Couleurs Sonores | Sounding Colors

What color is music – and what makes music colorful?

These questions led Konstantin Semilakovs, classical pianist and synesthesia researcher, to the project COULEURS SONORES (‘Sounding Colors’) – an audio-visual concert which addresses synesthesia and ‘color’ in the classical music of the 20th and 21st centuries. COULEURS SONORES is aimed at experiencing and approaching piano music in a cross-sensory and particularly aesthetic way: Semilakovs plays and discusses compositions by Claude Debussy, Alexander Scriabin, Olivier Messiaen, and Tristan Murail and accompanies them by elaborate dynamic visualizations depicting the imagery behind the music and the synesthetic concepts of the composers.

The project focuses on piano music in which the notion of ‘color’ unfolds in various ways. The impressionist Claude Debussy inspired the harmonic language of Alexander Scriabin, the first synaesthete composer to merge musical harmonies with color, and of Olivier Messiaen, who reported to see colors while hearing music and to compose sounds according to ‘their colors’… Debussy, Scriabin, and Messiaen aspired to produce a ‘colorful’ sound in its manifold aspects and can be considered as pioneers of spectral music, a leading representative of which is Tristan Murail – a master of shaping complex sounds to refined colors.

COULEURS SONORES is a comprehensive work of art resulting from Semilakovs’ intense artistic and musicological research on synesthesia and his expertise in advanced graphics programming. While it is rare for piano concerts to present authentic synesthetic concepts of composers, this project combines these concepts with an abstract-impressionistic imagery – making them intuitively accessible.

The visualizations also incorporate findings from musicological and psychological research on musical elements which affect the perception of ‘color’, as well as Semilakovs’ own visual interpretation of the music played. The visualization software used renders generative graphics – which means a sophisticated algorithm generates all elements, movements, and structures of the picture anew for each performance in real time. This is unique in regard to common methods with pre-recorded videos simply played back while the music is heard. Thus, each performance of COULEURS SONORES is an audio-visual live performance at its best and not only musically, but also visually one-of-a-kind and inimitable.