Hack #3: Another Type of Sketch

MIDI art is a blended musical/artistic genre in which the musician/artist creates a song using MIDI information (digital information that plays an instrument in real time) while also creating a visual art piece in the process. MIDI art can be viewed as subjunctive work because the user repurposes/combines Logic Pro X’s music making tools with an art lens to create a blended discipline artpiece. For my third hack, I wanted to try my hand at MIDI art and see how I could take the art/music form one step further.

Many attempts at MIDI art focus solely on the form of visual piece and not so much the musical aspect. Instead of using the music and art constructively, the art typically births dissonant music because the notes are so close together on the MIDI graph. Take a look at this example of MIDI art of the Nintendo Gamecube logo or this example of the Adidas logo. In both cases, visual form precedes sonic form which means that the music comes out sounding not so much like music as it does a thick wall of dissonance. However, there are artists that use the art and music constructively, to create music that sounds as good as it looks. Take a look at YouTuber Andrew Huang’s MIDI unicorn. Huang takes the unicorn form and finds a way to make an honest baroque piece. In this example, Huang lets the music and art influence each other so that both forms are equally represented and coherent. There is one thing I that I could not oversee in these examples…color. None of these examples utilize color to “paint” a better land/soundscape. In Logic Pro X, the color of the MIDI information dictates how hard or soft the note is played by the virtual instrument(known as the velocity). I wanted to challenge myself to create MIDI art that incorporates my style of ambient music, my love of art, and the use of color to create a song/art piece that makes sense musically and visually. Because Logic Pro X is a music creation tool, using it as an art creation tool creates subjunctive work. MIDI artists are repurposing music software as an artist’s canvas which then reflects back onto the original (Note: I later found this video of somebody who also tried to create a more intricate, colored MIDI artpiece!)

MIDI art best relates to pixel art, where a larger art form is composed of smaller blocks of information. Because I wanted to make an art piece that made sense visually and sonically, I chose to only use MIDI notes that belonged to a specific musical key. I chose the key of G Major which contains the notes G, A, B, C, D, E, and F#. Using that, I decided that if needed to use a note outside of the key, it had to be quiet enough to not be heard and cause dissonance, but that also means that the note had to be a blue/purple color. I then chose to evoke my inner Bob Ross and “paint” a beautiful naturescape. I utilized my green and red MIDI notes (medium and hard velocities) for my flowers, my yellow MIDI notes (somewhere between medium and hard velocity) for my ground and sun, and my blue and purple MIDI notes (soft and softer velocities) for my sky and water areas. As I began to work through my picture, I wanted to add some birds to the scene. However, I could not find an arrangement of notes that made sense musically and visually to represent the birds so they ended up being blue and purple. Overall, the picture came out looking better than I thought it would, especially since I had to make compromises on where notes were placed and what colors they had to be. Musically, I wanted to evoke my own ambient electronic style so I decided to have the notes correspond to a virtual Fender Rhodes piano that I ran through a reverb and echo effect. The reverb and echo made the piece sound fuller than it actually was because it allowed the played notes to ring out longer. Take a listen to the piece with effects and the piece without effects. The delay and reverb absolutely brought life to my MIDI art song and gave it the activity it lacked. The finished products (art and music) relate to each other because the ambient electronic music provides context to the naturescape I created. I wanted to change the rules that users abide by when they open a music creation tool. Why can’t you use it to create visual art? Additionally, I wanted to question why MIDI art can’t utilize colors (velocity of the notes) to create a more intricate form of pixel art?

My project works on changing the form and function of Logic Pro X (see Montifort’s five layers of game analysis). I worked on reshaping the software’s purpose and retooling it for a multi-discipline project that speaks on multiple layers of media. I think that using MIDI art to express emotions visually first and then using the artwork to constructively influence the music second creates a deeper and more impactful art piece. MIDI art blends visual art and music production into a mixed media experience where assumptions are questioned and rules are broken. I can see my retooling of Logic into an art tool to create a new genre of media where the music and art work together and influence each other in new ways constructively. However, the two forms of media presented (art and music) have to be willing to adjust in order to compensate for compromises being made. The art has to be inside the MIDI graph (more or less like pixel art) and has to abide by the colors the software uses (which is not that many). The music has to make sense to the artist (a subjective definition of “making sense” hahaha) and should contain dynamic changes to parallel the art it comes from. I believe that MIDI art represents an interesting experiment in art creation that warrants further investigation by both disciplines.