Color Music:  Visual Color Notation for Musical Expression

The relationship of sound and color has been around since the time of Aristotle. Many famous composers have recognized color as a tool of expression for musical notation.

Colors have musical meaning, according to Michael Poast. Color experiments have shown that colors can have a physical and emotion affect on us. One particular test from the book The Luscher Color Test, notes that red, for example, is stimulating to the nervous system, increases blood pressure and increases the heart rate. It is that that the hue, red, is a “heavy” weight color. If one could associate this color with sound, red could be depicted as a pulsating rhythm. An example of this can be seen in Figure 5 and Figure 7 for experiments done with the Pop and Techno genres of music. Red has a high percentage of use in each of these. Both of these genres of music have a more stimulating and pulsating rhythm.

Blue can evoke different feelings depending upon whether it is light or dark. According to Poast, some hues of blue are associated with higher-pitched, flowing rhythms. An example of this hold true in experiments conducted for Jazz/Big Band and Classical music genres shown in Figure 1 and Figure 9.

In the 1960s and 1970s, electronic music and poetry from Fluxus artists included visual scores that helped lead to many multimedia art forms. We now have diverse sensory stimulation in film, video, multimedia, television and computers.

Composers throughout history have used color and sound. A color organ was built in 1934 by Louis-Bernard Castel. The instrument was played by pressing down on a keyboard which put a combination of colored lights onto a screen.

In reference to Color Music, Michal Poast poetically states “In our current era, we are weaving together complex expressions of our world. Our thinking and perceiving has broadened. In this increasingly visual society and intersensorial culture, it is a timely moment for the redefinition of notational systems.”





Poast, Michael (2000) Color Music: Visual Color Notation for Musical Expression. Leonardo, 33, 215-221

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