Shimmering Tangles Of Musical DNA, Woven With Software

British artist Quayola will turn a live performance of Ligeti’s viola sonatas into abstracted motion graphics.

As we’ve mentioned previously, motion graphics emerged much earlier than you might assume–decades before 3D Studio Max and Cinema 4D. But London-based digital artist Quayola reaches back even further–to the Golden Age of Dutch painting–to make his work, which spins shivering topographies out of paintings by late Medieval greats like Velázquez, Rubens, and Van Dyck.


A recent post on PSFK drew our attention to Quayola’s latest project, a collaboration with Abstract Birds that builds on his affinity for pre-Modern art and music. Partitura (the traditional term for a score in classical music) generates complex abstract visualizations from music. The custom software, built with vvvv (“a hybrid graphical/textual programming environment”) and a bevy of motion graphics programs like 3D Studio Max, reacts to the music by connecting a 3-D model’s modules to audio output run from the popular DJ software Ableton Live. The modules–which run from left to right like an actual score–twist together into an ever-changing helix.

Partitura was built last year, but the software will find new life this month at the French digital art festival Nemo. There, Quayola will hook Partitura up to a live performance of György Ligeti’s sonatas for viola, written in 1994 by the aging Austrian-Hungarian composer (listen on Spotify here). The sonatas are an interesting choice–Ligeti frequently experimented with “semi-tones,” which slightly distort the normal scale by pushing it up a few millimeters. It’ll be cool to see how a modern, dissonant classical piece like Ligeti’s will change the interface, compared with the chilled-out Telefon Tel Aviv track from the video.

Quayola frequently performs live, adapting his custom software to work in the moment. His C.V. is a cool mix of audio and visual performances, with a few dozen commissions from European museums thrown in for good measure. Topologies, a 2010 project for Spain’s Prado Museum, turned two of its collection’s most revered pieces–a 1767 painting of the immaculate conception by Tiepolo and the 1656 Velázquez masterpiece Las Meninas–into bubbling, shimmering topographies of fractals. We tend to overuse the word “hypnotizing” around here, but try not to get sucked into these videos, which are truly mesmerizing.

[H/t PSFK]

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.