Classical Depicted

Expectation and classical music

When we attend a musical event, there is either a conscious or an unconscious expectation that there will be something to see as well as to hear. In the classical music field, this is a major cause of audience decline, because people expect an experience which is musically, visually and kinetically dynamic. This kind of experience cannot be found in the typical classical music concert.

G. Rossini – Stabat Mater

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The sense of occasion

People feel a sense of occasion when something special or important is happening right in front of their eyes. It’s happening in the immediate present and in that exact physical space.

As beings living in the era of image, we are much more acclimated to a visual sense of occasion than the generations before us. We expect to see the weather reports, to see the news, and now we expect to see music.


A videotrack is for a classical concert what a soundtrack is for a silent film. It delivers a more comprehensive sensorial experience, offering visual hints that are not present in a traditional concert. At the same time, the music remains the absolute protagonist of the concert, augmented by a new visual approach.

The videotrack has no narrative, there is no story to follow. It’s based on naturalistic or lifelike elements, colors, and textures readapted and synchronized in real-time to fit with the musical composition and the analogic nature of the instruments. The stage is an interface that discloses progressively the elements of the visual composition. Following principles borrowed from the field of interface and stage design, the overload of information is avoided, resulting in a performance that is traditional and innovative at the same time.

The videotrack is managed during the concert by a professional musician and designer, following a pre-written score and using modern techniques of video-mapping and light design.

Schubert String Quintet in C major, D. 956 (Adagio)

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The Theoretical Tools

The following list is a selection of Design principles that I think every designer should consider and keep in mind before beginning the development of a performance of classical music with video projections. It is based on William Lidwell’s “Universal Principle of Design”, and mixed with principles discovered during my active practice as video designer for classical music. Video examples follow.


A technique of combining many units of information into a limited number of units or chunks, so that the information is easier to process and remember.

Classical Conditioning

A technique used to associate a stimulus with an unconscious physical or emotional response.

Progressive Disclosure

A strategy for managing information complexity in which only necessary or requested information is displayed at any given time.

Biophilia Effect

Environments rich in nature views and imagery reduce stress and enhance focus and concentration.

Cathedral Effect

A relationship between the perceived height of a ceiling and cognition. High ceilings promote abstract thinking and creativity. Low ceilings promote concrete and detail-oriented thinking.

Debussy, La Cathédrale Engloutie

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Color is used in design to attract attention, group elements, indicate meaning, and enhance aesthetics.

Common Fate

Elements that move in the same direction are perceived to be more related than elements that move in different directions or are stationary.


The usability of a system is improved when similar parts are expressed in similar ways.


A process in which similar characteristics evolve independently in multiple systems.

Entry Point

A point of physical or attentional entry into a design.

Expectation Effect

A phenomenon in which perception and behavior changes as a result of personal expectations or the expectations of others.

Exposure Effect

Repeated exposure to stimuli for which people have neutral feelings will increase the like ability of the stimuli.

Face-ism Ratio

The ratio of face to body in an image that influences the way the person in the image is perceived.

Figure-Ground Relationship

Elements are perceived as either figures (objects of focus) or ground (the rest of the perceptual field).

Form Follows Function

Beauty in design results from purity of function.


A technique that influences decision making and judgement by manipulating the way information is presented.

Garbage In-Garbage Out

The quality of system output is dependent on the quality of system input.

Golden Ratio

A ratio within the elements of a form, such as height to width, approximately 0.618.

Good Continuation

Elements arranged in a straight line or a smooth curve are perceived as a group, and are interpreted as being more related than elements not on the line or curve.

Gutenberg Diagram

A diagram that describes the general pattern followed by the eyes when looking at evenly distributed, homogeneous information.


Hierarchical organization is the simplest structure for visualizing and understanding complexity.

Hierarchy of Needs

In order for a design to be successful, it must meet people’s basic needs before it can attempt to satisfy higher-level needs.


A technique for bringing attention to an area of the design.

Horror Vacui

A tendency to favor filling blank spaces with objects and elements over leaving spaces blank or empty.

Hunter-Nurturer Fixations

A tendency for male children to be interested in hunting-related objects and activities, and female children to be interested in nurturing-related objects and activities.

Iconic Representation

The use of pictorial images to improve the recognition and recall of signs and controls.

Stabat Mater (Inflammatus et accensus), G. Rossini

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A state of mental focus so intense that awareness of the “real” world is lost, generally resulting in a feeling of joy and satisfaction.

Inattentional Blindness

The failure to cognitively process a stimulus that is presented in clear view, leaving the observer without any awareness or memory of the stimulus.

Interference Effects

A phenomenon in which mental processing is made slower and less accurate by competing mental processes.

Law of Pragnanz

A tendency to interpret ambiguous images as simple and complete, versus complex and incomplete.


