J. S. Bach Well-Tempered Clavier (animated graphical scores)

Introduction

My first graphical score, hand-drawn in the 1970s, was of a piece by J. S. Bach,
and my first scrolling score was of a fugue from his Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC).

My work on the preludes and fugues of the WTC culminated with the 2016 collaboration with
Kimiko Ishizaka (Book I, piano) and the 2020 collaboration with Colin Booth (Book II, harpsichord).

I've assembed this page to document the project and serve as an index to the videos (on YouTube).
If you just want to watch them, the simplest way is via the playlists: Book I, Book II
If you are interested in a particular prelude or fugue, this will give you the link.

Please send me any questions about this project not answered here.

Contents

  • 1985 first animated graphical score (Atari 800)
  • 1990 first publication (1990 Demonstration Reel, VHS)
  • 2009 first WTC videos on YouTube
  • 2010 Vocoder experiments
  • 2012 first non-piano-roll display
  • 2013 live-synchronized MAM
  • 2016 Kimiko Ishizaka (Book I)
  • 2020 Colin Booth (Book II)
  • Index to all YouTube videos
  • 1985 first animated graphical score (Atari 800)

    The first computer I owned was an Atari 800, which I bought for this project.


    It produced my first animated graphical score (of the A-flat major fugue of Book II of the WTC):

    1990 first publication (1990 Demonstration Reel, VHS)

    Subsequent animated graphical scores were produced by software running on DOS, Windows, and Mac computers.
    In 1990, at the encouragement of Edward Tufte, I produced my first VHS videotape ("Program 1" on this page).
    It included the C-sharp minor fugue from WTC Book I.

    2009 first WTC videos on YouTube

    I published my first videos on YouTube (including my most viewed video to date, Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor
    on December 10, 2005, but it wasn't until 2009 that I published the first YouTube video of a piece from the WTC:

    2010 Vocoder experiments

    In 2010 I got a Roland VP-550 Vocal and Ensemble Keyboard (a type of vocoder), which I used to make videos for
    several pieces from the WTC, my favorite of which is this:

    2012 first non-piano-roll display

    In the years since 2010, my focus has been on developing new ways of displaying notes (other than
    the piano-roll style I'd been primarily using). The first WTC piece using new note forms was this:

    2013 live-synchronized MAM

    In 2013 I developed a system for synchronizing my animations to live performances.
    One of the first of this was given with harpsichordist Katherine Roberts Perl:

    2016 Kimiko Ishizaka, Book I

    In 2016, I made animated graphical scores for all the preludes and fugues in Book I of the WTC
    based on the recordings by pianist Kimiko Ishizaka's Open Well-Tempered Clavier.
    Here are some reviews and other public mentions of that project:

  • Robert Douglas (Festival Peak), See Bach's music like you've never heard it before (July 10, 2016)
  • David Cassel (The New Stack), The Man Who Animates Bach (July 23, 2016)
  • Stephen Smoliar (The Rehearsal Studio), Stephen Malinowski's Latest Project: Visualizing Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier (July 16, 2016)
  • Daniel Nass (Classical MPR), Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier ... Animated (June 21, 2016)
  • Rion Nakaya (The Kid Should See This), Bach, Prelude in C-sharp major, WTC I, BWV 848, animated (undated)

    Here's the full YouTube playlist. In these videos, I explore a variety of approaches:

    In the F major fugue, I used the simple bar-graph notation I've used for years (yawn?), but mostly,
    I've used new techniques to highlight each piece's characteristic features.

    In some, I focus on structural elements. For example, I use an unrolling spiral (originally developed for Björk's Black Lake)
    to highlight the 5-voice, 1-beat stretto of the fugue subject at the climax of the B-flat minor fugue:

    In the C-sharp minor fugue, I use shape and motion to differentiate the three themes, and in the D-sharp minor fugue,
    I use multiple time scales to show how the augmentation of the theme works.

    In some, I've taken my cue from expressive aspects of the music. In the C-sharp major prelude, I focused on the bouncy
    pattern that begins in the bass; in the B-flat major prelude, the bouncing takes over completely.

    In the E minor prelude, I put the dynamics of the piano tone under the microscope:

    For the F major prelude, I go for straight video-game excitement.

    And in some, I just go for the purely (or almost purely) ornamental. I recently began experimenting with the Voronoi tessellation
    as an analogue to music perception (see this for some background); I've used these in a simple form to show the music as a pure,
    stained-glass window pattern (as in the D major prelude, but I've also tried variations, like the D minor prelude, where th
    Voronoi vertices become crazy spiders ...

    ... or the A minor prelude in which the score assembles itself or explodes.

    In the C major prelude, I abandon the scrolling paradigm entirely, and let the repeating arpeggiation become the petals of a blooming mandala:

    Book I thumbnails

    (Hover mouse without moving above a thumbnail for a few seconds to see name; click to watch video on YouTube.)

    2020 Colin Booth, Book II

    In 2020 I collaborated with harpsichord maker/player Colin Booth on Book II (you can get the complete CD here).

    Here is the full playlist, and here are thumbnails:



    I hope to add more description for these.

    All WTC videos on YouTube

    Most of my WTC videos on YouTube feature performances by Kimiko Ishizaka and Colin Booth.
    There is also one based on a recording by The Bach Players, and an alternate version of one of the
    preludes performed by Andreas Zappe. The rest are by me, some showing my hands playing, some
    made using the Roland VP-550 vocoder, some using the Conductor Program (aka tapper), and
    some produced synthetically. Asterisk (*) indicates the version selected for the YouTube playlist.

    Book I (YouTube playlist)
    Book II (YouTube playlist)
    major
    minor
    major
    minor
    key
    prelude
    p&f
    fugue
    prelude
    p&f
    fugue
    prelude
    p&f
    fugue
    prelude
    p&f
    fugue
    C
    Ishizaka*
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    hands
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka*
    Ishizaka
    synthetic
    Booth
    Booth*
    Booth
    Booth*
    C♯
    Ishizaka*
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    synthetic
    synthetic
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    vocoder
    vocoder
    vocoder
    vocoder
    vocoder
    Zappe
    Booth*
    Booth
    Booth
    D
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka*
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka*
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Booth
    Players
    Booth
    D♯ / E♭
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka*
    Ishizaka
    Booth
    synthetic
    synthetic
    Booth
    E
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Booth
    Booth
    tapper
    tapper
    tapper
    F
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka*
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka*
    Ishizaka
    Booth
    Booth*
    Booth
    Booth*
    F♯
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka*
    Ishizaka*
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Booth
    Booth*
    Booth
    Booth
    G
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Booth
    Booth*
    Booth
    G♯ / A♭
    Ishizaka*
    tapper
    tapper
    Ishizaka
    Booth
    Booth
    A
    Ishizaka
    Booth
    Booth
    Booth
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka*
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka*
    vocoder
    Ishizaka*
    Ishizaka
    vocoder
    Booth
    vocoder
    Booth*
    Booth
    vocoder
    vocoder
    B♭
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka*
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka*
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Booth
    synthetic
    Booth*
    Booth
    synthetic
    synthetic
    B
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka
    Ishizaka*
    Ishizaka
    Booth
    Booth*
    Booth