Visualizing Bach

Alexander Chen’s Baroque.me captures and visualizes the first prelude from JS Bach’s Cello Suites.

As Chen explains:

I created eight strings, as the Prelude’s natural phrasing is in groups of eight notes. The orbiting nodes pluck the strings, like a rotating music box. You can also grab and throw the nodes off track, and watch the system slowly regain its rhythm.

A harp is built around string length, with strings shortening as they ascend in pitch. This piece behaves like an impossible harp, as strings morph to the needed lengths.

The looping, eight-note pattern is something we see all the time in grid-based drum sequencers. Bach’s Prelude is actually very grid-like as well. At every moment, the piece shows a visual snapshot of an arpeggio. It shows which notes change from bar to bar, and which stay the same.

Classical notation is convenient and concise code. But visually, it’s completely disconnected from any actual physical characteristics of sound. String lengths, on the other hand, are visual representations of the frequencies they produce.

Baroque.me isn’t just a video though. Visit the site and you can interact with the strings and play something yourself.

H/T: O’Reilly Radar.

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