My name is Ken Scott. I make Music for the Eyes.
I am a visual artist. I am simultaneously a choreographer, a cinematographer, a colorist, a software designer, a user experience designer, an entrepreneur, a scientist, a mathematician, an audience member, and a critic (of myself, and others). I call my visual works “chaotics”, when in fact they are very definitely not chaotic. My pieces might even look chaotic at times, but they’re not. My art is dominated by symmetry, dynamic rhythmic patterns, and occasionally interspersed with transient discord, but they are never truly random or chaotic. In fact, they’re tightly bound to the music in ways that are sometimes obvious, and sometimes subtle. I just like the irony and cognitive dissonance of the name. That’s why my pseudonym is Chaotic. It’s the reason my production company is called Digital Chaotics. Symmetry, imbalance, patterns, discord, synergy, entropy: they are all paths to harmony.
Above all else, I love harmony. It’s why I make Music for the Eyes.
I’ve been writing computer programs to create art since the first time I sat in front of a computer. Over the years I’ve made chaotics on all kinds of computers – from tiny cellphones to giant supercomputers. I’ve never met a computer I couldn’t overload, and I don’t think I ever will. I’ll just keep using more shapes (my dancers), or adding more detail and realism, or smarter artificial intelligence algorithms, or I’ll project them on bigger and bigger surfaces. Maybe someday they’ll build a computer big enough and fast enough that it exceeds my imagination… …but I doubt it. I could build it myself (seriously), but that’s not what I’m up to here. I’m here to make a new kind of art – mind-blowing, breathtaking, awe-inspiring art.
The software program that I’ve written to create visual music is the culmination of many years of work. That program is called Harmony (of course). Harmony grew out of hundreds of experiments into the nature of visual aesthetics. It has run in one form or another on virtually every computer I’ve been allowed to use. Harmony is unlike any other animation or special effects program currently in use by other artists or animation studios. Harmony is designed specifically to create visual music, so its approach to animation differs radically from conventional animation software.
The core of Harmony is the embodiment of my understanding of visual harmony and visual music – theories that were invented by the master ballet and dance choreographers, and refined by the animators that ultimately produced Disney’s Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, Bozzetto’s Allegro Non Troppo, and others. In case you’re wondering, my personal heroes are Walt Disney (the businessman), Jim Henson (the entertainer), and John Whitney Sr. (the artist). I am especially indebted to John Whitney, who wrote the book that lit my brain on fire: Digital Harmony: On the Complementarity of Music and Visual Art. Yes, I stand on the shoulders of giants.
Harmony is an integral part of my art. I am a painter, it provides the brushes, paints, and canvas. I am a choreographer: Harmony supplies the dancers, giving them form and ability, but I tell them how and when to move. I am a visual musician: Harmony allows me to extend a piece of regular music into the visual realm. Harmony is alive, constantly being improved, and growing daily. Harmony is powerful and very helpful, but it isn’t creative. It doesn’t even try. It’s a tool that I use to express my ideas. It does not compose visual music.
Most music visualization software analyzes the music in real-time, as it’s being played, and then tries to generate an animation that somehow matches what’s happening in the song. While I salute the developers’ efforts (and I am watching them closely for signs of a breakthrough) so far they’ve failed a very simple test: the visualizers may be able to “hear” the beat of the music, but they’re not understanding the song! They can follow the audio signal and find the beat, some of the notes, and large changes in volume, but there’s no software anywhere (yet) that can match the ability of a human to identify the verses, the chorus, the ebb and flow of musical tension, the climax, etc. Again, Harmony doesn’t do that either. It does make suggestions, because it does do the analyses the others do, and it’s pretty helpful that way, but the actual creative work is left to me. I’m not trying to automate the creation of art. Harmony is just an intelligent and industrious helper.
And because someone is sure to ask: no, Harmony is not for sale. It’s purely a labor of love that I use to make my magic.
Making Visual Music
To make Visual Music, first you have to know what it is. Others might disagree, but for me the answer to “what is visual music?” is very broad, and yet very specific. For me, any visual field of view can become musical: just move one or more objects in the scene through space (and/or other object characteristics) in structured, cyclic patterns. To put it more simply, it’s just like ballet, but my dancers can be anything at all. With Harmony, I can manipulate the dancers’ location, path, orientation, spin, coloration, shape, size, lighting… …all in time with the music.