The process of organizing information into related groupings in order to manage complexity and reinforce relationships in the information.

Mental Model

People understand and interact with systems and environments based on mental representations developed from experience.

Video Example of “Layering” and “Good Continuation” (Carmina Burana, Orff)

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The act of copying properties of familiar objects, organisms, or environments in order to realize specific benefits afforded by those properties.

Mnemonic Device

A method of recognizing information to make the information easier to remember.


A method of managing system complexity that involves dividing large systems into multiple, smaller self-contained systems.

Not Invented Here

A bias against ideas and innovations that originate elsewhere.


A method for predictably altering behavior without restricting options or significantly changing incentives.

Ockham’s Razor

Given a choice between functionally equivalent designs, the simplest design should be selected.

Orientation Sensitivity

A phenomenon of visual processing in which certain line orientations are more quickly and easily processed and discriminated than other line orientations.

Performance Versus Preference

The designs that help people perform optimally are often not the same as the designs that people find most desirable.

Picture Superiority Effect

Pictures are remembered better than words.


The activation of specific concepts in memory for the purposes of influencing subsequent behaviors.

Propositional Density

The relationship between the elements of a design and the meaning they convey. Designs with high propositional density are more interesting and memorable than designs with low propositional density.

Recognition Over Recall

Memory for recognizing things is better than memory for recalling things.

Works from the Stadion of Zurich

Rosetta Stone

A technique for communicating novel information using elements of common understanding.

Rule of Thirds

A technique or composition in which a medium is divided into thirds, creating aesthetic positions for the primary elements of design.

Scaling Fallacy

A tendency to assume that a system that works at one scale will also work at a smaller or larger scale.


A property in which a form is made up of parts similar to the whole or to one another.

Serial Position Effects

A phenomenon of memory in which items presented at the beginning and end of a list are more likely to be recalled than items in the middle of a list.


A method for dramatically increasing the recognition, recall, and unsolicited sharing of an idea or expression.


A property of visual equivalence among elements in a form.

Three-Dimensional Projection

A tendency to see objects and patterns as three-dimensional when certain visual cues are present.

Uniform Connectedness

Elements that are connected by uniform visual properties, such as color, are perceived to be more related than elements that are not connected.

Visuospatial Resonance

A phenomenon in which an image achieves optimal clarity due to resonance between the spatial frequency of the image and the observer’s distance from the image.

von Restorff Effect

A phenomenon of memory in which noticeably different things are more likely to be recalled than common things.


Objects and environments that embody naturalness, simplicity, and subtle imperfection achieve a deeper, more meaningful aesthetic.

Works from Leipzig Gewandhaus


The following excerpts come from the essay “Visualization in the Performance of Classical Music: A New Challenge” by Wil Greckel.

The Visual Sterility of Classical
Music Concerts

“Those who have never attended a live performance of a major rock group have missed an experience important to their understanding of the musical psyche of today. They will also not totally understand why young people are so often put off by the atmosphere and the decorum of the typical symphony orchestra concert.”

The Stage

“Unfortunately, many concert and recital halls have the stark, severe, and sterile decor of dissecting laboratories in medical schools; thank heavens for the architectural exuberance and splendor which celebrated life and music in earlier centuries! Even in an attractive baroque or classical hall, the stage setting for most classical music concerts is starkly utilitarian and harshly lit. Contrast this with the visual impact of the rock-concert stage with its dazzling colored light shows, sweeping laser beams, tons of electronic sound equipment, and an impressive array of synthesizers and electronic keyboards, a mountain of sparkling drums lit from within and without, and a small army of sound and light technicians dashing busily about. Add to this such “special effects” as filmed or photographed images projected on large screens, dancers, choreographed and costumed back-up vocal groups and so on, and you have quite a spectacle.”

Stage Decorum and Communication

“At the typical orchestral or choral concert, the musicians walk quietly and seriously on stage. They are also formally and soberly dressed. The conductor walks out, bows to all. He speaks to no one; no one speaks to him. In fact, no one on stage speaks overtly to anyone! Communication about the music and about everything that has to do with the concert is accomplished via the printed medium: The Program Notes. These generally have small print and large technical words, yet must be read in very dim light if one arrives early enough or in darkness, once the performance begins. On the whole, the concert is a very traditional, formal ritual, with visual stimuli kept to a minimum in order not to “distract” from the music. Contrast this with the leaping, dancing entrances of the rock stars in their striking, colorful, or shockingly bizarre costumes. And the rock pop performers actually speak to their audiences. The audience roars and screams its approval and excitement during and after every number! Laser lights flash, singers and players twist, jump, gyrate, and writhe with the intensity of their emotions. The powerfully amplified music is a physical force, energizing a rollicking, tumultuous audience, which in itself provides its own major visual “event.” If we are to win more of the present generation into the concert halls of classical music, we must be willing to use means of communication that will break down the barriers of (what is to them) an alien musical style that is visually austere; we must stop recreating a concert ambience of nineteenth-century formality when we are already in the last decade of the twentieth century. One important way to accomplish this may well be through the increased attention to and use of visual elements in the performance of classical music.”

