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Ahhh, Music To My… Eyes?

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If you couldn’t hear, would music still resonate with you?

Whether you listen to opera, death metal or jazz, most hearing individuals would agree that music is one of the sublime pleasures in life. But what if you lost your ability to hear? Would you ever be able to enjoy music again? Or perhaps you know someone who is deaf – have you ever yearned to share the genius of your favorite song with that person?**

Martin Klimas, an artist and photographer in Düsseldorf, Germany, has developed a series of photographs that are as surprising and delightful for your eyes as listening to the tracks that produce them is for your ears (or, for you sticklers for accuracy out there, for your brains via your eyes and ears ;).

Martin Klimas Sonic Sculpture, Miles' Davis' Pharaoh's Dance

from Martin Klimas' Sonic Sculpture Series: Miles' Davis' Pharaoh's Dance

Called sonic sculptures, they represent just a moment in time of songs like Miles Davis’ Pharoah’s Dance or Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, but they capture and make visible some of the explosive energy you may feel when listening to music that resonates with you.

Martin Klimas Sonic Sculpture, Carl Orff's Carmina Burana

from Martin Klimas' Sonic Sculpture Series: Carl Orff's Carmina Burana

Martin Klimas Sonic Sculpture, Massive Attack's Angel

from Martin Klimas' Sonic Sculpture Series: Massive Attack's Angel

Just how, exactly, are these works influenced by the songs for which they’re named? Klimas was inspired by Hans Jenny, known for his experiments in the sixties spreading sand on a thin membrane and then subjecting it to the vibrations of sound. Rather than use sand, Klimas dropped brightly colored paints onto a tight membrane stretched over a speaker; then, he pumped up the volume for each of the songs for which his sculptures are named. Six months and 1000 photographs later, the Sonic Sculptures Series was complete.

Martin Klimas Sonic Sculptures

Photographer Martin Klimas creates visual versions of popular songs by pouring paint on a thin membrane and then subjecting it to sound.

Each image is a raucous display of color: a visual interpretation of rhythm, volume, and mood. If you’re in Austria, a selection of Klimas’ Sonic Sculpture prints will be on display through July 6th, 2013 to honor the opening of a new opera house in Linz. My suggestion? Make yourself a playlist to bring to the show and contemplate how these songs’ sounds translate into their color “fingerprints,” courtesy of Martin Klimas.

Martin Klimas Sonic Sculpture, Pink Floyd's On The Run

from Martin Klimas' Sonic Sculpture Series: Pink Floyd's On The Run

Martin Klimas Sonic Sculpture, Velvet Underground and Nico's Run, Run, Run

from Martin Klimas' Sonic Sculpture Series: Velvet Underground and Nico's Run, Run, Run

**On the topic of cochlear implants and music appreciation, I once invited a good friend of mine with a cochlear implant to come hear me sing with singer-songwriter Cynthia Lin. He quite politely smiled after the show and said it was great, but I always wondered what he heard. If this simulation is any indication, I completely understand why he preferred his percussive death metal to Cynthia’s smooth crooning! With little to no percussion and a demure little amp that was set for a chill acoustic set, our singing must have sounded very flat indeed.

Kalliopi Monoyios About the Author: Kalliopi Monoyios is an independent science illustrator. She has illustrated several popular science books including Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish and The Universe Within, and Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True. Find her at Follow on Twitter @symbiartic.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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