Welcome to Optophonia – the visual analogue of music

Figure 1: Visual element from Wladimir Baranoff Rossiné’s (1888-1944) Optophonic Piano.

Visual Music: “Visual music, sometimes called colour music, refers to the creation of a visual analogue to musical form by adapting musical structures for visual composition, which can also include silent films or silent Lumia work.” (Wikipedia)

Perhaps for as long as there has been something we call ‘the arts,’ there have been continuous historical forces of separation and fusion. The myths of the ancient Greeks imagined nine muses governing different aspects of learning, music, language and the senses. Ancient Greek philosophy also provided the first conceptions of the means versus the ends. For over two millennia this conceptual distinction has shaped debates and social institutions that define design and art somewhat in opposition to each other— the former concerned with making practical artefacts, and the latter with objects of contemplative beauty.

We easily see these old historical forces at work today, where music is typically not taught in art and design schools, and similarly, music is taught in conservatories that exclude the visual arts. There are art forms such as film, theater and opera where many arts come together, including the musical and visual arts. However, this art integration comes at a certain cost—namely, subservience to the script whereby the literary text becomes the dominant reference which organizes the contributions from all the other arts employed.

Despite these strong conceptual and institutional forces that have often worked to keep the arts apart, or force them into alignment by elevating one of them to a dominant position, there have always been contrarian attempts at producing other possibilities. One such artistic practice that has historically defied this segregation has been what is most commonly known as visual music, which has encompassed many different creative approaches and inventions. This alternative tradition, which can be traced back for half a millennium, often found painters making musical instruments, or musicians making visual instruments. Indeed, the history of visual music is inseparable from technological innovation and experimentation since almost always the associated artworks are manifested through novel inventions.

One of these inventions, the Optophonic Piano, is the inspiration for our project. This device was externally built similar to a piano, but its internal mechanisms were designed for an interactive manipulation of light, color and motion. Meant to be played alongside a traditional musical piano, the two instrumentalists combined their talents to produce what we would today call an immersive audiovisual experience.

Our project reimagines the broad potential of visual instruments like the Optophonic Piano in the 21st century through a variety of optophonic Instruments developed under the aegis of the Optophonia creative suite, a community of visual music performers and enthusiasts, and an art marketplace within the burgeoning crypto and NFT scene. The artist-produced visual components imported into the Optophonia creative suite will be NFTs categorized into either curated or community-voted galleries, released through monthly drops.

Optophonia puts these visual elements into motion through an interactive interface allowing for nuanced control, live performance, and the sort of improvisation that is the mainstay of musical performances. Optophonic performances will be recordable, allowing for the creation and minting of dynamic optophonic visual works for display and monetization through our platform.

Optophonia is the first creative tool for digital audiovisual media that is designed from the ground up with a focused vision taking full advantage of the possibilities crypto and NFTs bring to creative projects. Its users will be able to produce live visuals and performance recordings in collaboration with musicians in physical locations as well as in the Metaverse.