If There Is Much In The Window There Should Be More In The Room

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Animation JS Bach's Well Tempered Clavier and Fugue

Animation JS Bach's Well Tempered Clavier and Fugue

Watch the music come to life.

Bach: The Well Tempered Clavier for Sinfini Music from Alan Warburton on Vimeo.

The collection of piano music known as The Well-Tempered Clavier is actually a combination of two collections of solo keyboard music – The Well-Tempered Clavier and Twenty-four Preludes and Fugues, which date from 1722 and 1742 respectively.

Baroque super-composer Bach wrote the collections ‘for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study’. The good news – if you’re NOT particularly youthful or desirous of learning to play complicated piano music – is that listening to the 24 Preludes and Fugues is a pastime that can be enjoyed by pretty much anyone.


Of all the preludes and fugues in the collection, the first set from Book One –  BWV 846, featured here – is among the most well-known. But wherever you may have heard the music before, we’re pretty sure it wasn’t in an other-worldly museum-like space or in an underground carpark, surrounded by steadily pulsing neon lights.

This Sinfini Music animation illustrates and complements elements of JS Bach’s music that you may not have even noticed were there before. It’s also – we think you’ll agree – stunningly beautiful.

Behind the scenes

Before starting work on our Well-Tempered Clavier animation (codenamed WTC for the ten weeks it took to complete), director and visual artist Alan Warburton immersed himself in Bach's music by boarding a 'random' bus and listening to the first prelude and fugue for over two hours. 'By the time I'd found my way back home,' he says, 'I had digested how complex the music was – especially the Fugue. I realised I needed to keep the animation simple so the viewer could focus on the music.'

But if the animation itself was going to be simple, producing it would be anything but. Alan’s incredible design incorporated many thousands of separate CGI lights, every one of which had to be tailored to the precise duration of Pierre-Laurent Aimard's note strikes. 'I needed to find a way of automating the process of these turning on and off in time with the music,' says Alan. With no midi file of the performance available, he was faced with the seemingly impossible task of matching every note of a stand-in midi file to the recording, by ear alone.


It was clear that this was no one-man job, so Alan called in a US-based music visualization specialist, Matthew Bain. A gifted pianist, Matthew not only learned Aimard’s interpretation by heart but played along with the recording on an electric piano, thus creating a useable midi track. This data was then linked up to the data from Alan's 3D lights model so that every light responded to the right note at the right time, for the correct length of time.


Then it was a question of rendering the animated data in CGI within the virtual space created especially for the animation. This too, was no mean feat, even for the army of cloud-based computers that had a hand in the task. Each frame took 15 minutes to render because of the thousands of calculations involved in activating each light as well as the shadows, glows and reflections required to make the scene look truly life-like.


Director and visual artist Alan Warburton

Programming by Matthew Bain
Sound Design by Mustafa Bal
Musical Consultation by Jonathan James

Performance by Pierre-Laurent Aimard (Deutsche Grammophon, 00028947927846)