Whitney music box

The Whitney Music Box uses the theories of harmonic relationships to turn motion graphics into music.

At the beginning of each “song,” a line of dots begins to move around a central point. The outermost dot is on a three-minute cycle, meaning it orbits the center once every three minutes, and represents the first harmonic. The next dot in orbits twice every three minutes, representing the second harmonic; the third dot orbits three times every three minutes, and so on.

Protruding from the center is a radius line that “triggers” the harmonic tone when a dot or group of dots cross it (like a music box). As a result, scales, melodies, and chords are formed. If you know a little about music, it’s interesting to see the visual patterns that associate common musical forms, like the “three-pointed starfish” asterism that accompanies diminished chords.

One thing my astronomer’s eye kept noticing was a similarity between the way in which the visualizer’s dots spin and the way that many spiral galaxies rotate. I couldn’t help but wonder what a galaxy would sound like if plotted and visualized in this manner…. Maybe every galaxy has its own “song.”

Playing with the variations in the harmonic and chromatic scales makes for different visualizations and sounds. My particular favorites are variations 4 and 10. The latter sounds positively Kubrick-ian… straight-up 60s sci-fi.

The Whitney Music Box

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2 Responses to “Whitney music box”

  • Wow, this was a particularly nice & pithy description of what is going on. Given some astronomical data, I would *love* to turn it into music,
    whitney style. One idea that occurs to me would be to take a database of star positions, and rotate them about the galactic center, and use it to trigger large numbers of notes. Alternately, I suppose I could use high-resolution galaxy photos in much the same way…

    - Jim Bumgardner (Whitney Music Box guy)

  • Thanks for stopping by, Jim.

    It’s an interesting challenge… I’ll have to chew on it for awhile. The rotation of spiral galaxies isn’t as simple as it seems… rotation curves for spirals are “flat” when graphed (which is one of the biggest areas of research in astrophysics for the past few decades).

    Here’s a Wiki entry that describes the issue.

    Do the dots on the Whitney visualizer rotate in a similarly “flat” manner?

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