the senses. Test 3 would be especially interesting in that many students would likely provide an answer that the piece modulated when in fact it did not. Test 7 would provide an actual contrast to Malinowski’s claims when compared to Test 6. Test 7 would clearly delineate key structure using Scriabin’s method likely producing 100% accuracy. Whereas test 6 would likely result in no or very little accuracy.

      Group B Testing:
      The same 7 tests would need to be conducted for a separate group. Audio only tests first, visual only tests second, and audio/visual tests third.

      Group C Testing:
      The same 7 tests would need to be conducted by a third ordering. Audio/visual first, audio only second, and visual only third.

      Group D Testing:
      The same 7 tests would need to be conducted by a fourth ordering. Audio/visual first, visual only second, and audio only third.

      These same tests should then be applied to non-musicians.

      Analysis: Priming can induce all sorts of errant responses where individuals think they perceive things that are not real. It is a proven fact that when a picture of a Blue flamingo is flashed on a screen and an audience is asked to name the color that they saw, at least half the respondents will say they saw pink. When Coca Cola launched its white cans during the holidays a few years back, they had to pull their product from the shelves because they received so many complaints that it didn’t taste like Coke. The same is true of Malinowski’s videos. There is no way to know what responses are legitimate without testing or if the tonality claim in fact exists regardless of what people have said including professionals. People will provide all kinds of answers when they think there is something to perceive. Without question, the aural emphasis provided by the music might make something in the score jump out at the listener. Timbres would definitely pop out as has been stated, but tonality? This is why Scriabin’s system actually does delineate tonality because keys would have homogeneous color even though the color itself would not define any relevant color theory. I have no issue with many aspects of Malinowski’s system other than his claim of tonality, and his presumption of science. Show timbre, show counterpoint, show bowing, etc.. As to the comments about unintended consequences… Systems which claim science when they are not will muddy the waters for legitimate systems when they come on board. The claim of tonality with the presumption of science muddies the waters. This is why physicists don’t bother with pseudo scientists which claim all manner of things that can’t hold up to testing. Yet the pseudo scientists muddy the waters and keep many people in the dark about real science which could actually change their lives.

      Instead of pouring through the thousands of comments on Malinowski’s YouTube videos, I thought I would do a quick search on Malinowski and see what is being said in the press about him. The following are a few things I found very quickly.

      Blog – The Rite of Spring’s Digital Centennial by Allison Meier
      “But a conventional musical score stands still, and can be understood only after years of training. The Music Animation Machine bridges this gap, with a score that moves — and can be understood just by watching.”
      Analysis: The author uses the word “understood.” So clearly she is not talking about understanding music’s harmonic structure because there is no way she could be suggesting that she was able to read the score, as no pitch or duration is defined. Clearly this author is suggesting that all of the aspects of harmonic musical knowledge which are obtained only after years of training, are instantly understood just by watching a MAM score in a single pass. Now you tell me, how did the author come to such a conclusion? Is that really what she thinks? I guarantee if she was tested right now, she would fail the aforementioned tests on tonality and just about any other aspect of ‘understanding.’ So maybe she would be able to identify where a violin or trumpet entered in a given piece. So what. That is not related to “understanding” the harmonic structure of music. This is ‘herd mentality’ people. I am sure she was probably just regurgitating similar comments she has seen on the videos or in the press and just decided to assert her own uneducated opinion into the mix based on what she thinks everyone else is perceiving. It is a joke.

      Book – Reinventing Bach by Paul Elie.
      “Malinowski’s Bach visualizations look like child’s play, but rely on the mathematical relationships between musical notes to establish kindred visual relationships.”
      Analysis: The author is stating that there is a mathematical correlation between Malinowski’s pitches and the color. After doing a little research on the author, I found out that he has no musical education. Wow! Then how could he possibly make such assertions? And yet my remark about unintended consequences was questioned. Clearly this individual is asserting something which isn’t true and has now inflicted his views on quite a few readers. I wonder what those readers will say about Malinowski in the future?

      Online Visual Music Forum:
      “Stephen Malinowski is an inventor of music visualization systems that tend to be precise and literal rather than interpretive. Malinowski will be showing his Music Animation Machine, an animated graphical score for listeners which uses the pitch structure of the music itself to make the patterns you see. This precise correlation enriches and heightens the experience of listening.”
      Analysis – Clearly this text state that Malinowski has a precise correlation. Even the use of the word literal clearly means that the MAM videos are not to be viewed as ‘art’ but as a literal truth. How did this author arrive at such conclusions?

      Classical Music Examiner -Two Ways to Approach the Centennial of ‘Le Sacre du Printemps.’ by Stephen Smolier:
      “The bottom line is that this visualization is no substitute for experiencing the performance of Stravinsky’s music in concert, nor is it an alternative to examining the printed score. However, it makes for a rather nice example of the famous quote mistakenly attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”
      Analysis: This commentator is actually defining the herd mentality and that there is no structure which can be revealed.

