Recently, I was approached by Kent Lutt of Most Vicious Mouth and asked to create a generative art piece and album artwork for his upcoming album, Themes for Film.
Initially created as a soundtrack for a local indie horror movie, Themes for Film expresses dark dissonance and stark minimalism that has become a trademark of Most Vicious Mouth’s main body of work. Likewise, the audio visualizer and album artwork needed to reflect this underlying tone, as well as portray a few more aesthetic devices that the artist felt were important to his inspiration. It was decided that the visualizer should appear somewhat minimalistic and clean, yet have elements of chaos and disorderliness. Furthermore, a general feeling of dark isolation and structured singularity needed to be somehow expressed.
Using the computational art framework Processing, I began to execute this vision with a very well defined 3D shape – an icosohedron in particular. In the computer graphics world, icosohedrons can be used to approximate the nature of a spherical object, wherein the ‘realness’ of the sphere is a direct result of the sheer number of polygons and faces that make up the icosohedron. I immediately felt that this resonated with the musical themes as an expression of the beauty of complexity arising from vast amounts of simple elements.
Next, I hacked the icosohedron code in order to color various faces with different levels of opacity, to create a little more visual interest and downplay any apparent aesthetic patterns. Furthermore, I set the entire icosohedron in motion by rotating around both the X and Z axes, just to help prevent the scene from stagnating too much.
To introduce a level of chaos to the piece, I manipulated the rotations and translations of each face of the icosohedron in the code by using random values. Doing so resulted in an appealing breakdown of the pre-existing symmetries and order, which, when combined with the subtle rotational motion, presented the piece in a sort of dualistic state to the viewer. While the faces appear to be broken, disheveled and disordered, the subtle rotation allows a user’s subconscious to reconstruct the underlying icosohedron that the disorder is based on.
Finished album cover
This is the point at which I felt comfortable generating album artwork, so I exported many frames of the program and picked one which appealed to me (no real reason comes to mind why). This frame was brought into Photoshop and spiced up a little bit – adding the red nucleus, a subtle blue glow and the remaining composition. Eventually, I ended up with this:
Real-time audio visualization
Once the artwork was completed, I felt the piece needed to respond in some way to audio. I knew that the aesthetic appeal of the piece at this point was largely due to the random rotations and translations of the faces of the icosohedron, so the thought struck me: why not use audio data to mess with the faces, instead of just random data?
The task was relatively trivial, and simply involved importing the Minim library for Processing, feeding it a song from Most Vicious Mouth’s album, then applying various bands of the resulting real-time FFT analysis to the various faces of the icosohedron. To make it even more fun, I chose to use a low frequency band to cause the 3D camera to zoom in slightly when bass notes occur. The resulting piece turned out quite well, but not 100% perfect. The nature of Most Vicious Mouth’s style of music can make it difficult to get reliable, clean FFT signals (for example, low strings overlapping with bass drums make it hard to precisely know when the bass drum is struck), but when I think about it, these imperfections fit nicely with Most Vicious Mouth’s stated artistic intent: “beautiful destructive audio.”
BONUS VIDEO: ico ♥ Aphex Twin
During testing, I realized that some artists and styles of music work better with ico (and music visualizers in general) and result in very entertaining and punchy visuals. One such artist is Aphex Twin, check it out: