What does music look like? TheShapeOfSong is an attempt to answer this seemingly paradoxical question. The custom software in this work draws musical patterns in the form of translucent arches, allowing viewers to see--literally--the shape of any composition available on the Web. The resulting images reflect the full range of musical forms, from the deep structure of Bach to the crystalline beauty of Philip Glass.
The diagrams in TheShapeOfSong display musical form as a sequence of translucent arches. Each arch connects two repeated, identical passages of a composition. By using repeated passages as signposts, the diagram illustrates the deep structure of the composition.
For example, the picture above was built from the first line of a very simple piece: Mary Had a Little Lamb. Each arch connects two identical passages. To clarify the connection between the visualization and the song, in this diagram the score is displayed beneath the arches.
More complex compositions create more intricate diagrams. The diagram above represents one of the Goldberg Variations. It shows that the piece divides into two main parts, each made of a long passage played twice--or what a musician would call an "AABB" structure.
The diagram, however, provides much more detailed information than the simple "AABB" notation. For instance, you can see that the A and B passages are loosely related, as shown by the bundle of thin arcs connecting the two halves of the piece.
See also the MusicAnimationMachine.
Watterberg, M. (2002) Arc diagrams: Visualizing structure in strings. in IBM Watson Research Center Technical Report #02-11. Available from http://domino.research.ibm.com/cambridge/research.nsf/2b4f81291401771785256976004a8d13/e2a83c4986332d4785256ca7006cb621/$FILE/TR2002-11.pdf