Relationship between sound and color found to be innate

goethe-color-relationshipsResearchers at UC Berkeley have been doing research into how sound is linked to visual perception, and they are ready to present their initial findings. According to the study, there is quantifiable evidence that correlations between the type of composition and specific colors exist.

Researchers asked participants to pair works with a 37 option palette and found that: “…people tend to pair faster-paced music in a major key with lighter, more vivid, yellow colors, whereas slower-paced music in a minor key is more likely to be teamed up with darker, grayer, bluer colors.”

The team repeated the experiment by asking participants to match tracks with facial expressions, with similar results: “Upbeat music in major keys was consistently paired with happy-looking faces while subdued music in minor keys was paired with sad-looking faces. Similarly, happy faces were paired with yellow and other bright colors and angry faces with dark red hues.”

They found that dissimilar people reacted similar ways, implying that there is a commonality to the way humans perceive sound: “The results were remarkably strong and consistent across individuals and cultures and clearly pointed to the powerful role that emotions play in how the human brain maps from hearing music to seeing colors.”

What does this mean? Beyond confirming what composers have known for years, it provides a scientific framework for investigating how people perceive sound and relate it to other senses. Of particular interest to this author is investigating how these findings can provide information on mysterious phenomena such as perfect pitch or synesthesia.

Perfect pitch is the ability of recognizing any tone by reflex and it has often been linked with color perception – the octave system, much like the visual spectrum is divided into unique tones that repeat infinitely in the same pattern. Conventional wisdom throughout the years has held that it’s purely a genetic condition, however, composers such as Zoltán Kodály maintained that the ability could be learned, given enough training.

Synesthesia is the condition where stimulation of one sense triggers a reaction in anther sense – such as seeing colors morph and shape according to what tones ones is hearing. As this research becomes more exacting, creating models of this will be ever more feasible and could one day result in a new type of artistic experience – one in which all senses are activated simultaneously by an artistic work.

That’s a long way off though; and for now, much more research needs to be done and the team will start by focusing on seeing if the same results occur in foreign countries with different styles of music: “…Palmer and his research team plan to study participants in Turkey where traditional music employs a wider range of scales than just major and minor. ‘We know that in Mexico and the U.S. the responses are very similar,’ he said. ‘But we don’t yet know about China or Turkey.'”

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Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music

assimilate_a_critical_history_of_industrial_music-s_alexander_reedBilling itself as “the first serious study published on industrial music,” a new book entitled Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music has gone to press in an attempt to uncover this cryptic genre that has directly contributed to much of heavy metal’s approach to both percussion and topic matter.

Finding it difficult to unite a genre that stretches from Einstürzende Neubauten, Throbbing Gristle, and Skinny Puppy to Ministry, VNV Nation and Godflesh, author S. Alexander Reed explores a “network of ideologies” which are traced through industrial music’s attitudes and practices. In particular, he analyzes its troubling side, such as its “ambiguous relationship with symbols of totalitarianism and evil.” Like metal, industrial plays with the dark side, and this book attempts to uncover the relationship between that dark side and positive attributes found in the music.

Citing thinkers like “Antonin Artaud, William S. Burroughs, and Guy Debord,” the author creates a hybrid between a history and an explanation of industrial music, presenting a viewpoint that will probably not make it onto the evening news, but might stimulate the curiosity of those who like extreme music and appreciate its relevance in darkening days.

The book is available for pre-order on its Amazon page.

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Ray Manzarek of the Doors dies at age 74

ray_manzarek-the_doorsRock and roll came from some very old ideas but it flourished starting in the 1950s and picked up speed in the mid-1960s as technology and social demand (“adolescence” replacing traditional adulthood initiation) created a greater perceived need for it. The pentatonic scale, originating in India and through it the middle east, was probably known to the ancient Greeks. Transposed into modern tuning, and put into the simple song format of Anglo-Celtic folk music with the percussion and harmony of German waltz bands, and suddenly the basis of rock music was born through many parallel pop music traditions in America.

This “world music” worked because it was the simplest possible form of music possible, and as a result, became the basis for popular music that like advertising jingles hung in the brain with catchy rhythms and melodies and intensive repetition of a personal message. As this exploded into form in the 1950s, it became at first innocuous soft pop fluff but picked up momentum in the 1960s as it became angrier and more alienated, as if a prelude to metal’s recognition of society’s decline and self-immolation.

One of the vanguards of the darker movement, which unlike the other nine-tenths of rock music was not based on personal feelings and desires but a dark sense of invisible undercurrents of meaning to modern decay, was California’s The Doors. Fronted by lysergic poet Jim Morrison and rounded out with a group of talented musicians including Jon Densmore and Robby Krieger, the band was founded on a number of ideas but driven by the keyboard sounds of Ray Manzarek, who both played lead keyboard with his right hand and kept a bassline going on a bass synthesizer with his left.

