Visual Music

AE interviews Dennis Miller
April 13, 2007

On Saturday, April 28, from 10am to 10pm, Northeastern University in Boston will hold the first ever Visual Music Marathon, a 12-hour screening of time-based works that reflect the convergence of musical composition and animated images. The event is part of this year's Boston Cyberarts Festival. We asked the event's organizer, Dennis Miller, a few questions about the marathon.

AE What do you mean by visual music?

DM Visual music can mean a lot of things, and the works on the Marathon represent a variety range of approaches to the topic. For example, there are pieces in which the images and music are directly tied by the sharing of parameters. In other works, the images "interpret" the music (or vice versa), while a third category would be pieces where the visuals are edited in tight synchrony with cues in the music. The common theme is that the music and images are closely related in some form.

We've commissioned an article from Maura McDonnell of Trinity College, Dublin, that explores the background of visual music in great detail and that is published in the program booklet.

AE How did you get involved in it?

DM I developed the Visual Music Marathon in order to present to local audiences (and perhaps, soon on the Internet) a wide range of work in this genre from around the world. There are not a lot of venues that are devoted to experimental animation, much less visual music in particular, and I felt it was time for a comprehensive retrospective. Northeastern University was very supportive of the project, which is something we hope to repeat in the future.

AE Where do you get your ideas?

DM My own approach as a mixed-media artist is to create works in which the music and visual images share a common dialectic. I identify compositional processes that apply to both the music and pictures and thereby attempt to create a unified work that provides a satisfying aesthetic experience in both the visual and aural domains with neither dominating. Typically, I create both the music and animation at the same time, which helps insure that neither predominates. In my newest work, White Noise (to be premiered at the Marathon), I composed the music in its entirety first, as I wanted to insure the type of continuity that I can best do through music. As of yet, there is no clear syntax or grammar of images.

There are numerous ways one can apply principles of music composition to all the elements in a multimedia work. For example, basic developmental processes such as transposition, inversion and retrograde can easily be applied to a sequence of visual events. Other forms of motivic development are equally relevant to both the moving image and the musical materials.

AE What are the techniques involved?

DM I use a variety of software for the creation of my work including Cinema 4D from Maxon for the images and an assortment of music tools. Cinema 4D is a very powerful resource that is well suited to creating abstract imagery. It also allows me to explore "musical" processes such as convolution and other types of cross synthesis techniques.

AE How can someone get more information about the upcoming Visual Music Marathon?

DM The web site for the Marathon, which will be held on the campus of Northeastern in Boston on April 28th from 10am to 10pm, is There's a full schedule for the day (120 films!) and a preview of some of the work.

© 2007