NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 44

Editorial Column

Design for Music, Music for Design

Majid Abbasi

When the concepts of music and design are used together, or when various experiences of the two are at hand, this question comes to mind: How far can they go together? How can we combine design and other applied arts such as architecture — tangible, visible, and with specific functions — with music, which is an abstract, audible, intangible art? Is it possible for design to express music? Can music inspire design? How do their borders bring them close to one another? What factors contribute to their closeness? How can technology help?
A plethora of various experiences have been conducted in relation to design and music, every one of which has contributed to our understanding of these concepts and expanded our awareness. Design and music employ other one to make new unheard-of experiences and bring about a vast world before our eyes. In this issue, we point to a number of these experiences in different fields with an attempt to give a better, yet unfortunately not totally comprehensive understanding of the concepts.

Music For Color
Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (1871–1915) composed Prometheus: The Poem of Fire (1910) for piano, orchestra, and choir, and ‘Chromola’ which was an organ invented by Preston Millar. With this composition, he opened a new horizon of modern music design with the innovative idea of combining music, image and color. This score became popular as Score of Colors. Serge Kussevitsky (1874–1951) was a teacher and conductor who first performed this piece in Moscow. He stated that Prometheus is an “Amazing phenomenon of the human soul, unattainable, the most profound Prometheus”. It was well known that Scriabin had an ear for music as well as for color, and associated every key or scale with a particular color spectrum.1

Architecture For Music
About half a century later, Le Corbusier’s design and production of a multi-media pavilion for Philips in the Expo ’58 (Brussels) and his collaboration with the contemporary experimental musician, Iannis Xenakis (1922–2001) led to the birth of a score named Metastaseis. It also led to the creation of experimental architecture that expressed the technological improvements after World War II, with the concept of the recovery of civilization and reconstruction of the damages and ruins caused by war. In those days, the Dutch Philips Corporation was the pioneer in the world of electronics. This score was inspired by the Albert Einstein’s theory and the musician’s memories of unappealing sounds of war. The visitors of the Philips pavilion heard the music when entering and exiting, through their experimental encounter with the architecture. Le Corbusier said “I will not make a pavilion for you but an Electronic Poem and a vessel containing the poem; light, color image, rhythm and sound joined together in an organic synthesis”.2 

Discipline In Music And Architecture
Daniel Libeskind, architect and the director of the Architecture Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, has reached a modern experience of design, space and music by creating Chamber Works (1983), a conceptual series in twenty-eight drawings. He believes in the connection between architecture and music and says: “Architecture is based on drawings. A drawing is a score — it’s a code, a language that has to be communicated to performers who then have a certain amount of leeway in interpreting that structure.” He continues: “What is music? Music has to do with an enormous discipline. To play an instrument, to read music, to perform music, requires a discipline. This is one of the connecting links between music and architecture, because both are extremely rigorous engagements.”3 
This drawing series practically displays the commonalities between music and design via their inner structure and composition.

Design For The Eyes And Ears
The Making Music Modern: Design for Ear and Eye exhibition in the Museum of Modern Arts (MoMA) New York in 2014 was focused on design for eye and ear, is one of the most important and most effective events in music and design, and a significant venue for the delivery of products, attempts, and works which have been collected throughout more than one century. In this exhibition, a wide variety of fundamental designs and technological innovations were displayed, ranging phonograph records and transistor radios to iPads, stratocasters and posters and music covers; all these helped examine the deep changes and the sense of hearing and how the music is performed, heard, played and imagined. Juliet Kinchin, the director and curator of the exhibition says: “Music is this invisible, intangible medium, but we couldn’t hear or relate to it other than through design and architecture. Our whole sense of what music is — how it’s performed, how it’s distributed, how we listen — that’s all shaped through design.”4

New Interactive Tool
Different innovations exist based on design, which seem to make music more communicable and fresh because of the visual elements. MIT’s design laboratory, with the collaboration of IDEO, has made a new innovation. In this design, the participants use interactive tools that employ digital data to help us interact with music in a new scale. One such tool is a wearable device that senses “moments of inspiration and focus” to help artists better understand the creative process and reflect on it. Another is a tool that aims to highlight the unsung heroes behind certain tracks, like the bass player that receives no recognition, or a particular synth riff that could, without us realizing, be the key to our love for a particular song. That could happen on headphones, at music festivals, or in a small club. Part of this initiative is about looking at where else these engagements can happen, like in museums, on the streets, at home, or online.”5

The new world’s technological improvements have caused amazing changes in design and music and these changes seem to cause newer experiences. Therefore, designers will be faced with new challenges in design for music and the answers to the needs of this art. On the other hand, musicians are also experiencing new challenges in relation to design. These changes have varied our understanding of performance, listening, playing and imagining music, as well as the form, performance, and function of design. If the designer’s main duty used to be designing musical images on the covers of LPs, CDs, or posters for concerts and operas, today the duty has expanded and encompasses the visualization of music through the help of new technology. This is where the experiences of virtual reality, interaction design, and visualization of music replace the classical design of covers for music albums.
Dealing with this matter in this issue of Neshan, we aim to familiarize our audience with different historical, experimental, and special aspects of the subject and make the foundation for further analysis of the matter. Neshan hopes to focus on the issue more specifically in future issues.

1 O.M.Tompakova, Calling to Light, Moscow, 1999

Majid Abbasi

is design director of Studio Abbasi active in the international community, based in Tehran and Toronto. He leads a variety of design projects for start-ups, non-profits and educational organizations worldwide. Majid actively contributes to the international design scene as an instructor, jury member, curator and writer. He has been editor-in-chief of Neshan, the leading Iranian graphic design magazine since 2010. Majid has been members of Iranian Graphic Designers Society (IGDS) since 1998 and Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) since 2009.


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