Watch: Printed Record Turns Drawings Into Music

Music that looks as good as it sounds.

Records, CDs, cassette tapes, even MP3s and FLAC–nothing about any single music file or disc holds any real aesthetic value. (No one would collect records if they didn’t play music). So we’ve long relied on cases and album art–superfluous packaging we’ve come to cherish–to make a Beatles album feel like something momentous, even when you can’t hear it. But what if the music medium itself were as gorgeous as the sounds it contained?


That’s the basic idea behind Evil Eye, a project by Belgium collective Indianen during their time at the printmaking-focused Frans Masereel Center. It’s a screen printed record that, rather than containing random designs somehow associated with its music, is actually showing you the exact music you’ll hear. The designs are the waveforms, precisely read by an LED to amplify the music within.

“Technically, the project is very straightforward,” Indianen explains. “There’s no conversion between the printed patterns and the sounds they make, it’s truly one-to-one. We didn’t want to make prints that need some extra information to become sound, like for example a visual midi-track. We really wanted to have all the sound inside the prints.”

The record itself contains eight tracks, each which runs in a 1.3-second rotational loop. The experience becomes something like a pre-printed DJ mix, a ready-made set of audio loops that print on a piece of paper. And, to be entirely fair, sometimes they actually sound pretty horrid.

“We built an app that can translate a wav-file to a vectorized waveform that we can print onto the records, by which you could encode any piece of regular music you’d want,” explains Indianen’s Tim Knapen. “But for us the most interesting thing to do was to just manually design visually interesting patterns and see what kind of sounds these would produce. This brought us a whole new approach to create sounds, the patterns would produce sounds that we wouldn’t have come up with ourselves, we were taken by chance.”

So rather than starting with music to create a corresponding visual, the Evil Eye team started with visuals to create music. Personally, I’d be interested to see more of their work, translating real wav files into printed images. Because as impractically long as a five-minute track would be, how cool would it be to wallpaper your house in your favorite song? We’re surrounded by patterns thought up by designers that have no value behind casual aesthetics. If we could have similarly eye-pleasing designs, hiding a secret level of metadata? How fun would the world be then?

[Hat tip: Creative Applications]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.