Much of metal’s heritage trickles down through diverse acts like The Doors, King Crimson, Black Sabbath, Iggy and the Stooges and other loud music that was not protest music but apocalyptic and mystical counteraction to the hippie vision of personal pleasure leading to societal happiness. Manzarek contributed intricate jazz-inspired solos and haunting lonely basslines to one of the bands that gave metal a sense of how to frame its epics, and how to develop beyond the literal to make a mythology out of the everyday.

Manzarek died today of cancer after a long battle against the disease. We commemorate his passing by celebrating his contributions not only to rock, and through it to metal, but to the ongoing development of the cultural heritage of our society as it struggles to survive modernity.

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Metal in Israel exploding forward as cultural phenomenon

orphaned_land-all_is_oneWhile Israel has developed a number of bands in its time, including the time-honored (and all-around good guys) Salem, much of us do not realize how much metal has found a place there. As recent news articles illustrate, the Holy Land is welcoming unholy metal with open arms. Not only that, but Israel is finding a unique voice for itself in heavy metal music.

The first event in this chain is that Dave Lombardo is teaching master classes in Israel, both covering drumming and “his Hispanic background, the Cuban Missile Crisis and Sephardic metal.” Read the rest of the article for a short interview with Lombardo where he discusses fleeing Communism in Cuba, his fascination with heavy metal and the origins of Slayer.

From the lighter fare department comes this story about IDF soldiers who, tired of being awakened by loudspeakers from nearby towns, retaliated with the best weapon in a metalhead’s arsenal… metal! Anyone who fights back against the noise and piety of society by using metal is probably on our wavelength. Specifically, blasting “For Whom the Bell Tolls” from Metallica’s Ride the Lightning should get any metalhead excited.

Finally, Israel’s Orphaned Land is set to release All Is One, and have started by streaming a video for the new song “Our Own Messiah.” The album, recorded in Israel, Turkey and Sweden, “strengthens the Orphaned Land message of unity through music,” and includes over 40 musicians who were used to flesh out the sound with additional choir, violin, viola and cello voices. For more information, visit the Orphaned Land website.

In addition, Orphaned Land are launching their 2013 tour with the following dates:

  • 5.29 – Teatro Odisseia – Rio de Janeiro / Br
  • 5.30 – Hangar 110 – Sao Paulo / Br
  • 6.1 – Roca ‘n’ Roll festival – Varginha / Br
  • 6.7 – C.C.Niza – Lima / Per
  • 6.8 – Teatro Alianza Francesa – Medellin / Co
  • 6.9 – TBA – Bogota / Co
  • 8.9 – Brutal Assault Festival / Cze
  • 8.10 – Artmania Festival – Sibu / Ro
  • 8.16 – Summer Breeze Festival – / Ger
  • 9.20 – Colmar – Le Grillen / Fr
  • 9.21 – Lille – Le Splendid / Fr
  • 9.22 – Tongeren – Sodom Klub / Be
  • 9.24 – Aschaffenburg – Colossal / Ger
  • 9.25 – B – Matrix / Ger
  • 9.26 – Hamburg – Rock N Roll Warehouse / Ger
  • 9.27 – Kobenhavn – Amager Bio Uniting The Powers Of Metal / Dk
  • 9.28 – Gera – Sachsischer Bahnof / Ger
  • 9.29 – Nuernberg – Hirsch / Ger
  • 10.1 – Praha – Exit us / Cz
  • 10.2 – Warsaw – Proxima club / Pl
  • 10.3 – Krakow – Lizard King club / Pl
  • 10.4 – Budapest – Club 202 / Hg
  • 10.5 – Vienna – Reigen Club / At
  • 10.6 – Bratislava – Randal Club / Sk
  • 10.11 – Sofia – Mix Tape 5 / Bg
  • 10.12 – Tessaloniki – Eight Ball Club / Gr
  • 10.13 – Athen – Kyttaro Live / Gr
  • 10.15 – Ankara – Jolly Joker Balans / Tk
  • 10.16 – Istanbul – Kucukciftkik Park / Tk
  • 10.18 – Belgrad – Dom Omladine / Srb
  • 10.19 – Zagreb – TBA / Ct
  • 10.20 – Maribor – Mc Pekarna Klub / Slov
  • 10.23 – Milan – Rock N Roll Arena / It
  • 10.24 – Prateln – Z7 / Ch
  • 10.26 – Lyon – o Totem Rillieux Mjc / Fr
  • 10.27 – Toulon – Le Vox / Fr
  • 10.28 – Toulouse – Connexion Live / Fr
  • 10.29 – Bilbao – Rock Star / Sp
  • 10.31 – Porto – Hard Club / Pt
  • 11.1 – Lisbon – Music Box / Pt
  • 11.2 – Madrid – Ramdall / Sp
  • 11.3 – Barcelona – Apolo 2 / Sp
  • 11.4 – Montpellier – L’antirouille / Fr
  • 11.6 – Nantes – Le Ferrailleur / Fr
  • 11.7 – Paris – Divan Du Monde / Fr
  • 11.8 – Zoetermeer – Boerderij / Nl
  • 11.9 – Apeldoorn – Gigant / Nl
  • 11.11 – Norwich – Waterfront / UK
  • 11.12 – Bilston – Robin 2 / UK
  • 11.13 – London – The Garage / UK
  • 11.14 – Manchester – Sound Control / UK
  • 11.15 – Dublin – The Pint / IRE

