Syllabus for MS 127s - The Harmony of Sound and Light
Harvey Mudd College, Spring 2012
F 1:15 - 4:00 Jacobs B132
Speculation about connections between the visual and aural senses goes back to antiquity,
but technology has provided tools to explore these connections as a new art form in ways
unimagined by early speculators such as Newton and Goethe. This course will introduce the
striking arts of abstract light and color, sometimes known as "visual music," from early
"color organs," to musical theories of abstract artists, masters of the non-objective
film animation such as Oskar Fischinger, early computer animators such as John Whitney, to
21st-century VJs. However, the emphasis in this class will be on the aesthetic background
to this history and its application in students' own creative projects.
In this course, students will learn to use POV-Ray, a 3-D computer
graphics rendering language, to produce projects. You are free to use any alternative
software you may already be familiar with, such as OpenGL,
Blender, or Processing.
Though the POV-Ray language is unrelated to conventional computer languages,
some familiarity with coding is helpful when learning it. Therefore, the only prerequisite
for this course is some familiarity with computer programming, such as you would find in
HMC CS 5. If you are in doubt about your ability in this area, please come and talk with me.
Documentation for POV-Ray exists on the web. Other texts will be available on the class Sakai site
or on reserve at Honnold Library for specific assignments and presentations.
At this time my office hours are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday from 10:30 until 11:30.
Please feel free to stop by at any of those times. It is possible that some of these times may
change as my semester schedule develops. You may want to check the schedule on my door or
contact me to confirm. If you cannot make it at those times, I would be happy to arrange
an appointment at another time. I also welcome your email
Discussions, questions, and updates on assignments between classes will be made through the
class electronic mailing list: ms-127s-l. This is an especially efficient method of asking
routine but important questions about assignments, software or any other relevant issue.
Two organizations which preserve and promote art of this type are the
iotaCenter and the
Center for Visual Music. At their web sites
will find a page of links to artists and other resources, various articles, videos and books
for sale, and other materials. There are also addresses for joining their email list of
announcements and a discussion list. I encourage you to join the iotaCenter discussion list,
which you can also do by sending a message to
email@example.com or going to the yahoo groups home page at
There are also newsgroups for POV-Ray, though you
need to register in order to post. This is a great resource for getting POV-Ray questions answered.
In order to pass this class, a paper, presentation, and final project must be turned in.
There will be several short assignments during the course of the semester, including some using
POV-Ray or another computer graphics language of your choice. POV-Ray is freeware and
available for many different platforms. POV-Ray itself, tutorials, and other resources are
available at http://www.povray.org/.
There will be one midterm and one final project. These are usually in the form of computer
animations composed with POV-Ray, though you are free to use other computer graphics software.
Alternative projects, such as term papers, may be substituted, depending
on the proposal. These projects may require a proposal and an in-class presentation of interim
progress, and a portion of the final grade may depend on a timely completion of both. At the
end of the semester (the exact date to be determined), there will be a public screening of
final projects. Final projects are due at that time. There will be no other final exam.
Artistic projects will be evaluated on 1) creative insight, 2) effort, 3) creative application
of principles discussed in class. I understand that students will have varying backgrounds and
abilities in computer programming, art, and music, and these will also be taken into account.
A major part of this class will consist of presentations by students. These presentations must
be more than a simple recited equivalent of a term paper. They should include interactive
components, clear points, visual aids, and a detailed analysis of a particular work (when available).
Presentations will be delivered in teams generally of three students each, and the correspondence
between the different topics must be coordinated. A written term paper about the topic will also
be due generally one week after the presentation. Papers will be graded not only on content but
also on writing style, communication, format, and mechanics. A revision of the paper will be
required by the end of the semester and will be graded separately.
Topics for the presentations will be distributed early in the semester. If you would like to
request a particular topic, either one listed or not, I will try to accomodate your interests.
Detailed information about your topic
and my expectations will be available two weeks before a presentation. Presenters will meet with
me one week before their presentation to discuss progress and direction. Presentations will be
graded in part by your peers.
Tips on oral presentations are available here.
Because of the seminar format of this course, your attendance and participation in class
discussions is vital to the success of everyone's experience. Your conscientious participation
in the peer evaluation process is also very important.
Therefore, class participation will be a significant factor in your grade, and each unexcused
absence beyond the first will result in one letter grade deduction from your final grade in
the class. Examples of reasons for excused absences include illness (with note from student
health), family death, and religious holidays. Examples of unexcused absences include clinic
trips, travel for sports, visits to grad schools, and airline travel for spring break.
Presentations cannot normally be made up. Other assignments will be penalized two letter grades
per week late. However, I will always accept late work for some credit, no matter how late.
Extensions are granted normally only for presenters (see below).
