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30 May 2024

Music in contemporary digital art

by Anastasiia Spirenkova

Music in contemporary digital art

Music and visual arts have been merging much longer than we may think. Throughout the centuries, one observes an ongoing interest of artists, composers, writers and philosophers in combining the aesthetics of sound, light, and colours into a unified simultaneous effect. The human ability of synesthesia to associate certain letters, numbers, or sounds with a certain colour attracted various theoreticians, poets, and artists. From Gesamtkunstwerk by Wagner to the theories of Kandinsky, creators never stopped to reflect on the potential of synergy of the visual and the acoustic.


Music as well as visual art faces the challenges of the computer-powered era—materiality, agency, and authorship. As fairly pointed out in Music and Digital Media edited by Georgina Brown (UCL Press, 2022), when we’re speaking about digital music, we have “to consider the materialities of code, of electromagnetic waves, indeed of sound itself: entities that stretch or defy orthodox definitions of an ‘object’”. As noted in the same book, reviewing the research of the last 30 years, digital music’s materialities are “additionally complex in being inherently multiple, built of many communicating and articulated layers of hardware and software” and “digital and analogue devices and processes are invariably combined and mutually compounding”.



Pipe Dream by Massimo Magee

Pipe Dream by Massimo Magee

When an artist happens to be a musician themselves, it provides a unique opportunity to individually create both visual and musical aspects of the artwork. That’s the case for Massimo Magee, an experimental musician and abstract artist who combines his discoveries into audiovisual digital art. Otherwise, the requirement for the musical dimension leads to collaborations with composers and sound artists. Thus, Alper Derinboğaz for his Neogene collection collaborated with Xtopia studio which specialises in immersive sound environments. Krista Kim for her Continuum project invited long-time guitarist of Smashing Pumpkins Jeff Schroeder to write and perform a 20-minute healing frequency composition. 


Continuum Collection v.6 by Krista Kim


No surprise that musicians who are open to such collaborations are observing and testing the potential of interdisciplinary art. As their fellow visual artists, this row of composers and music performers is heading towards new theoretical discoveries by taking risks and as a result pioneering the future of art. The key question is that visual and music aspects of digital art will remain on the same level of its aesthetic and technological development.


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