by Norman McLaren's most synesthetic work, which uses the photographed pitch cards to create the music. McLaren was most certainly influenced by Rudolph Pfenninger's Graphical (Drawn) Sound technique from around 1929.

To make this film Norman McLaren developed novel optical techniques to compose the sound track. It is synchronization of image and sound in the truest sense of the word, similar to Oskar Fischinger's Ornament Sound.


"I can discern 4 influences. First of all Oskar Fischinger, with his Hungarian Dance No. 5, because this film gave me the courage of my convictions. I wanted to make abstract films - not necessarily abstract films - but to compose abstract images based on music, and at that time I did not know how to go about it. At home I constructed coloured lights and moved them by hand over paper. But when I saw Oskar Fischinger's, I told myself the solution was to make abstract films. Then there was Émile Cohl. I saw Drama Among The Puppets (1908), and was struck by the purity, the simplicity of line, and the wonderful metamorphosis. I am not forgetting Alexandre Alexeieff and his Night On A Bare Mountain (1933). What gripped me was the fertile imagination, not so much technique as the creative imagination, the bold metamorphosis and the surrealist thinking. For surrealism had made a great impression on me. Finally Len Lye and his techniques of drawing directly onto the film. That is all. But I add two general influences: Pudovkin and Eisenstein." (Norman McLaren)


Source: EM Arts



Around 1950, Evelyn Lambart and I worked out a method of shooting soundtrack optically on film, without using a microphone or regular sound system, but with the use of an animation camera. We called it animated sound, because it was shot frame by frame, onto the soundtrack area at the edge of the picture.
For pitch control we used a set of 72 cards, each having stripes or striations, and each representing a semi-tone in a chromatic scale of six octaves. The more stripes the higher the note, the less stripes the deeper the note.
Our first set of the cards (with which the music for Neighbours was made) had soft-edge undulating stripes, corresponding roughly sine-wave sound. A later set of cards had simple hard-edge black-and-white stripes, corresponding acoustically to square-wave sound. It is with the square-wave cards that I shot the music for Synchromy.
The volume was controlled by varying the width of the soundtrack. A moveable shutter, controlled this width. If the shutter was almost closed, the extremely narrow band of striations would give a pianissimo note. If the shutter was wide open, the broad band of stripes would give fortissimo. All intermediate degrees of volume were possible by regulating the position of the shutter, which was calibrated in decibels.
In Synchromy the music was composed first, and filmed by the above method. It started with a single musical part, later to be joined by another, and finally by a third (mid pitch, treble and bass).
These three parts were shot on separate strips of film, which were rerecorded and finally mixed in the normal manner onto magnetic tape and thence to standard optical track for release prints.


Source: "Technical Notes on Synchromy (1971)" (PDF) by Norman McLaren



Synchromie, stripes, 2nd generation, Film


The Film Work of Norman McLaren (2007) by Terence Dobson approaches the puzzles that are set by the film work of Norman McLaren. It is divided into three parts, based on chronological divisions in McLaren's life. The first part deals with McLaren's formative years in Scotland and England and examines his early exposure to the social, artistic and institutional influences that were to shape his filmic output. The second part deals with McLaren's maturation in the USA and Canada. The third part examines specific issues in relation to McLaren and his work and as such is concerned principally with his mature output. (John Libbey Publishing)

Sons et Lumières (2004) – A History of Sound in the Art of the 20th Century (in French) by Marcella Lista and Sophie Duplaix published by the Centre Pompidou for the excellent Paris exhibition in September 2004 until January 2005.

Curated by the Pompidou’s Sophie Duplaix with the Louvre’s Marcella Lista, the show required a good three or four hours to absorb, with its bombardment of sensory and intellectual input, including painting, sound sculpture, sound/light automata, film and video, and room-size installations. (Frieze Magazine)

Synesthesia: A Union of the Senses (2002) by Richard E. Cytowic disposes of earlier criticisms that the phenomenon cannot be real, demonstrating that it is indeed brain-based. Following a historical introduction, Cytowic lays out the phenomenology of synesthesia in detail and gives criteria for clinical diagnosis and an objective test of genuineness. (MIT Press)



Lillian F. Schwartz (*1927) is an American artist, known for some of the first use of computers in computer developed art. Lillian Schwartz is best known for her pioneering work in the use of computers for what has since become known as computer-generated art and computer-aided art analysis, including graphics, film, video, animation, special effects, Virtual Reality and Multimedia. (Lillian F. Schwartz)

Jordan Belson (1926-2011) creates abstract films richly woven with cosmological imagery, exploring consciousness, transcendence, and the nature of light itself. (...) His varied influences include yoga, Eastern philosophies and mysticism, astronomy, Romantic classical music, alchemy, Jung, non-objective art, mandalas and many more. He has produced an extraordinary body of over 30 abstract films, sometimes called cosmic cinema, also considered to be Visual Music. ("Jordan Belson – Biography" by Cindy Keefer)

Pixillation (1970) by Lillian F. Schwartz. Moog sound by Gershon Kingsley. With computer-produced images and Moog-synthesized sound Pixillation is in a sense an introduction to the electronics lab. But its forms are always handsome, its colors bright and appealing, its rhythms complex and inventive. (Roger Greenspun)

Storm de Hirsch was a very important player in the New York Avant-Garde film scene of the 1960s, though her biography and work are generally left out of the history. Despite lack of recognition, she was very present in the underground film movement and socialized with every big name on the scene, filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Shirley Clarke and others. (Wikipedia)

No. 4: Fast Track (1947) by Harry Smith. In No. 4, the influence of Oskar Fischinger on Smith's work becomes more marked. The film works with a black background and white shapes. It begins with two small circles dancing in tandem across the screen, as well as decreasing and increasing in size to give an impression of depth. These are joined, via superimposition, by two simple grilles, and then by a larger grille which swishes from left to right and vice versa at such a speed to produced a blurred effect. (Senses of Cinema)