How Valentina D’El­fil­ippo vi­su­alised Bowie’s Space Od­dity from 10 dif­fer­ent an­gles

Computer Arts - - Contents - Valentina D’Efil­ippo

In­ter­est in how we con­cep­tu­alise, un­der­stand and vi­su­alise in­for­ma­tion has fu­elled my prac­tice. I use data as a raw ma­te­rial from which I find my per­spec­tive and ex­press what res­onates with me, while hop­ing that others will find it com­pelling, too.

My per­sonal in­ter­est in data vi­su­al­i­sa­tion took off more than 10 years ago, when work­ing on my the­sis for a post­grad­u­ate de­gree in vis­ual com­mu­ni­ca­tion. By ex­plor­ing bias in gen­der cues that chil­dren re­ceive through vis­ual stereo­types, I started to col­lect and vi­su­alise data. Since then, I have con­tin­ued to ex­plore the world through data by collecting, de­con­struct­ing and map­ping in­for­ma­tion.

Data can be found all around us, in where we go, what we con­sume, touch, read, watch or hear. My lat­est self-ini­ti­ated pro­ject ex­plores the ap­pli­ca­tion of dataviz tech­niques to mu­sic – giv­ing form to what we hear, imag­ine and feel while lis­ten­ing to a song. Od­di­tyViz is also a trib­ute to an ex­tra­or­di­nary artist, David Bowie.


David Bowie left us with a con­stel­la­tion of in­ter­sect­ing worlds, loaded with ma­te­rial for celebration, con­sid­er­a­tion and in­ter­pre­ta­tion. From the start of the pro­ject, it quickly

“Simple shapes were used to en­code sounds and nar­ra­tive pat­terns”

be­came ap­par­ent that it was nec­es­sary to limit the scope and fo­cus to one song.

What would Space Od­dity look like turned into im­ages or through data vi­su­al­i­sa­tion? This is what I and data re­searcher Miriam Quick set out to ex­plore in Od­di­tyViz. We ex­tracted mu­si­cal data from the track and vi­su­alised it in a set of 10 en­graved records, paired with large-scale prints and pro­jec­tions that draw from the song’s frag­mented in­ter­stel­lar world.

Each 12-inch disc de­con­structs the song dif­fer­ently – by in­stru­men­ta­tion, rhythm, melody, har­mony, lyrics, struc­ture or the un­der­ly­ing story. Rather than ab­stract sound­scapes, the records be­come a vis­ual sys­tem to un­der­stand how Bowie mas­ter­fully crafted Ma­jor Tom’s jour­ney.


Our in­ten­tion was not to create an al­ter­na­tive vis­ual score but to make the ex­pe­ri­ence of lis­ten­ing to a song more ‘vis­i­ble’. By break­ing down its core com­po­nents and piec­ing them back to­gether, we can end up with a deeper un­der­stand­ing of our ini­tial ex­pe­ri­ence.

We can think of tra­di­tional mu­sic no­ta­tion as a kind of vi­su­al­i­sa­tion: pitch height cor­re­sponds to vertical height on the stave and the type of note de­scribes the tempo. This sys­tem was cre­ated for mu­si­cians to per­form. As you learn how to read it, the lan­guage be­comes mean­ing­ful and leg­i­ble. In a sim­i­lar way, our vis­ual en­cod­ing needed clear an­no­ta­tion, a key and writ­ing to sur­face the in­sights.


The range of out­comes – com­pu­ta­tional an­i­ma­tions, large-scale posters, en­graved discs and a win­dow in­stal­la­tion – al­lowed us to ex­per­i­ment with how to best en­code the nar­ra­tive. It took months of ex­plo­ration and many hours of lis­ten­ing to the song on re­peat and sketch­ing out ideas. A turn­ing point that de­fined most of the vis­ual lan­guage was de­cid­ing to ex­per­i­ment with a new medium, cre­at­ing sculp­tural data-ob­jects.