I suspect my process is similar to that of any choreographer. When I listen to a piece of music, I try to find the song’s inner river of energy – the groove – that will pull my dancers into action. I use Harmony to translate that energy into beautiful patterns of dynamic motion and light. To paraphrase one of the true pioneers of visual music, Oskar Fischinger, “my art is to music, as wings are to birds.” Harmony gives me a language to express the magic of music in visual form. I sincerely hope you enjoy my art as much as I’ve enjoyed creating it.
I grew up in the western United States. I was born in Manhattan, Kansas, lived in Lincoln, Nebraska for a bit, but did most of my growing up in Bozeman, Montana. My parents still live there, and it’s the place that I am proud to call my “home town”. My school days were frustrating, because the American educational system isn’t set up for people like me. I learn most things very quickly, and struggled constantly with the boredom caused by the “best average” pace in the U.S. schools. However, I did have some awesome teachers who taught me how to learn things for myself, as well as some awesome parents (teachers!) and I managed to survive.
Somewhere in that time I decided that my life’s work would be to create art with computers. It led me to attend university at DeVry Institute of Technology in Phoenix, Arizona (because I wanted to know how to build a music synthesizer out of a computer). While there I gained an understanding of the task that lay ahead: creating art with computers was virtually unheard of, so there weren’t any classes that I could take or textbooks that I could read. There were no paint programs. There were no desktop publishing applications. There were no music editors. I set myself to the task, and in doing so I quickly found myself far ahead of my classmates in many areas. That’s been the story of my life since: always far, far ahead, trying to explain what it was that I was doing and why I was doing it. (It’s a lot easier now.)
After university I moved to Beaverton, Oregon where I worked for a company that built supercomputers (Floating Point Systems). Why? Because I knew that I needed a supercomputer to make the art I saw in my mind’s eye. I worked my way up from testing them (taking a freshly-built supercomputer and ironing out the hardware bugs – missing wires and bad chips), to writing the software used to test them, and in my spare time I worked on very early, very primitive versions of Harmony to run on those supercomputers. My spare-time activities were eventually noticed by powerful (and smart!) people in the company, ultimately leading to a day where my job was to show customers just how cool and fast our supercomputers were. That pattern lasted for over 20 years: I chose “day jobs” based upon what I could learn that would take me closer to my goal of getting paid to make art with computers. Along the way I’ve made a very wide range of bleeding edge products in a variety of fields: a color paint program, color printer drivers, one of the first desktop digital video editing workstations, desktop animation systems, the first desktop radiology viewing station, game servers for the web, game servers for cellphone games, and a 3D avatar chat system.
In late 2009 I decided that it was time to make Harmony. I quit my day job, and focused all of my time and energy on creating the software that I use today. It worked out pretty well, really. If I get rich making art, then cool. If I don’t, then I’ll have to be okay with that (but I won’t complain if I get rich, too). More than anything else, I’m here to make art. That’s what keeps me up late at night, and gets me out of bed in the morning. In truth, I am wealthy beyond belief. I get to make Visual Music.
I find beauty everywhere, in patterns of all kinds. I endeavor to see all sides of a question, even when I think I know the answer. I am comfortable with who I am, for the most part, but I also think I can be better. People who don’t know me think I’m quiet. People who do know me know that I’m not (quiet). My world is filled with beauty.
Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time creating fulldome videos – videos for planetariums. You can see them on my DomeSavers and DomeLoops pages (feel free to buy a bunch!), as well as my fulldome visual music and DomeArts pages. I recently contributed several pieces to James Hood’s Mesmerica fulldome visual music show. It’s all movement toward my ultimate goal: creating deeply immersive visual music in virtual reality. You wanna talk intense? Fulldome is teaching me the language of virtual reality, and I’ll be adding a VR capability to Harmony fairly soon. (I already have, but I don’t like the results yet. Coming soon to a headset near you!)
I come from a wonderful family, with great parents who did a pretty good job of raising me. I have two awesome sons, Alex and Ian, who live in Portland, OR and Tunis, Tunisia, respectively. I have three beautiful sisters and a handsome brother who, along with their spouses, partners, and kids, inspire me to inspire them. My life has been enriched by family, friends, neighbors, teachers, roommates, and business partners who contributed to creating the person I am today. These days I live in San Jose, California with my amazing and unstoppable wife, Leanna, who loves me in just the right way. I am truly living a life that I love.
After all, I get to make Music for the Eyes.