      Musical Toronto by John Terauds:
      Stephen Malinowski states, “Their position on the screen tells you their pitch”. Analysis: Lets do a test. Lets see how many people can look at a MAM video and identify a pitch.
      Stephen Malinowski states, “The experience of watching the Music Animation Machine can be a remarkable awakening to the inner structure of music” Analysis: So Malinowski is stating that the structure of music can be revealed by his videos. What structure? Harmonic structure? Or does he mean simple things like knowing when a trumpet part begins and ends. Does he mean tonality? Does he mean identifying an specific arpeggio, a specific fully diminished chord, a specific scale, a specific tritone substitution? What structure? Clearly, the fact that in the same paragraph Malinowski was stating that pitch could be defined in his videos in combination with stating that the structure of music could be perceived is really suggesting to his audience that there is a definition of harmonic concepts. Consider this for a moment. He has never defined his colors by name. So how can a visual of color define a pitch without a name? There are multiple redish colors. Without naming them, how can anyone identify which redish color is which pitch? That is akin to saying the sky is Blue. Which Blue? The idea of Blue in the sky will go through a gamut of color during the course of the day ranging from Blueish-green to Blueish Purple. On a scientific color wheel that range would cover at least 4 different distinct colors. So to say the sky is Blue is really defining about a third of the color wheel which is very non-specific. The same is true of Malinowski. You can’t tell anything unless the colors are named. But naming would invoke another series of issues. If he actually named his colors that would be taking a step towards real definition which could get him in trouble. He would then be subjected to having to explain the identity of his colors from a color theory perspective. By not naming them, its all just an illusion of truth, but is really tantamount to ‘art.’ Art in this case does not define structure. Its just shiny colors. This lack of definition was even addressed by a comment made on his Rite of Spring video. User Robert Colby-Witanek stated, “It would also seem that different shades of the same color are used for pitch class 0 and 5… all this or am I le dumb.” (Malinowski did not respond to this comment, but he did respond to a comment right next to this comment) Clearly this commentator is stating exactly what I am stating that there is no definition. So how can pitches be defined by color if the random color palette Malinowski has decided to use includes 2 colors which are really shades of the same color? This would mean that Malinowski’s color palette really only contains 11 actual hues of color. Except for the fact that there are other colors on his palette as well which are really shades of the same color. This would mean that Malinowski’s color palette is really only defining possibly 10 actual hues of color. This is what happens when people only possess an amateurish knowledge of a subject. Malinowski may have knowledge of music structure, but he clearly does not have a real knowledge of color theory structure or he would not have created such a poorly constructed color wheel. Clearly the commentator on his Rite of Spring video is one of the few who is actually confronting the herd mentality that exists for the preponderance of Malinowski’s followers. Maybe even Malinowski has now bought into the herd mentality and literally believes that because of his 100 million plus views on YouTube and that the plethora of comments are suggesting he has a defined structure, that there indeed must be a structure. Maybe that is why he made these comments on Musical Toronto. Even music professionals can be idiots. Even doctors of music at prestigious universities can be idiots. In politics, it is a very common thing for individuals to repeat an obvious error over and over knowing that at some point the error will be perceived to be true. That is another reason why I used the expression unintended consequences.

  6. says

    Rick, I’m surprised you think I’m presenting my work as science. If scientists were to do experiments to find out what effects my videos have (as some scientists have proposed), I’d be very interested to see their results (and I might use those results to guide my work), but until then, I don’t see what I’m doing as being science, or scientifically justified, or anything like that.

    This project grew from my love of conventional music notation, from my joy in following scores while listening to music. In the 1970s, I realized that although conventional notation is optimal for composers and performers, it isn’t always optimal for listeners (especially listeners under the influence of LSD). My graphical scores began as an attempt to present as much of the information in conventional scores as possible, but without the confounding factor of multiple pitch axes (that is, one for each instrument in the score).

    I started out just making these for my own amusement, but Edward Tufte saw them and urged me to publish them, so I did. By the time YouTube appeared (fifteen years later), I was sick of producing and selling videotapes and DVDs, and was happy to find a simpler way of sharing my work.

    I’m happy that so many people are enjoying my videos, but I don’t think I’m making any unfounded claims for them. You wrote “There are literally thousands of comments on Malinowski’s videos suggesting how amazing it is to show the mathematics or even the chemistry of music, and that it is real science, while Malinowski and every serious music professional who has watched and commented on his work in the positive, sit idly by without even attempting to correct these misconceptions,” but that is simply not true. When people comment that my videos reveal the “mathematical beauty of music” or some such thing, I often ask them what they mean (in an attempt to show that they don’t know what they’re talking about, or are speaking in metaphor, etc.).

    I began college majoring in physics, but then switched to music theory and composition. I know what it is to do science, and I know what it means to be artistically creative. I do not consider what I’m doing with my animated graphical scores to be either science or art. It’s much more pragmatic, practical and ad hoc than that.

    Let me describe my working method for the aspect you’ve focused on: mapping pitch class to color.

    In my earliest graphical scores, color was used to indicate instrument (which is important when, as in my system, notes of all instruments are presented in a single pitch space). In music for a single instrument (like keyboard music), though, color was available to indicate something else, and pitch class was an obvious thing to try.

    I wanted it to be as easy as possible to distinguish any pair of pitches classes by color, so I tried to pick twelve colors that seemed “equally different” from each other. Since the results had to be recorded to VHS videotape, I did the best I could within the limitations of the NTSC color system (in which color fidelity is very iffy).

    Having chosen twelve colors, the next choice was: how to assign these to pitch classes? There are two obvious choices: by pitch height (C, C#, D, D#, … B) or by fifth relation (C, G, D, A, … F). The former is more redundant with pitch height, so I tried using fifth relation. As a convention, I chose to make the tonic pitch blue.

