Terry Trickett's Visual Music

The challenges of making Visual Music: an introduction to the work of Terry Trickett

The creation of visualisations of music, in whatever form, depends on processes that go on inside our heads. It's the sounds of music that can conjure up fantastic visions in the mind's eye, but how does this happen? In this introductory video, Terry Trickett explores how mental-visual-imagery plays an invisible yet pivotal role in both the creation of music and the way in which it is listened to.


A fascination with the ghost City of Fatehpur Sikri, 40 miles from Agra in North India, has stayed with me ever since I first visited the site in the 1980s. As the centre of the Mughal Empire for a brief period in the 16th century, the City was remarkable for its architecture, art and music. Emperor Akbar established not only an atelier of artists to record every aspect of court life but, also, gathered together musicians from every corner of North India. Hindustani ragas composed at that time are still mainstays in the repertoires of Indian musicians today. 'Ragatime’ is a raga that celebrates both the sights and sounds of Akbar's court at Fatehpur Sikri.


In the last two years of his life, Alan Turing turned his attention to the subject of morphogenesis. He wanted to know how complex biological growth and development could be achieved via simple, natural mechanisms. The result of his research, which is now recognised as a masterpiece of mathematical modelling, enables a wide variety of natural forms to be simulated within the framework of the Turing model. ‘Turingalila’ celebrates this immense achievement.


Citirama is an experimental performance where the patterns of architecture join the rhythms of music in mutual celebration. The inspiration for creating this piece of Visual Music was one particular building in the City of London - the Leadenhall Bulding, colloquially known as ‘the cheesegrater’. Its very individual form of visual expression has provided me with an opportunity to explore a new type of relationship between music and architecture – no longer frozen but, instead, constantly moving and inventive.

Abîme des oiseaux

Abîme des oiseaux is the third movement of Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Quartet for the End of Time) composed in extraordinary circumstances, in 1940-41, when Messaien was a prisoner of war. It was influenced by the composer’s daily ritual of listening to the chorus of waking birds; Messiaen had long regarded the clarinet as the ideal instrument for imitating birdsong which explains why Abîme des oiseaux is written for solo clarinet.


SHAPES is a celebration of abstract art (and artists) based on a transcription of J S Bach’s first Cello Suite. The Suite’s six contrasting movements give plenty of opportunity for expressing the intrinsic relationship that exists between music and abstract imagery. It is possible to glimpse, within each movement’s constantly shifting patterns, images that are familiar and identifiable. In all, nine works of abstract art are pinpointed as SHAPES gradually unfolds.

Three Arabesques

In Three Arabesques I give full rein to my lifelong fascination with the complex geometry of Islam. By playing a mathematical game based on hexagons, I produce patterns which take flight into a realm of geometric fantasy. When performing this work, I play one part of Poulenc's Sonata for Two Clarinets live; the other part is recorded.

Experiencing Visual Music as Art in Mind

Visual imagery during music listening plays a pivotal role for the majority of listeners, independent of their musical background. In my work, I seek to modulate listeners’ emotional response by implanting my own form of visual expression in their minds. This is both the challenge and delight of making Visual Music.

A Cybernetic Clarion Call to the Arts' Community

In the 1960s Roy Ascott predicted that the cybernetic approach would "assist in the evolution of art, serving to increase its variety and vigour". This is an attribute exemplified by the behaviourist art of Gordon Pask whose ‘Colloquy of Mobiles’ took centre stage at Cybernetic Serendipity – an exhibition, held in 1968, which represented the heyday of cybernetics in the UK. Now, we’re on the brink of a cybernetic renaissance, which is why I’m issuing a clarion call for the arts’ community to turn towards the task of enhancing our chances of survival for the future.

A stride towards sentient cities: Architecture as Performance Art

I take a journey back in time to find that architecture is a world of relationships very close to that of the performing musician. If we are to apply the lessons of music more widely, it will be necessary that we obtain some understanding of how our brains’ pathways and neural mechanisms enable us to see and hear through a process of pattern recognition. Only then will the indelible links between architecture and music enable architects to act more as composers in rebalancing the challenges that underpin the future of our cities.

Patterns of Existence: Discovering Order through Visual Music

In my own experience I’ve found that the creative processes of art and science are similar to the point of being virtually synonymous. New media artists think and create like scientists, scientists think and create like new media artists and the digital tools of discovery and expression that they each use are one and the same. My own patterns which link the tensions of music with the complexities of natural systems are not in themselves the answer; more, they are a starting point for gaining understanding and formulating action.

Passeggiata: a paradigm for the times in which we now live

In the light of today’s parasitic invasion, my visual interpretation of Luciano Berio's Sequenza IXa reveals not only a work of art but, also, life itself poised precariously on the edge of chaos. When life becomes unbalanced, as now, we search for ways to restore it to a natural state somewhere nearer the order we remember although, inevitably, still balanced on the brink. In my interpretation of Sequenza IXa, I've used Deep Dream artificial intelligence, inspired by neural networks in the brain and nervous system, to produce imagery that reflects Berio’s experimental music.

Olivier Messiaen's Esoteric World of Sound and Colour

In my visual interpretation of Abîme des oiseaux, all the colours and patterns are derived from a single rose window at Chartres Cathedral. it was only after completing my interpretation of Abîme des oiseaux that I came across Messiaen’s Preface to Colours de la cité celeste, where the composer described this later piece as being entirely dependent on colour: “……like the rose window of a cathedral with its flamboyant and invisible colours” – a description that, unexpectedly, exactly fitted my interpretation of Abîme des oiseaux.

Visual Music of the Brain and Mind

In Visual Music of the Brain and Mind, a complex Islamic Pattern is perturbed in a multitude of ways to reflect the rhythmic and episodic improvisations of Igor Stravinsky’s ‘Thee Pieces for Solo Clarinet’. In the ‘First Piece’, the intricate network of the Islamic Pattern can be perceived in spite of the contortions demanded by the brain’s 'gyri' (ridges) and 'sulci' (valleys). In the ‘Second Piece’, quickly moving visual imagery depicts patterns of multi-dimensional complexity. In the ‘Third Piece’, the manner in which the adaptive networks of the brain engage in conscious thought is pinpointed by a series of rhythmic ‘sparks’.

New Media Art as a Vehicle for Research and Innovation

This video reveals that, in this digital age, the creative processes of art and science are similar to the point of being virtually synonymous. It’s this fact that underpins how, through the European Commission’s S+T+ARTS (Science + Technology + Arts) initiative and opportunities offered by the Commission’s programmes of research and innovation, new media artists can both generate and develop, in cooperation with their scientific and technological counterparts, transformational projects concerned in the exceedingly complex issue of climate change.