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Hullabaloo, Caneck, Caneck!

Using an algorithm that converts songs into artwork, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering created this visual representation of the Aggie War Hymn.

Developed by Tim Davis, the algorithm captures a song’s time and frequency and maps this information into a domain of space and color. Each line signifies a musical note, while colors denote different frequencies. Blue and green represent low notes, while yellow, red and maroon represent high notes.

In this image, the War Hymn starts with the orange and maroon burst on the left. “The orange is the soloist calling out ‘Hullabaloo,’ while the maroon flecks are the yells of the band and crowd in response,” Davis said. The deep maroon in the center signifies the whistle blow that calls the band’s instruments to attention, while the trumpets’ blares are white and blue. “The maroon spiral is the band playing the rest of the music,” Davis added. “You might say the band makes the ‘G’ for ‘Gig ’em!’”

Davis applies his algorithms to all genres of music, but finds they work best on music with heavy beats like electronic. Regular patterns result from genres with consistent beats like jazz, but orchestral music yields complex art. “Math is so incredibly beautiful,” Davis said. “It just needs to be translated into a medium that everyone can appreciate.”

View Davis’ gallery of art.

Watch the Aggie War Hymn

This video is an algorithmic visualization of the Aggie War Hymn. It is created by a mathematical algorithm that converts an entire piece of music from its natural domain of time and frequency into a domain of space and color, relying on Fourier transforms, graph theory, sparse matrix methods and force-directed graph visualization, to create visual music. The video is a translation of the entire song, not just a specific moment in the song. A note in the music appears as a line in the image, where low tones are blue, middle tones are green, and higher tones are yellow, orange, red, and of course, true Aggie Maroon! At no point in the artistic process did Davis decide where to draw each note, one at a time. Instead, the placement of the notes is dictated by the set of simple algorithmic rules he created. In other words, the music draws the image. 

The art in this process lies in two places. First, creating the algorithm is itself a creative, artistic process. The algorithm defines a vast landscape of different possible images of the same song. The second step of the artistic process involves traversing this vast landscape of possible images to find the one or several images that best represent the song. To create this video, Davis selected 15 different visualizations and combined them into a single video.