    I claim that using this mapping, changes in tonality (e.g. modulations to distant keys) are easily visible (see, for example, Jupiter, from “The Planets” by Holst Do you think that this claim requires further substantiation?

    • says


      Your tests focus on tonality. I’m not claiming my system of coloring pitches provides a naive listener (or one with no more familiarity with the meaning of colors in my system than a person who couldn’t read music would have by looking at a conventional score) the kind of deep insights into tonality, modulation, consonance/dissonance, etc. that traditional music analysis does. In my previous response, I said “I claim that using this mapping, changes in tonality (e.g. modulations to distant keys) are easily visible.” Do you deny that modulations to distant keys are not easily visible? The only people I’ve met who couldn’t see modulation to distant keys were those suffering from color-blindness.

      I don’t think my graphical scores provide as much information as a conventional score provides to a person adept in reading scores. But what little information they do provide can be more easily perceived by people who don’t read music, or who aren’t fluent in reading complex scores. And, sometimes, even for people who are adept in reading conventional scores, the organization of my graphical scores helps them notice things they hadn’t noticed while studying a conventional score.

      I recently had an opportunity to see one my scores used in a high-school “Elements of Music” class in San Francisco. The instructor, Bruce Lamott, had taught the course for many years. In the past he used audio recordings and conventional scores, but recently started using my animations. I attended the first class of the season, in which the basic “elements” of music (melody, harmony, rhythm, etc.) were introduced. Bruce used the first movement of Mozart’s 40th symphony to illustrate the concepts. He played passages, pointed to things in the score, asked questions — pretty much what you’d expect (though expertly done; he’s a great teacher). Afterwards, he told me that what he’d covered in that session had previously taken several sessions to cover, and that the students “got” the concepts much better with the graphical scores. I’ve gotten similar feedback from other teachers (but haven’t been able to attend their classes in person).

      For each of your tests, I would propose a corresponding meta-test: apply the test to subjects who know nothing of music theory, and who can’t read music, and test them two ways: (1) listen to the recording while viewing a conventional (paper) score and have them annotate their answers on the paper score; (2) watch my graphical scores, and annotate their answers by referring to timings in the video. I would expect that in some cases, the subjects would be able to give better answers using the graphical score.

      The kind of priming I’m talking about is: seeing notes that are coming, seeing changes in texture that are coming, seeing that changes in pitch sets are coming, etc. If you are watching a score (conventional/symbolic or graphical) and you see a higher note coming, you can anticipate that. If a new instrument is about to enter, you can listen for it. If you are made aware that a contrapuntal keyboard piece has four voices (and shown, via staff or color, which notes belong to which voice), it can help you hear the piece contrapuntally. I claim that my scores help with that. Do you deny that?

      Re: Allison Meier’s quote, you write “The author uses the word ‘understood’ … this author is suggesting that all of the aspects of harmonic musical knowledge which are obtained only after years of training, are instantly understood just by watching a MAM score in a single pass.” I agree that Meier’s statement is hyperbole. But there seems to be some value to my scores. For example, one viewer of the Rite of Spring video commented “This is the 1st time I’ve been able to appreciate this work by Stravinsky. By watching the visualization of his music, I can finally understand the organization is this chaotic sounding piece.” Another writes “What may seem chaotic to the ear becomes perfectly clear visually.” Another wrote “What may seem chaotic to the ear becomes perfectly clear visually.” Another, “I have loved all of your videos, and they have helped me with more than one performance or assignment in better understanding the intricacies of certain pieces. This is by far your best video and I only wish it had been available before our performance of The Rite of Spring a couple months ago.” Another, “I keep coming back to this, even though I’ve never liked this piece before now. Being able to see it makes an immense difference to me.” Another, “You know, I have never liked Stravinsky, and would never listen to this past the 30 second mark under any other circumstances…but this visualization is spell-binding.” Maybe “understand” isn’t the right word … but what would you say is happening for these people? “Drinking the kool-aid” doesn’t seem an adequate explanation to me.

      Re: Paul Elie’s quote (“…mathematical relationships…”). I agree that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

      Re: Online Visual Music Forum (“precise and literal”) … you write “Clearly this text state that Malinowski has a precise correlation. Even the use of the word literal clearly means that the MAM videos are not to be viewed as ‘art’ but as a literal truth. How did this author arrive at such conclusions?” I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. In my videos, pitch is shown vertically, time is shown horizontally. Seems pretty literal/precise to me — not to you?

      Re: Musical Toronto (“Their position on the screen tells you their pitch”) You write: “Analysis: Lets do a test. Lets see how many people can look at a MAM video and identify a pitch.” Oh, come on. You know what he means by “pitch” (and that he’s being sloppy in saying “pitch” rather than something more like “relative pitch height” to distinguish it from “pitch class”).

