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Mesmerizing video brings cutting-edge brilliance to Bach

Music from Bach's "Well Tempered Clavier" is rendered in a way that gives classical a modern twist.

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
2 min read

Before reading any more, have a look at the video above. Go ahead, I'll wait.


Good. What's the first question that came to your mind while watching? For me, it was: "Where did they find the space to set up that exhibition?" That was followed by: "What kind of camera did they use to film it?" I even wrote to the artist to ask those questions.

Now, if you're a bit sharper than I am, you already have the answer that I got back from the creator of the piece, Alan Warburton. The entire thing was done via CGI.

While that's impressive enough, the process Warburton -- a visual artist specializing in computer animation -- went through to create the computerized animation is equally inspiring. According to Sinfini Music, which sponsored the project, Warburton listened to the parts of Johann Sebastian Bach's composition he would eventually illustrate by boarding a bus and immersing himself in the music for hours.

He then needed to come up with an automated way to get his computer-generated neon lights to sound in exact synchrony with the piano key strikes of pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who played the music in the video.

The answer came in the form of music visualization specialist, Matthew Bain who learned the music and then replayed it flawlessly on an electric piano, which created an electronic version of the composition. This was then fed into the computer and synced to Warburton's animated lights.

Next came the actual animation. "Each frame took 15 minutes to render because of the thousands of calculations involved in activating each light as well as the shadows, glows and reflections required to make the scene look truly life-like," said Sinfini, adding that an "army of cloud-based computers" was used for the project.

The music selected for the video is from "The Well Tempered Clavier," a book of music Bach published in the 1700s that featured solo piano compositions in all 24 major and minor keys "for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study," according to Sinfini Music and Wikipedia.

"My film draws inspiration from minimalist sculpture and graphical notation, an alternative to traditional sheet music notation that evolved in the 1950s and often involves abstract symbols and experimental visual codes," Warburton said on his Vimeo page for the project, which went live two weeks ago.

Warburton's work has appeared in the London underground, and a film he produced called "Spherical Harmonics" was shown at an exhibit at The Photographer's Gallery in the same city, where it was billed alongside work from David Lynch, William Burroughs and Andy Warhol. Warburton said he strives to fuse his fine-arts university background with 3D animations, splitting his time between freelance work and fine arts projects.

"I'm really interested in software and it's impact on visual culture," Warburton told Crave.