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How To Write Music In Color

Why use colors to indicate different notes? It’s easier to read for non-literate humans and robots alike—and it’s fun.

How To Write Music In Color

[Image: Flickr user Izzy Prior]

London-based artist Yuri Suzuki has always been fascinated with the intersection of sound and technology, but his dyslexia prevented him from immersing himself in music the traditional way—through sheet music, which he couldn’t read. The "Colour Chaser" is his answer, a small rectangular bot that follows lines of black marker-like train tracks and chirps unique pitches for different colors scribbled in its path.

Since debuting it in 2010, the Colour Chaser has proven popular with children in Suzuki’s workshops. Small wonder, then, that the Luxembourg-based MUDAM’s Publics Department invited Suzuki to grant his Colour Chaser for the "Looks Like Music" summer installation, an audiovisual group project of sorts where museum attendees draw and color their own Colour Chaser musical scores.

Each Colour Chaser has two Arduino boards, one to read and follow the black ink track and the other to chirp different sounds for each color. "Looks Like Music" has five varieties of cutely shaped Colour Chasers, each chirping different tunes for the appropriate colors.

The Colour Chaser’s audio-from-reading-ink is somewhat reminiscent of the Drawdio, a circuit-and-speaker combo that can be hooked up to almost anything to make music. Its most popular use—plugging it into a #2 pencil via thumbtack and letting the graphite conduct a circuit from page to speaker—creates music through contact and movement on paper. More eccentric uses of the Drawdio can turn anything into a musical conductor so long as the circuit is closed. The Drawdio derives the distance between circuit ends to change its pitch, unlike the Colour Chaser’s reliance on color hue, but both resemble the non-contact Theremin in their indirect, playful control of tonal pitch and duration.

Suzuki was born in Japan, went to the Royal College of Art in London at 26 for postgraduate work, and has lived in London ever since. It’s unlikely that he will bring the Colour Chaser (or any of his sound-based wonders) to the U.S., as he has not exhibited here since debuting in 2008.