      Re: Stephen Malinowski states “The experience of watching the Music Animation Machine can be a remarkable awakening to the inner structure of music…” You write “So Malinowski is stating that the structure of music can be revealed by his videos. What structure? Harmonic structure? Or does he mean simple things like knowing when a trumpet part begins and ends. Does he mean tonality? Does he mean identifying an specific arpeggio, a specific fully diminished chord, a specific scale, a specific tritone substitution? What structure?” I actually didn’t write that (my ex-wife did, during a brief period when she was helping me by writing some web pages for me), and am not inclined to make broad generalizations, but let me try to explain what’s behind that, and try to steer our conversation into what I think is important about what I’m doing …

      My goal is to make the world a better place by helping people enjoy music more. I started the pursuit of this goal by learning to perform, to compose, to conduct, to teach. And then, I started making animated graphical scores, which seemed like a promising avenue to explore. That promise seems to have been fulfilled. Let’s take a piece of music, say, Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, and two listeners, one of whom loves it, and one of whom hates it. The latter says things like (these are quotes from the my video) …

      “disgusted by all the discord” …
      “ugly” …
      “sounded like scratching at a plate” …
      “boring and empty” …
      “incomprehensible nonsense” …
      “the man [Beethoven] was just plain bonkers” …
      “this is kind of like james joyce’s ulysses, you hear people saying how great it is and you wonder if people actually fully understood and appreciated it” …
      “cannot find the beauty in this piece” …
      “this fugue stinks” …
      “I don’t like this piece” …
      “This is not good music” …
      “I think you have to be deaf to enjoy this piece” …
      “I cannot like it” …
      “irredeemable” …
      “I do not like this particular composition” …
      “horrible” …
      “repellent” …
      “I showed this song to my friends and they hated it” …
      “most horrifying shit I’ve ever heard” …
      “one of the most horrible pieces of cacophony and melodic disturbance I’ve ever heard” … ”

      Now, the question is: what’s the difference between those two people? How can their reactions to the piece be so different? Is it because the first person “understands” the piece and second doesn’t? Is it because the first “perceives the structure of the piece” and the second doesn’t? I’m not saying I have a good answer to those questions (though I do ponder them). However, I know that for some people, watching my animated graphical score of a piece helps them enjoy it. For example, one viewer wrote “I didn’t like the piece at first, even with the video. But the video definitely helps understand the fugue characteristic of the piece, which is simply not Bach-like in organization. Because the parts a visually clear it much easier to follow along the major lines of the ideas presented, and thereby more quickly come to a liking of the piece.” Another wrote “I never got this piece until I saw it. Thank you so much.” What’s your take on what’s happened for these people?

      My “claims” aren’t anything as specific as “my notation will help naive listeners identify a modulation from I to V.” I don’t really make any claims. But viewers tell me that my videos help them appreciate the music, and I feel it’s intellectually honest to report that. For example, one wrote “Fucking wow this is my first time listening to classical and now I know my destiny is to dedicate my life ito recapturing the glory of the great composers of centuries past!!!!” Another wrote, “The visualization for this piece is mesmerizing… It made me listen to much more than I usually would have for such a long piece.”

      Rick, it’s clear you don’t get anything out of my videos. At the 2013dec09 live-MAM performance in Berkeley ( we had a Q&A with the audience; after a string of positive reactions, a woman asked “What would you say to a person like me who, if I knew that a concert were to include your graphical scores, would choose to stay home?” And, over the years, I’ve encountered many, many people who didn’t get anything out of them. But it’s impossible for me to think that people enjoy them merely because they’re “drinking the kool-aid” — because I enjoy watching them myself, and there was no community telling me I ought to; I just did. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that other people would, too.

      I make these animations because I feel they’re worth making, and some people feel the same way. These scores may have some particular pedagogical value that could be well-defined, but I’m not claiming that they do; I’m just reporting what other people tell me. Some say they’re learned things from my videos. Others have said they learned nothing. (One even said “I don’t get it — is there some correlation between what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing?”) But I think you’re making a mistake if you believe there’s no value in them for anybody.

    • Rick Hefner says


      The following is a series of responses in no particular order.

      Analysis of the Musical Toronto response. Stephen, you are actually illustrating my point. I may know what you mean, but the majority of your viewers do not, which is at least one reason why, I believe, that they make the errant statements that they do. Even you, once again, in response to the ‘Literal’ comment are contradicting yourself and your response to Musical Toronto. Again, if the audio is removed from a MAM video, is it possible to read and learn to play a piece of music, or identify particular chords, scales, etc,..? No. You have even stated that you can’t identify pitch or duration and that a traditional music score is still needed. There is no way that even you could determine how to play a song which you were not familiar with by looking at one of your videos without the audio. You say that the writer is being sloppy in his response, but I would contend that you were providing mixed messages in the response that you just gave.

      Response to your Beethoven video comments: It is a proven fact that chocolate tastes better when served on China versus a paper plate. Wine tastes better when served in fine stemware versus a plastic cup with a picture of Nicki Minaj. Expert wine tasters, who are of the caliber of being national critics, have been fooled many times by the container of the wine. Fooled to the extent that they will give low marks to a wine to which they had previously given high marks. Your videos are placing audio within a new container. My principle argument is in regards to your container. Your container is not capable of doing anything you claim on its own. Without the audio, it conveys no musical information. It is just a container. However, as a container it does relay information in the form of color. But the color you have defined is at odds with the audio organization which you place into the container. That has an adverse effect similar to a Wolf tuning whether you admit to it or not and could be tested for. Such a test would actually be very informative in that it would define color palettes that convey meaning and color palettes which do not. Such a test would not just apply to your color container, but to any variant which is not grounded in scientific principles. Think about it it this way. Play Happy Birthday in a Wolf key and see how many children will be happy as a result. It is from this vantage point that the responses you list must be analyzed. Without testing, your claims of impact are irrelevant. The responses of your viewers are just hyperbole. You can list 10,000 viewer comment responses. It wouldn’t prove a thing except to make you appear relevant within the unrealistic world of YouTube. Lady Gaga videos far surpass the Beatles in YouTube views. She also likely has millions more comments than do Beatle’s videos. Is she relevant? Sure, from a pop culture standpoint. More relevant than the Beatles?

