by Lauren Festa
Can we visualize music? I remember in grade school, my wacky eighth grade teacher had the class participate in an exercise that went something like this: we were handed blank sheets of 8″ x 11″ paper and a communal box of Crayola crayons with the wrapping torn off from use. She then pressed the ‘play’ button on an old tape player and the room filled with classical music. As the notes of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven fell onto our ears, she instructed us to take the crayons and free-draw what we heard. When ADC Member Andrea Foresi sent us his latest project (which is Vimeo’s Video of the Week) I began to think about that exercise and how our doodles were not unlike the (albeit more refined) circular projections appearing on the walls and floor where The Ligeti Quartet plays. How did they do it and what are we seeing? The team fitted the string quartet with EEG technology and recorded their brainwaves while they played, then visualized their thought patterns. Circles big and small changing colors as they revolve around each other are equal parts mesmerizing, eerie and beautiful. Watch the film and read our Q&A with Andrea to find out more about this special project below.
Tell us about the project in a few words.
What if you could see inside a musician’s mind while he is performing? We used technology to translate those emotions, those feelings and the magic of music into a visual art experience.
How did it come to fruition?
Our collective of creatives used to work together in the same agency but we weren’t getting the kind of truly creative opportunities we all yearned for. Matt, our CCO, started a program to give us creative freedom by connecting our individual and collective talents with those of unsigned musicians – a kind of creative exchange. That’s how we met the talented Ligeti Quartet, formed by four classical musicians, united by their fascination with the music of György Ligeti who was renowned for his complex compositions that merged music with the soundscape and is best known for his work on movie soundtracks, including Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (196), Heat (1995) and Shutter Island (2010).
Using the brief that the Ligeti Quartet wanted to let audiences easily enjoy this incredible complex music, we all conceived very similar ideas [on how to make that happen]. We collaborated on a single creative concept: use data to beautifully visualize the audio.
After some proof of concept testing, we fitted each of the musicians with a Mindwave headset which detects EEG power spectrums within the brain while also tracking attention and meditation levels. The headset is connected to NeuroSkyLab software which converts brainwave frequencies into CVS data in real time. We then used that data to generate a visualization of each musician’s though patterns as they played as well as a combined data set of their collective minds.
The whole project was done after hours, late nights and weekends, using our own equipment and combined skills and experience in pre-production, lighting, filming and post. Principal photography was done in one (very long) day in a large warehouse we rented in East London for £100.
Because the agency disbanded the creative department and we ended up working with different agencies worldwide, the project was a slow burn in post-production as Alex, our incredibly talented Motion Designer, kept working on the data visualization and the final edit whenever he had a chance, over the course of many months.
In the end, the film is a great testament to the power of the collective creative mind and a reminder that all any creative wants to do is bring inspiring and original ideas to life.
Matt, Alessandro, Billy, Milan, Stefanie, Alex and I used to work together in the same agency when we started this personal project two years ago. We decided to go on with it, even when the creative department was disbanded and we ended up in different agencies and countries. Now, our project is finally ready to share.
Fantastic. What was your creative process like?
The first thing I did to approach this project was studying Ligeti’s music. I used to play piano, guitar and sing (a long time ago!) and I can tell you, their music is really hard to play. Also, we can’t consider it pop at all. In order to be enjoyed, this music requires a peculiar atmosphere, a specific mood and attention. So my thought starter was trying to translate these feelings into a visual experience everyone could enjoy, bringing the Ligeti Quartet’s proposition to life. The initial step was researching and studying all the technologies available that time, to demonstrate that something like that was easily doable with a low budget. Lastly, I worked on the mood board and storyboard for the video.
What was your favorite part about this project?
When we realized that everything was easily doable with a few quid, it was like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel [especially because] being a proactive project, our agency didn’t allow any budget or time for it. The recording session itself was an achievement. Everything was made possible by our own passion and devotion to work on something we truly loved.
How would you describe your craft and how has this project helped to amplify your talents?
People call me a geek, a tech junkie. They’re so right about that! I love playing with digital solutions and new technology but that doesn’t mean I’m one of those ‘tech for tech’s sake’ geeks. My attitude is to make those two words – ‘technology’ and ‘concept’ – collide. I think turning music emotions into a visual experience is the best example.
Any learning curves along the way?
This is my first personal project. I found myself to be more than just an art director, dealing with tasks that are usually left to someone else in an agency setting.
Sky’s the limit: Who is your dream client?
I’d say an open minded one. Someone who wants to challenge himself and its market. A client who wants to reinvent himself.
Anything exciting you are working on that’s coming up?
I’m currently working on another music project. This time, it’s an advertising campaign rather than a personal project. But I really like the idea, and it could really be the turning point for this major client. That’s why I’m pushing so hard.
Our project is online since a few weeks and we’ve already won the ‘best video of the week’ award on Awardeo.tv. Also, The Drum has recently featured our work in its weekly review of best creative works and we’re very proud of it.
The Ligeti Quartet:
Mandhira de Saram: violin 1
Patrick Dawkins: violin 2
Richard Jones: viola
Valerie Wellbanks: cello
Concept and production by Andrea Foresi, Alessandro Miasi, Billy Bernhardt, Milan Desai, Stefanie DiGianvincenzo, Evan Jones
Creative Direction by Matt Batten
Direction and Photography by Matt Batten and Alex Zeeman
Composition by György Ligeti
Sound Engineering by Paul Bishop
Audio Production by Tom Green
Post Production by Alex Zeeman