Dates may be revised depending on class progress.
|1/20||Introduction to the course; Correspondences|
|1/27||The nature of color; Color in art|
Introduction to POV-Ray
|Brief assignment 1|
|2/3||Composition, form, and proportion in art|
The nature of abstraction
|Brief assignment 2|
|2/10||Theories of abstraction|
Color organs and Lumia artists
|Presentation group 1|
Brief assignment 3
|2/17||Early abstract film||Presentation group 2|
Brief assignment 5
|2/24||The art of Oskar Fischinger||Presentation group 3|
Midterm project proposal
|3/2||John Whitney||Presentation group 4|
Midterm project interim version
|3/9||Other abstract animators||Midterm due|
Animated Music: Bute, McLaren, others
|Presentation group 5|
|3/30||Cesar Chavez Day (no class)|
|4/6||The art of the "inner eye": Belson, James Whitney||Presentation group 6|
Final project proposal (by email)
|4/13||Free radicals: Lye, Smith, and others||Final project storyboard|
Final project interim critique
|Final project interim version|
|4/27||Contemporary artists||Final project due|
|5/2 8:30 PM|
|Final project screening|
Galileo McAlister Auditorium
HMC Academic Computing's
Policy on Appropriate Use of Computing and Network Resources applies to all students enrolled in
this course. All students enrolled in this course are bound by the
Harvey Mudd College Honor Code in regards to activities related to this class, even non-HMC students.
Many of the following items will be primary sources for presentations. In that case, they are on
reserve at Sprague library. There is also a
good annotated bibliography by Fred Callopy at rhythmiclight.com.
- Albers, Josef. Interaction of Color. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1963.
- Barrett, Cyril. Op Art. New York: The Viking Press, 1970.
- Brougher, Kerry, Jeremy Strick, Ari Wiseman, and Judith Zilczer. Visual Music: Synaesthesia
in Art and Music Since 1900. London: Thames and Hudson, 2005.
- Critchlow, Keith. Islamic Patterns: An Analytical and Cosmological Approach.
London: Thames and Hudson, 1976.
- Cutler, May Ebbitt. "Unique genius of Norman McLaren," Canadian Art v 22
(May 1965) 8-17.
- Eisenstein, Sergei. The Film Sense. Trans. and ed. by Jay Leyda. New York:
Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1947.
- Gerstner, Karl. The Forms of Color: The Interaction of Visual Elements.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986.
- Haller, Robert A. First Light. New York: Anthology Film Archives, 1998.
- Horak, Jan Christopher. "Discovering pure cinema: avant-garde film in the '20s,"
Afterimage v 8 (Summer 1980), p. 4.
- Hughes, F. J. Harmonies of Tones and Colours Developed by Evolution. London:
Marcus Ward & Co., 1883.
- Paola Igliori, ed. American magus Harry Smith: A modern alchemist. New York:
Inanout Press, 1996.
- Jones, Tom Douglas. The Art of Light and Color. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold
- Kandinsky, Wassily. Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Hilla Rebay and Howard
Dearstyne, trans. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation for the Museum of Non-objective
painting, 1947. Rpt. New York: Dover Publ., 1979.
- Kandinsky, Wassily. Point and Line to Plane. Hilla Rebay, trans. New York:
Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation for the Museum of Non-objective painting, 1910/1946.
- Kepes, Gyorgy. Language of Vision. Chicago: Paul Theobald, 1944.
- Kepes, Gyorgy, ed. The Nature and Art of Motion. New York: George Braziller, 1965.
- Klein, Adrian Bernard. Coloured Light: An Art Medium. London: The Technical
- Macdonald, H. "Lighting the Fire: Skryabin and Color," The Musical Times,
cxxiv (1983), 600.
- Malina , Frank J. ed. Kinetic art, Theory and practice. New York: Dover Publication,
- Mondrian, Piet. The New Art -- The New Life: The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian.
Harry Holtzman and Martin S. James, ed. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co. 1987.
- Moritz, William.
Optical Poetry: The Life and Work of Oskar Fischinger. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 2004.
- Moritz, William. "Mary Ellen Bute: Seeing Sound," Animation World Magazine .
Moritz, William. "The Dream of Color Music and the Machines That Made it Possible,"
Animation World Magazine . 1997.
- O'Konor, Louise. Viking Eggeling (1880-1925): Artist and Filmmaker, Life and
Work. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1971.
- Overheim, R. Daniel and David L. Wagner. Light and Color. New York: John
Wiley & Sons, 1982.
- Pellegrino, Ronald. The Electronic Arts of Light and Sound. New York: Van
Nostrand Reinhold, 1983.
- Richter, Hans. Hans Richter. Neuchatel: Editions du Griffon, 1965.
- Rimington, A. Wallace. Colour-Music: The Art of Mobile Colour. New York:
F. A. Stokes, 1911.
- Russet, Robert and Cecile Starr. Experimental Animation: Origins of a New Art.
New York: Da Capo Press, 1988.
- Tan, Ying. "The Unknown Art of
Jordan Belson," Animation Journal Spring 1999.
- Wees, William C. Light Moving in Time: Studies in the visual aesthetics of avant-garde
film. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
- Whitney, John. Digital Harmony: On the Complementarity of Music and Visual Art.
Peterborough, NH: Byte Books, 1980.
- Woolman, Matt. Sonic Graphics: Seeing Sound. London: Thames and Hudson, 2000.
- Youngblood, Gene. Expanded Cinema.
New York: E.P. Dutton, 1970.
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Updated on January 14, 2012, by Bill Alves (alves @hmc.edu).