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Ataraxy – Revelations of the Ethereal

ataraxy cover

There is a way that quality music weaves its riffs and motifs to derive something substantial – almost more than just being audio. The lesser men would be satisfied by pop or some trend that’ll always be surpassed by another trend, but those with taste always look for the most compelling of journeys. One could hope to journey outside his comfort zone for an experience unlike any other. Perhaps it’d to be to go down such a hellish level and then be picked up again as a riff or storytelling changes. What if it never picks you up? What if it’s continuously challenging? What if it defies that which makes us human and throws our psyches into the unpleasant, but does it in such a way that it feels rewarding? That’s what I look for in music. I look for something that ignites the torch of uncertainty and makes it certain.

Ataraxy are very proficient musicians that market their music as old school death metal. It holds up to most of those standards, but their formulaic style will make it rather mundane and overlooked. One of the best qualities of this album is that each riff flows into the next almost perfectly; almost as classical music does, but I feel as if I’m wanting something more challenging — something to set it aside from other bands that mimic their influences. Revelations of the Ethereal isn’t anything that hasn’t already been done, but when Ataraxy molds a riff to extend into the next they do it at a very high level proficiency.

The vocals are directly derived from Asphyx. The drum patterns are predictable but solid. The backing keyboards insinuate the mood, but only act as a supporting instrument that could’ve given Revelations of the Ethereal a much needed additional element that would’ve set this aside from Asphyx and their other influences. To keep it short: this album doesn’t delve much further than the surface level and leaves the listener wanting something more than well-executed generic death metal.

The best parts of this album are great, but the great moments are lost in the formulas that Ataraxy constantly utilizes. Overall, the first listen was very entertaining, but there was no replay level to it because it never bestowed a challenge. It was predictable to the point of being monotonous. The slow to mid-tempos are over-utilized, but well-played. This band could stem to be something great if they focused beyond than their influences. Overall, I’d recommend it for one listen.

That which makes us human is the most of inhuman qualities… It’s that which takes us beyond the tried and true and brings us to a new standard.

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Burzum – Sôl austan, Mâni vestan

burzum-sol_austan_mani_vestanAfter a hiatus of some years, Burzum returns to the path that is intuitive and natural for composer Varg Vikernes, who drifted through a triplet of droning black metal albums before discarding the genre. Sôl austan, Mâni vestan picks up where Hlidskjalf left off, except that this new album uses a wider range of sounds and also covers a wider range of emotions.

The title, meaning “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” encompasses the cosmic music nature of this album. While the sounds are thoroughly contemporary, the spirit of this album is in the stargazing music of the 1970s that attempted to find divinity even as the world around it seemed in a state of total doubt. Having explored the darkness and alienation of the past, Vikernes increases his palette here to include the playful, mystical, mysterious and placid, and works them in contrast to one another so that no one dominates and becomes background noise, but he pushes right to that limit with not only direct repetition but allusion to very similar themes across songs. The result is like a hypnosis into which the listener slides, unaware that through this mundane noise a vision of great beauty and even metaphysical significance will be found.

As Vikernes said in a blog post, “We are all lost souls in a dying world, so to speak, stripped of all spiritual life and energy by the societies we live in, and left to find new spiritual life and energy on our own. We stumble, we fall and we get up again, as we progress, and black metal, although empty and hollow like most other things in this world, is actually a good gateway to the Divine Light. If nothing else black metal has been a way to find true meaning, a positive direction and new life for many.” This attitude pervades through Sôl austan, Mâni vestan which consistently uses simple and catchy sounds to introduce themes which gradually develop into something revelatory of the sublime, like a flower opening from a bud hidden under dirt.

