Project diary: music made visible

When he was asked to take part in charity design competition Secret 7”, Matt H Booth took it as an excuse to begin experimenting. Many of those experiments found their way into his self initiated project, Visualiser, in which they were developed to create an ongoing live music visualisation piece.


I was originally invited by Kevin King, creator of the charity design Project Secret 7”, to produce new Artwork for one of the seven tracks to be re-pressed. I chose to work with Elton John’s Bennie & The Jets.

The design that I produced was created using the sound data from the song. Letting sound create visual design is something I’ve been interested in for a while now: it’s fascinating what can be achieved by changing predefined variables and by using diff erent sound sources.

There was lot of experimenting to get to my final design for the Secret 7” submission, and some of this experimentation in turn spawned new personal projects – including Spectrum, which provided the artwork for the Secret 7” limited edition print. From Spectrum, I developed my Visualiser tool.

Visualiser essentially takes the live feed of a chosen music track, and displays the sound spectrum data – in this case around a circle. Experimenting with diff erent songs, shapes, colours and so on produces unique visualisations. Pausing the song at any point means that not only can I see what the song is doing at that moment, but it also allows me to export that visual for use in other work, or as a standalone piece. The first stage of this was to have some one-off giclée prints produced.


Even though most of my work ends up in code, I always find making notes and super-simple sketches helps me to get my ideas down. Here, it was probably just a single side of an A5 notepad, but it was more than enough to get the idea out of my head so I could get on with experimenting with others.

Although this project was about a single piece, it was important to explore as many avenues as possible. The experimenting and test files that got me to my final Secret 7” submission spawned new side projects. For my development, and sanity, I love to take these personal projects further.

As the code develops and experimenting takes place, lots of support files are created. Not all will be used, but it’s important to keep all of these files. I may learn a new technique or new bit of code that’ll come in handy in future, so once I have a bit of code working, I copy it out into a new file for use later.

My coding starts very rough – just to get something that works for me. If it doesn’t, I can put it to one side and move on. Once I have something with potential, I refine and optimise. Chances are no one will see or use my code from personal projects, but it’s good to get into the habit of good coding when refining the final piece.

With pieces like Visualiser, I make every aspect of it configurable to keep the possibilities infinite. Once I have the sound data I can use these values, as I like knowing each graphic on screen will react diff erently but by the same rules as all the rest. This means completely diff erent looks can be achieved from the same track.

I experimented with various shapes and colours, as it’s important they fit the track being fed through the code. Colours mostly come from the album artwork of the track – taking key colours, creating a gradient. Data from the sound determines which point from the gradient is picked to colour each shape.

Visualiser exists onscreen and in print, but it doesn’t have to stop there. An obvious next step is to take it into a 3D form. That’s the beauty of personal projects: you can take them where you like, at your own speed. You can keep it to yourself, or, as I prefer, tell the world about it to gain commissions and collaborations.

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