      You may argue that you have witnessed people identifying tonality. Did they do it without the audio? Could they do it within the guidelines of the aforementioned tests? Until such tests are conducted, your statements are hyperbole and without basis in fact. It’s like leading a witness. You did mention virtually everyone you met could identify tonality modulated to distant keys. That’s like asking someone if they can distinguish the difference between black and white. Would a group of colors centered on the orange to red range appear different than a group of colors centered on the blue to green range. Yes, because they are diametrically opposite with the most differentiation. In most tonal music, the most distant keys are modulated to less frequently, so what’s your point? Modulation to distant keys is not the defining attribute of tonality or defining that people are actually perceiving tonality.

      You provide the example of Bruce Lamott’s class. What does it prove? Without testing, there is no way to know why any outcome is what it is. Just by placing a traditional score into an environment of any kind of color palette may very well focus attention. Does that mean that the color is communicating something, or is it that the color just allows the students to pay more focused attention on the audio? It is an unknown without testing. Is greater focus a benefit and worthwhile? Yes. Of course, considering how difficult it is for most people, including music students, to actually read music because of it’s ridiculously convoluted nature, what you are doing could be compared to learning phrases like – Every – Good – Boy – Does – Fine. Phrases like this help focus attention on the staff and pitch positions. Does the phrase mean anything on its own? No. Does it help learn the lines of the treble clef at a faster rate than straight memorization? Yes. Is it music theory? No.

      Your suggested meta-tests are ill-founded and would be leading the subject. They wouldn’t prove anything.

      Response to your paragraph beginning with “The kind of priming I’m talking about”: I’ve already stated that marking items like when a trumpet will enter by coloring the trumpet with a unique color would be effective. There are similar tools that you use which I’m sure are are effective. They too should be tested in order to provide greater understanding of the reasons why. But, once again you are inferring that tonality or pitch and rhythm can be identified within the MAM which is not proven. What I don’t understand is why you haven’t figured out a way to get your ideas tested. You list all of these connections to individuals in academia, including at the university level. If they believe your work to be so effective, then why wouldn’t they test it? More to the point, why would they use it in the first place without testing it? Maybe they are like the wine critics who get fooled by the container.

      If your videos help people become interested in classical music then great. That would make MAM fall under the music appreciation category.

      It certainly appears by your statements that you “want to make the world a better place.” You also mention teaching. The position you hold is very much that of an educator. I don’t know how you characterize yourself. Maybe as composer, pianist, inventor, educator. All would be applicable. When you began this journey with the MAM, your ideals, as you have expressed them, appeared to be well founded. I doubt that you, in 1980, could have conceived of an entity like YouTube. Furthermore, I doubt you could have conceived of reaching over a hundred million people. Exposure like that can take on a life of it’s own. Kudos to you for being in that position. Kudos to you for seeing a marketing potential with the Rite of Spring. That was pretty slick, pulling on the intellectual heart strings of the music elite. Nothing wrong with understanding human nature and how to use it in your favor and get your ideas across. That is Business 101. That is meant sincerely. Clearly it worked. This discussion forum obviously resulted from the Rite of Spring. In fact nearly all serious press on you resulted from the Rite of Spring. So what does all this mean?

      You hold a pulpit of 100 million viewers and counting. You have an exposure now that you have never had before. Are you an educator? If so, don’t you have an educational responsibility? If you believe that you do have an educational responsibility, then you should take more care in not promoting false claims, whether intended or unintended. My guess is that when you began, you didn’t really know what you were dealing with. You likely had a very limited knowledge of color theory, and were likely unaware of the vast history of color and sound. In that regard, you were just pushing forward with an idea as you should have, unaware of a great many things. I’m sure that all along the way, you acquired more information about color, the history of color and sound, music theory, the physics of sound, educational issues, etc… I’m sure some of these discussions have directly led to new inventions within your technology. But now everything has changed. This discussion is in a more serious venue outside of YouTube or Wikipedia. So what is your educational responsibility? You mentioned As you must already know, there are only so many entities or individuals approaching the color music concept from a scientific perspective and they are one of them. What is your point? I’m not sure I get the question? I’m not confusing anything. I am specifically discussing you because of your lack of science. I think it to a be a dereliction of your educational duty for you or others to acquiesce to an argument of art. Bach’s works would not exist without a deep investigation into the known harmonic science of his day. Yet your answers are such that science doesn’t matter. Instead of engaging in a real discussion when questions are raised about your work, you find a way to ‘steer’ (to use your words) the conversation away towards something less scientific and more ‘art’ and appreciation. Why? Who cares why you chose the color palette that you did back in the day when you knew less. Who cares that you were unable to establish the scientific correlation between color and sound which you so clearly sought after. Clearly you know more now. You are obviously aware of what is out there. Why continue to push something that has no intrinsic value? Why not embrace a wide range of scientific phenomenon which could have a dramatic affect in music education if you are as concerned as you say you are? Who cares whether or not every idea you implement in the future came from you or was originated by someone else. Does it really matter?