Psychological-Sensory Roots: Synesthetic

“Synesthesia or synesthetic perception is the psychological term for a cross-sensory or a sensory-association experience. “Color hearing,” or the ability to see colors when one hears music, is an example of this phenomenon, and although synesthesia is not limited to just the association of color with music, it is probably the most Widely known type of synesthetic perception. Those who experience color association with music do so in different ways. Some individuals associate certain colors with certain compositions (such as blue with Tannhauser, or red with Les Preludes), or they associate a color with a certain composer or musical style. For example, it was reported in an 1893 study by Theodore Flournoy (Peacock, 1985) that Gounod’s music evoked the color of violet for one individual and blue for another. For another of Flournoy’s subjects, Beethoven’s music was black. P. E. Vernon in a 1930 study reports a person who found Wagner’s music to be green and yellow, and Chopin’s music luminous (Peacock, 1985). Many musicians have color associations with different timbres; that is, they may “see” red when they hear brass, blue with woodwinds, and so on. Leonard Bernstein mentioned that he associated various colors with certain timbres. Color association with pitch is apparently quite common, but most often not associations with specific pitches, but rather with a range of pitches, as in dark colors with low pitches and bright colors with high pitches.”

Scriabin’s Colored Lighting Score

“Scriabin’s synesthetic perception was actually quite systematized; he delineated, according to his own personal visual associations, a specific color for each of the twelve: major keys. Therefore, when he decided to add lights to his Fifth Symphony, Prometheus, The Poem of Fire (1910), he included a specific part in the score for an instrument he called the Tastiera per luce, which would project colored light according to the tonalities and sonorities in the music as it progressed. In November of 1989, the Louisville Orchestra performed this work [with Dr. Kenneth Peacock of New York University (an authority on Scriabin’s color hearing) “playing” the Tastiera per luce part] by coordinating the specified colored lighting effects from the lighting booth in the concert hall. Louisville junior and senior high school students attended this performance and reacted with great enthusiasm. Here was something they could identify with! It may not have been as Visually spectacular as some of the rock concerts they had attended, but the “light show” in combination with the music spoke to them in their kind of visual and musical style. They felt “at home,” and they liked it. After the performance, many students crowded around Dr. Peacock, excitedly expressing their enjoyment of and interest in the lighting effects.”

“The arts are basically means of communication. If there is something that can be done in the performance or presentation of a work of art that may improve the communication of its essence and spirit to an audience, then it would seem reasonable and legitimate to use this means. It would seem logical to approach the whole issue of the use of visual effects in music performance with this as a basic rationale. On the other hand, the addition of superficial, “razzle-dazzle” visual effects just to draw an audience or create publicity for concerts would jeopardize the artistic integrity and have negative consequences in the long run. Mozelle Clark Sherman, Professor of Church Drama at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, maintains that people need a “sense of occasion” because we are acclimated to “a more visual sense of occasion than our grandmothers and grandfathers.” She also maintains that television cannot give us this “sense of occasion.” It can only be achieved through the physical closeness or immediacy of a “live” performance, and through a performance that is Visually and kinetically as well as musically dynamic. The basic premise, that communicating the message of church music to today’s audience demands attention to the visualization of music through dramatization, dance, and visual effects is a premise which might be successfully applied to secular concert music as well.”

Applications of Visualization to
Musical Performance
On the other hand, the addition of superficial, ``razzle-dazzle`` visual effects just to draw an audience or create publicity for concerts would jeopardize the artistic integrity and have negative consequences in the long run.
... there is really no type of musical work which should be arbitrarily excluded when one is considering the use of visual elements
Visualization: Examples from the

“With what types of music can visual effects be used? A typical first reaction would be in terms of programmatic works only. This is logical, for the use of visual imagery for the performance of Liszt’s Les Preludes, for example, would seem more appropriate than for a Haydn symphony. Yet, ballet performances in the past 50 years or so demonstrate that the visualization of abstract or absolute music is as successful and prevalent as with program music. Looking at the productions of Balanchine alone, one finds that he choreographed more musical works which were not originally intended for dance than those that were, and his repertoire includes absolute music by Bach, Mozart, Schoenberg, and Webern. Stravinsky’s music is also an interesting case in point. Stravinsky is known mostly for his great ballet scores, but the large number of his absolute works which were subsequently visualized as dance productions actually exceeds the number of works he specifically composed as ballet music (White, 1966). The obvious answer to the above question, then, is that there is really no type of musical work which should be arbitrarily excluded when one is considering the use of visual elements.” – Wil Greckel

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