The vinyl record was an ob­vi­ous ref­er­ence. From Edi­son’s phono­graph to to­day’s vinyl records, mu­sic has been en­coded through a se­ries of grooves that spi­ral to the cen­tre of the cir­cu­lar disc. Ap­ply­ing a sim­i­lar logic, I wanted the mu­si­cal data to be en­graved. This de­ci­sion forced me to work with no colour, us­ing white on black, which also re­calls the light of the stars in the dark­ness of space. The for­mat also de­fined the sys­tem to en­code the data – time around the cir­cum­fer­ence be­comes a uni­ver­sal axis that al­lows com­par­i­son across vi­su­al­i­sa­tions.

Given the con­straints of laser cut­ting and etch­ing on records, a min­i­mal, bold de­sign was im­per­a­tive. Simple ge­om­e­try and shapes were used to en­code sounds – evok­ing the na­ture of each in­di­vid­ual in­stru­ment – and nar­ra­tive pat­terns. Ground Con­trol was rep­re­sented by a square – a fa­mil­iar, safe, an­gu­lar shape that rep­re­sents a point of sta­bil­ity on Earth – while Ma­jor Tom was a cir­cle, a more hu­man char­ac­ter, who be­comes one with the cos­mos.

This vis­ual in­ves­ti­ga­tion was then brought to life with an­i­ma­tion, in a freer at­tempt to

link var­i­ous as­pects of the de­con­struc­tion to the ac­tual mu­sic. Col­lab­o­rat­ing with Mike Brond­b­jerg, a tal­ented gen­er­a­tive artist, we cre­ated a mov­ing im­age in­clud­ing a gen­er­a­tive portrait of Bowie and a se­ries of se­quences, which Mike coded in pro­cess­ing, and others that I an­i­mated in Af­ter Ef­fects.


When ap­proach­ing a new pro­ject, I find it help­ful to set out a strong cre­ative di­rec­tion to guide me through the de­sign process and limit the de­ci­sions I will have to make later on. On the other hand, not know­ing where I am go­ing ex­cites me and I like to al­low the sub­ject to in­form the cre­ative process.

Moods and in­spi­ra­tion for this pro­ject in­cluded a va­ri­ety of vis­ual ref­er­ences from pop­u­lar cul­ture to ex­per­i­men­tal mu­sic no­ta­tion re­sources and the Voyager Golden Records. Space Od­dity comes with a wealth of vis­ual in­spi­ra­tion to draw on from this very in­ter­est­ing pe­riod in pop­u­lar cul­ture.

One of the discs, Trip, ref­er­ences Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey which was one of the main in­spi­ra­tions for this song. This record stands out from the rest due to its use of a dis­tinct vis­ual lan­guage – emoji. Rather than be­ing driven by data, it utilises il­lus­tra­tion and im­ages that loosely code for text and in­cor­po­rates vis­ual me­taphors from the movie.

Thanks to the sup­port of Wieden+Kennedy, we were able to ex­hibit the pro­ject in Lon­don to mark the first an­niver­sary of Bowie’s death. Since then, it has been on the road, with mini in­stal­la­tions and talks across the world from Lon­don to Milan, to Min­neapo­lis. The pro­ject also won an In­for­ma­tion is Beau­ti­ful Award.

02-03 Work in progress im­ages out­lin­ing what be­came the Trip ver­sion of Space Od­dity. 04-05 Closeup de­tails of the pro­ject.

01 Sketch­books out­lines for the dif­fer­ent sys­tems used, rep­re­sent­ing 10 dif­fer­ent an­gles from which to look at Space Od­dity, in­clud­ing Rhythm, Tex­ture, Trip and Emo­tions.

06 Dif­fer­ent meth­ods have been used to present the pro­ject on the vinyl records, in­clud­ing emo­jis and shapes. 07 The vi­su­al­i­sa­tions have also been trans­formed into an an­i­ma­tion that can be viewed at www.od­di­ 08-09 Each vi­su­al­i­sa­tion is...

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.