      But alas, I expect your response to be as the last. I expect that you will ignore the facts once again. For some reason you are stuck in a mindset that makes you believe you have to present your technology in a certain way or stick with your original concept. You feel that you must defend it, when there are no good reasons for doing so. Over and over throwing your hands in the air and saying, “I am not claiming any science,” as if that is an enviable statement to make. I am not disparaging your overall ideas, your ingenuity, or your original goals. I am, however, suggesting that you have purposefully chosen not to adapt when shown obvious concepts of truth. Once upon a time the Earth was the center of the universe. So what that it turned out not to be true. However, that single change of perspective made an enormous difference in science from that point forward. You have an opportunity to make a real difference Stephen, not just a difference in music appreciation. You have an opportunity to truly change music education and music theory forever. But you can’t do it without science, and why would a serious educator ever want to?

      You may think that I am disparaging your work? I am not. I have discussed your work many times. Am I critical of some aspects of it? Yes. Am I critical of some of your claims and the way it is being characterized by the public? Yes. Do I think comments on YouTube are a measure of truth and that you should be referencing them to validate your claims? No. Let me give you an analogy. In 2008, Rockband and Guitar Hero each made 1 Billion in sales. They are similar to your piano roll. Maybe they got their idea from you, who knows. Obviously many of your viewers have made comparisons to those technologies. What they showed was that people were willing to spend 2 Billion dollars in a single year on fake instruments and fake music to achieve the illusion of being able to play an instrument and ‘feel’ musical. 2 Billion was the same amount spent on real guitars in that same year. Music is powerful. Did they result in anyone being able to actually play a real instrument or read music? No. At best they might have created the desire within users to start actual music lessons and learn a real instrument which is a good thing. Does your technology provide people with the the ability to read music and learn an instrument? No. Did those technologies create an appreciation for music and induce a desire to take lessons and actually learn to read music? Yes. However, once students begin lessons, they are stuck with the same age old problem of the difficulties inherent within the system. Has anything you have done changed that fact? No. The individuals commenting within this forum are preaching to the choir. There is a pontificating about the merits of your system regarding the high art of classical music for those who are already in the system. Is it changing music education within the masses? No. However, what MAM and technologies like Rockband and Guitar Hero have accomplished is to illustrate, in a very glaring way, that Western music notation is not accessible to the masses and is fundamentally flawed. Most people can’t learn to read music even after years of instruction and are not able to understand the deeper aspects of music structure. That is a fact. In this respect, what you have done is very relevant by exposing the underlying issues within music education. The very fact that you have over a hundred million views should be a wake up call to all music educators. Clearly music educators and the system being used is not working for the masses. However, if your technology remains relegated to the arena of ‘art’ and music appreciation without science, then ultimately you are doing a disservice to music education. The masses and educators will be left with the impression that there is no science regarding color and sound and that it can only be used in a very limited and superficial way relegated to music appreciation. In that regards, it will be as superficial and irrelevant in the long run as Justin Bieber. And that is an unintended consequence.

      Maybe I was harsh in making the comparison to Justin Bieber or the idea of the masses drinking the Kool Aid, but it did provoke a response that might actually lead to a productive outcome. I would rather not launch such criticism, but sometimes it is the only way to make a point. And the idea does have merit as the YouTube environment is like the Wild West or an episode of Jerry Springer. Uneducated opinions are like assholes. If I were to raise these questions on YouTube, there would be no conversation as the comments would spiral into the abyss rather quickly. Comments on YouTube are for the most part irrelevant and a poor measure of value. On the contrary, there is a definite elitism among music educators and those who identify with classical music. The glorifying of the masters incurs an almost religious zeal. Individuals within the club simply do not ‘get’ the issues within music education. They cannot perceive the countless masses who never enter into the club. Yes, it is discussed within their glass houses, but they fail to understand how to do anything different, feeling content to just pontificate about the Rite of Spring and the MAM without having any serious discussion about the issues for which the MAM was created in the first place. The elitist’s will congratulate themselves for achieving some small measure of success and feel gratified for having had the opportunity to puff themselves up for a short while with their brilliant discussion of the master Stravinsky and then go about sipping their $6 lattes. Based on your comments of how you began your journey, you clearly experienced the learning difficulties for yourself. It was obviously a motivating factor. Yet it appears now that you too are becoming part of the establishment. Your anti-science stance runs contrary to your initial premise. I challenge you Stephen to not acquiesce from your initial premise and to not become part of the establishment. If you do, in the long run all of your work will be in vain. You have the opportunity to do more. When I speak about your work, that is exactly what I say. In fairness, I point out the flaws, but discuss the vast opportunity for change which you have created. Yet there is a reason why the efforts of Newton, Scriabin, or Boomwhackers failed to change the system – there was no science. Every time you steer away from a question of science, you are actually suggesting to all of your followers that science is not important. The elitists who comment on your work and fail to hold you accountable for your anti-science stance and the obvious flaws of your system, willingly choosing to ignore them, are also guilty of being anti-science. They and you alike, are directly responsible for all those individuals who are currently failing to read traditional music and learn to play an instrument by supporting your anti-science methods instead of supporting or incorporating scientific methods which offer an actual solution. Will that be your legacy Stephen?