Burzum showed its affinity for 1970s relaxing and New Age style music with classics like “Tomhet,” “Rundgang” and the cheerier parts of Hlidskjalf. This new album picks up from that influence and goes further, fusing the classic Burzum sound with a full range of moods as one might find on a professional ambient album from the heart of that genre. Unexpected technique, including duets with guitar and bass through which keyboards and sampled tones dive like seabirds in flight, and flair borrowed from rock, ambient and jazz, offset these fundamentally simple tunes and embed them in the kind of texture and nuance you might expect from an Autechre or Aphex Twin album.

In the meantime, although not only the black metal aesthetics but also the black metal voice have been cast aside, the uncanny sense of pacing remains which Vikernes uses to engage us, lull us, excite us and finally bring all of these things into collision. In many ways, this music is more black metal than his post-prison guitar albums because it has such a range of emotions, and such a vivid journey from start to finish. In that sense, Vikernes has returned, and has found his natural voice after many intervening years. It’s not black metal, but who cares? It’s excellent and relentlessly intriguing.

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Põhjast – Matused

põhjast-matusedCrafting slowed-down heavy metal in a style that verges on classic doom but incorporates some of the vivid dynamics of black metal, Põhjast release their third album, Matused, to a world audience in need of quality metal faithful to the genre.

Unlike most entries in this sub-genre, Matused is not campy hard rock with metal licks and prolonged droning riffs. Instead, it cuts back to the core of what made heavy metal great, with the amazingly adept vocals of Eric Syre guiding a guitar-driven, riff-based band with a sense of how to create and nurture mood like a doom metal band.

Syre’s vocals highlight these riffs with melodies but do not merely duplicate the notes, but instead serve as a separate instrument, winding around the progressions that guide the song and by carefully choosing where to go in that space, both accentuating consistency and foreshadowing change. Like serpents in the trees of an enchanted garden, vocal melodies slowly enwrap each riff and then merge with it, urging the song on to new dimensions.

Matused follows the time-honored metal tradition of complex songs structures adapted to the material in each song, where riffs comment back and forth. Composition resembles a cross between Candlemass, later Bathory, and Confessor, with thunderous riffs interweaving with vocals while drums keep time with workmanlike precision and bass pumps like a nuclear reactor.

What will win listeners over to Põhjast is the quality of this material, which plays with older riff styles but invents just as many of its own, and its tendency to set up songs so that their dramatic development plays out organically and does not repeat. The result, kicked into high gear by the apparently only recently discovered vocal talents of Syre, drive this band to produce an atmospheric and yet powerful form of heavy metal.

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Album covers: Dan Seagrave

Dan Seagrave - Like an Everflowing Stream

I like to believe that every death metal fan has seen a Dan Seagrave cover at one time or another. The man has painted the covers of some of the most influential death metal albums out there – we’re talking Morbid Angel, Suffocation, Entombed, Pestilence, Dismember, Gorguts and Carnage among others. Some of those covers have undeniably somewhat added to the spirit of death metal mythology.

Seagrave is a self-taught Brit, initially inspired by the rural and urban surroundings of his native Ravenshead (near Nottingham). That the young artist’s paintings would fit the imagery of death metal music makes sense when considering how his early influences included John Martin, a Romantic painter keen on apocalyptic and chthonic scenery, and M. C. Escher, a graphic artist interested in labyrinthine visual paradoxes. Top it off with some Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci and early sci-fi films, like Alien, and the road to metal doesn’t seem entirely unlikely. Seagrave is nevertheless (and hardly surprising) more into architecture than other visual arts:

I like to see the layers of history in buildings, things like old signs or hand painted fading billboards – that kind of thing, and a little bit of seedy urban decay.

The typical Seagrave painting these days often seems to delve in a sea of thorns or a mess of jagged bark that’s come alive in some decrepit, chaotic universe. Some of his works are, by contrast, highly symmetrical pieces (think The Ultimate Incantation or Like an Ever-flowing Stream). In all his works, however, there’s a penetrating attention to detail. You can spend an awful lot of time discovering all the elements of the cover of, say, Effigy of the Forgotten.

Seagrave’s early paintings used gouache paint, which, while rather dull, is more tolerant of the meticulous. Whereas these early works are reminiscent of morbid still lifes, his more recent paintings – mostly painted with acrylics – experiment more with gnarly shapes, twisted movements and vertiginous perspectives.

Seagrave painted a lot of cover art from 1988 to 1994, more or less until the advent of computer graphics (and the death of a lot of underground metal). He prefers to work instinctively and hardly uses any reference material. He is, as he expresses it, “trying to convey”. Seagrave’s legacy should indeed remind us that real paintings pertain more to the authenticity of metal culture than any Photoshop production:

I did around 40 covers, computer graphics were cheaper alternatives, but I think paintings are far more interesting to look at. And people realize that computer art is as different to painting as photography, it’s simply another medium which is why things are beginning to level off again.

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