Thoughts: Cloud Cover Grey: SoundCloud and music graphic design

Fri 16 May 2014
By leon

An old friend and inveterate font of fine links sent over an interesting javascript powered 3d animation of a wave form rendered as a horizontal stack of blocks growing over time. Watching the blocks appear and fade of into the distance seemed way more interesting than the music that they were derived from with the wave shape providing the 'fun' rather than the sound. It made me think about the modern visual representation of music within SoundCloud (which is fast becoming the YouTube of music) where the waveform is major graphical accompaniment to the music.

When I listen to music on SoundCloud I have a similar experience: that in some subtle way I'm pre-judging music based on the shape of the waveform or at least, the waveform depicted in the sound cloud player has an effect on my interpretation and enjoyment of the music. It may be just me and others probably find more interesting things to look at when they are on soundcloud. But I often end up drawn to looking at the wave form. The visual of the the music complete with its comments (of lack of) gets into my consciousness before I hear the music. SoundCloud is becoming really popular for good reason, it's a fantastic platform for us all to share music, I’m using it more and more. However it does have an effect of putting me into a kind of 'edit' mode when listening to music like I'm in a DAW or some piece of audio editing software. I'm making judgements about the music that I haven't made before. Sometimes I can see the structure of a song before I've heard and from the amount an positioning of the comment markers I can see the popularity or general buzz that the music is creating.

People say 'you can’t judge a book by its cover' and maybe you can’t judge a record by its cover (Although I do and always have). The positive and negative prejudice that a classic 12”/album’s design and packaging creates was lost in the mp3’d late-nineties and noughties -- You literally can’t judge a mp3 by its cover. Now with SoundCloud there is a new visual aesthetic of music emerging where the album sleeve design -- that was battered by CD's inherent ugliness and expunged by mp3's -- has been replaced by the picture of the sound wave overlaid with a layer of listeners reactions. Popularity is made manifest and we are provided some new clues for us to pre-judge our music; should I skip this block, it looks like its going to change there, over compressed?, fishbone beats. It’s a very different pictorial accompaniment than sleeve design: just data. Very egalitarian, democratic, algorithmic, subordinate and bland. When recorded music is a commodity this is what it looks like.

Proudly powered by Pelican, and Python. Reading Room Theme by Leon Harris