  7. says


    When I started working on the first MAM software in the early 1980s, my expectation was that people who saw my animations would steal the idea, and I could watch their animations (and not have to make them myself). It took a lot longer (and a lot more work from me) than I expected for this to happen (even with YouTube’s help), but that’s okay; it’s been a fun ride.

    I started making graphical scores to amuse myself. Why are they amusing? It’s fun to learn, it’s fun to have your cognitive faculties challenged and rewarded, to have your awareness increased. For me, having this happen in the context of music makes the music more interesting, more engaging, more beautiful.

    Do my graphical scores have pedagogical value? I think they do, but it’s not something I want to spend time doing research on (though I’d be willing to collaborate with researchers). One application of my graphical scores that is being tested now is for cochlear implant recipients (who will use them to re-learn how to differentiate separate melodic streams).

    The most significant change in my perspective on this project was not an awareness of its pedagogical value, but recognition of it as part of an emerging art-form that combines music and abstract animation. Song is what happens when you add poetry to music. Ballet is what happens when you add dance to music. Opera is what happens when you add drama (plays) to music. Abstract animation has only been feasible for about a hundred years, and computer-generated animation only became feasible during my lifetime; it seems to me that music plus computer-generated abstract aniamtion has as much potential as an art form as any of the other music+ combinations. I now see what I’m doing as being part of the spade work for music animation artists of the future. This kind of exploration and invention is much more interesting and exciting to me (and, I believe, more valuable in some absolute sense) than getting scientific verification of its pedagogical value.

    There are a couple of pedagogical projects I would like to work on, though. The first, computer-assisted performance, I’ve done some work on (, and that work has inspired a developer to bring a product to market (currently in beta test). The second, a video game which would teach people how to sight-read contrapuntal keyboard music, is more ambitious; I’m hoping to find a video game company that wants to collaborate with me on it.

    • Rick Hefner says


      You speak of fun and amusement as the reasons for making your videos as if you didn’t have a care in the world, yet your actions tell a different tale. Clearly you held nothing back in commercializing your Rite of Spring video. You posted your name on every conceivable media outlet discussing the Rite of Spring as if you were meant to be part of the conversation. You even posted it in Russian. There is no doubt that you were actively pursuing an agenda and not simply being a passive bystander just desiring to do a little good in the world. Most people would be oblivious to such endeavors because they would have no reason to pay attention or to suspect that other motivations were at play. I as I stated before, Kudos to you. It was a well crafted marketing campaign. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t be the industrialist who is actively seeking mass exposure on the one hand, and then pretend that you really have no stake in the game and that you are just happy for whatever small contribution you can make to the world. Let’s be real. You stated that you thought people would steal from you so you just had to give your ideas away. Why play the victim card? There is nothing to steal Stephen. You don’t have a Circle of 5ths and your color wheel is arbitrary possessing no inherent value. Why would someone steal something that doesn’t possess inherent value? What would be the point? RockBand and Guitar Hero didn’t steal from you? They may have made a ton of money, which you could have made (and still can with the right product – Did someone say Billion?), but they were no more successful then you in getting anyone to read music or create new art. Their colors were just as arbitrary as yours. Hindsight is 20/20 Stephen. If you think that the color to sound solution was so obvious, then you would have already solved it, as would so many of the great artists and scientists over the past 300 years. You would have been able to explain the ordering of the 7 colors in a diatonic scale if you had solved it. You would have been able to explain how pitches mix to create resultant pitches in the same way that color mixing creates resultant colors if you had solved it. But an arbitrary color palette and guessing at solutions will never provide these types of observable phenomenon as other researchers are currently demonstrating. Only legitimate scientific research which provides testable evidence can demonstrate and define such concepts.

      I conducted another quick Google search of your name along with the word science. I discovered some rather interesting things.

      In a book titled Art and the Senses by Francesca Bacci and David Melcher, the following quote is discovered. “Stephen Malinowski and Lisa Turetsky wrote a software program entitled the MAM which translates and shows pieces in coloured measures for children. Children using this tool do not have to puzzle over complicated staves, with flat or sharp symbols and key signatures.” The author is unequivocally suggesting that you designed the MAM as an education tool for children. Furthermore, they are stating that children must be able to read it because they don’t have to worry about sharps, flats, and key signatures to convey the information. The authors’ use of the word ‘translate’ is clearly stating that children must be able to use the MAM to read music. Yet there is not a single documented case of children being able to use a MAM video to read music. How did these authors come to this conclusion?

      On a website hosted by Juniper Lovato of the Santa Fe Institute, your videos are listed under the category heading ‘Music + Math.’ This is the link – The Sante Fe Institute is defined as a place where leading scientists grapple with some of the most compelling and complex problems of our time. It is a conglomerate of scholars. Now how did she reason to place your videos under such a heading or even on the site? Especially if you state that there is no science to your ideas. How are your videos related to the ‘most compelling and complex problems of our time’ and how do they illustrate Music + Math? I don’t think this was a mistake. Somehow smart people are under an illusion. It is even more remarkable that none of these smart people have asked any questions regarding your scientific validity, which leads me to my next finding.

