John Whitney Music Box: a psychedelic music machine for the web

Behold the John Whitney Music Box, a realization in music of the motion graphic concepts of John Whitney. The animation and audio are by Jim Bumgardner, who first developed the web app 10 years ago.

You may notice some interesting links between the visuals and the audio, especially if you are a musician. For example, when the pattern forms a 3-arm starfish, the chords you are hearing are diminished chords, which consist of minor thirds, an interval in which the notes are 3 chromatic steps apart. The chords you hear always bear this type of relationship to the pattern you are seeing, consisting of intervals which match the arrangement of arms.

I generated the audio using my sound synthesis program, Syd, which provides a very elegant way to accomplish this kind of thing. Unfortunately, Syd is horribly supported these days (I haven't updated the Macintosh version since before OS X). Here's a sample Syd patch which was used to generate the audio (I actually used 3 similar patches and mixed the results together).

Bumgardner commented on a recent Reddit thread:

I made the Whitney Music Box nearly 10 years ago. It seems like it gets rediscovered on Reddit about every 18 months. Invariably, I see the same comments: 1) Aphex Twin 2) Bowser's castle 3) Hypnotoad 4) Microtones are creepy 5) Awesome on drugs. And, much to my relief, no one seems to mind that its still implemented in Flash!

There are many variations and each plays perfectly full-screen. This one is one of my favorites, but the hand-cranked one is most fun. There's also an easter egg if you play at a certain time of day. If you'd like to have even more fun at Bumgardner's behest, it's time to spin the Wheel of Lunch!

Mark posted about Whitney's psychedelic computer animations in 2010.