Wednesday, November 18, 2015

"Ultrachomatic" Compositions and Rainbow Wheels

Ivan Wyshnegradsky was a Russian composer with lofty goals. The 20th century avant-garde pianist was devoted to creating works "capable of awakening in every man the slumbering forces of cosmic consciousness." To do this, he sought out sounds to create music like no one had ever heard before. Sounds like a tall order, if you ask me.

His music was microtonal, meaning that it transcended the 12-scale tuning system in traditional Western music. Microtones are basically the notes between the notes- the Zeno's paradox of music, if you will. I know what you're wondering, and no, you can't play these notes on a regular piano. He spent some time trying to build a special piano that one could play these things on. In the late 1920s, he finished work on a quarter tone piano and began composing some interesting things.

But it was in the 1940s that things started to get really fun. This was when he began translating his "ultrachromatic" compositions into elaborate color wheels. By applying the concepts of synesthesia, be blurred the lines between sound and color, assigning each cell of the wheel a semitone in the musical sequence. What's cool is that you're supposed to be able to follow the spirals and visually "listen" to the melodies they represent.

Pretty cool, if you ask me.

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