      In 2011, Jeffery Harlan Johnson referenced you in his Masters Thesis at Louisiana State University which was titled Sensing Synaesthesia, for which he was awarded a masters degree. The following is a quote from his thesis. “It has been proven that young children that are able to “watch the Music [Animation Machine],” develop a deeper appreciation for classical works and grasp the complexities, repetition, layers and rhythms of music, more easily than other children.” Wow! This has been proven? Did he list a reference for the proof? No. All he listed was your website. I wonder if he talked with you during his research? In theory, if he had spoken with you, he would have legitimately been required to list your conversation as a reference, but there was no such reference. That must mean that his conclusions were drawn from either your website, YouTube videos, or other press. How could he have drawn such conclusions? Young children can grasp the complexities? To which complexities is he referring? Young children can grasp the rhythms of music? Really? How? Is he suggesting that young children could identify the triple-eighths versus the straight-eighths in your video of Debussy’s Arabesque? Have young children been tested on identifying those rhythms in response to watching your video? His statements are tantamount to academic fraud. But what recourse is there? Masters theses as well as doctoral theses are considered published works which can be referenced by other scholars. I wonder how many times that error will be compounded and taken as fact? Should Mr. Johnson have his thesis revoked? Is it fair for Mr. Johnson to have the liberty to say such untruths which run counter to the work of serious researchers who’s work should be known and heard? Would you say that this represents an unintended consequence? Do you have an obligation to make a public statement correcting these false claims?

      Just this past week a judgment of 185 million was levied against the company who produced the product Your Baby Can Read. The Federal Trade Commission accused the company of false and deceptive advertising. The CEO Robert Titzer, who held a doctorate from Indiana University, said the company had studies which supported their claims, but the FTC showed that they were flawed. This was a major blow to what critics call the ‘baby genius’ industry. Would you argue that justice was served in this case Stephen? Yet it appears that Mr. Johnson is making a similar claim in his masters thesis concerning your product that could only have been obtained from the unproven claims which you make. You and others have certainly benefited from your unproven claims just as Mr. Titzer benefited from his. Do you think that the TedX production in Amsterdam could have occurred without these unproven claims? And yet Mr. Abelin was the one who previously said, “But that all this undermines music education is really a bizarre claim.” Really? Then Mr. Abelin should explain the academic fraud of Mr. Johnson. When false ideas are placed into the public conscious, it affects how authentic research is perceived or not perceived. In the media, false claims make the page 1 headlines all of the time, but the retractions are always buried on page 12.

      Maybe its time to take account of what has been asserted.

      Stephen Malinowski and Etienne Abelin have stated that Malinowski has correlated the ‘artists’ color circle to the Circle of Fifths (5ths). This was previously shown to be false.

      Stephen Malinowski and Etienne Abelin have stated in many instances that the MAM shows tonality and illuminates the structure of music, yet there is no scholarly evidence supporting that assertion. As a result of such assertions, millions of individuals believe that these claims are true to the point that many institutions of academic science have reiterated such statements which has only further entrenched the unfounded claim. Furthermore, these unfounded claims are now being represented as proven fact in academic circles and publications even to the point that it has been asserted that children can read music with the MAM videos.

      As I previously stated, I am not trying to disparage you and that I believe your efforts could be put to good use, but currently they are not and these facts matter. Yet for some reason, you keep trying to act as if they don’t matter, or that they don’t exist, or are irrelevant. They are relevant and the solution is not avoidance. You and others should either stop stating these false claims or actually take a different course because they do adversely impact both music education and new art. You keep purposefully trying to steer away from emerging science that you know exists which does demonstrate serious pedagogical and compositional art value that your false claims undermine. You mentioned that you would be willing to collaborate with researchers. I imagine that would go a long way towards resolving your unproven and false claim issues, and could actually result in a truly revolutionary product that would affect both music education and dynamic new visual/sound art forms in ways far beyond your current technology which is handicapped in the aforementioned ways. Having science on one’s side is generally a good idea. It is a shame that so many artists continually try to diminish science. None of your art would exist were it not for science.

  8. says


    It’s true: I promoted the Rite of Spring video shamelessly. But that was a unique case. I’d always wanted to do a video of The Rite, but didn’t feel I was ready. However, the 100-year anniversay seemed like the time to do it, so I overcame my reluctance and did it anyway. In spite of my shortcomings as a music visualizer, it came out okay, and I decided that instead of just posting it to YouTube and letting people find it or not (as I’d done with all my previous videos), I’d see what it would be like to “ride the wave” of the centennial and see how much attention for it I could whip up. It was an interesting experiment, but not one I’m not likely to do it again.

    I did not design the MAM for children, but I’ve seen that children can follow it and enjoy it, and I like that. Various educational institutions have hired me to make videos for use in their courseware (e.g., and I’m happy to do that, but I’m not making any claims about what benefits it gives.

    Do I have an obligation to search the web for exaggerated claims about the MAM and correct them? That seems like a fool’s errand to me.

    I don’t know exactly how the TEDx Amsterdam thing came about, but I don’t think the educational aspects of the MAM played any role. I think it was just seen as “cool new technology” (e.g. they were only interested in doing it if the Chromadepth 3D glasses were included — something I considered superficial and distracting).

    Here is an overview of the first four movements of Beethoven’s opus 131 …

    … colored with my circle-of-fifths coloring, and with the points of key signature change marked (with vertical lines) and the corresponding key signatures shown in conventional notation. For me, it’s clear that each key/tonality region in the piece has its own characteristic color palette. If you were in the position of describing this, how would you characterize what’s going on?