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archives begin in 1996

Visual and Color Music: research and publication

Visual and color music are on-going, long-term areas of interest to me as both a media maker and historian. Here are some of my books on the topic:

  • The History of Motion Graphics:
    From Avant-Garde to Industry in the United States

  • Thomas Wilfred's Clavilux [editor]

  • Mary Hallock-Greenewalt: The Complete Patents [editor]

  • Visual Music Instrument Patents [editor]

  • A. Wallace Rimington's Colour-Music [editor]

  • The Lumonics Theater: The Art of Mel & Dorothy Tanner [author]

  • Harmonia: Glitch, Movies and Visual Music [author]

  • More articles and translations are posted on


    The Statement of Synchronization

    story © Michael Betancourt | published January 1, 2017 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

    research: VISUAL MUSIC

    The designation synchronized identifies a particular relationship between the soundtrack and the imagetrack that is apparent to the audience as more than simply the coincidence of simultaneous presentation. The audience makes higher-level interpretations of structure and organization emerging over time from convergent events between sound and image. The identification of direct synchronization originates with its resemblance to phenomenal encounters in our everyday experience: when someone speaks, we see their lips move and we hear their voice as a conjoined encounter; the recreation of these types of synchronized relationship in motion pictures (unlike lived experience) is an artificial construction. In resembling our everyday experiences, the direct synchronization of sound and visual appears as an autonomous conclusion, its immediacy masking its underlying construction and artifice. Which sounds are combined with which elements in the image determines the character and nature of synchronization.

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    Ideology and Synchronization

    story © Michael Betancourt | published December 27, 2016 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

    research: VISUAL MUSIC

    Synchronization implicitly expresses an ideological conception of reality through its apparent resemblance to our everyday experiences: it renders whatever appears on-screen as a neutral fact. The apparently autonomous connection of sound::image::text in both varieties of direct synchronization, naturalistic and illustrative, acts as a demonstration that transfigures underlying ideo-cultural belief into immanence. Realist construction descends from naturalistic synchronization. This recreation of the appearance of everyday life (re)produces the phenomenal world as it appears to our senses; the realism created seems to lack articulation and construction, instead offering itself as an artifact, similar to the idea of the trace or footprint that define the photographic image for film theorists such as Andr Bazin or Stanley Cavell. The experiences of everyday life are the foundational reference point for all varieties of synchronization, but the two direct varieties explicitly create claims about the true nature of the worldwhatever that might meanat it most basic the immediate construction of reality through formal statements of audio-visual linkage, of voice to an image of someone speaking, creates the statement that the voice heard belongs to the person speaking; lip-sync is the underlying formal relationship for all statements emergent in synchronization and their superficially autonomous realism.

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    On Synchronization in Movies

    story © Michael Betancourt | published December 27, 2016 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

    research: VISUAL MUSIC

    Interpreting motion pictures depends on the syntactic organization that synchronization provides via audio-visual statements that allow the parsing of a movie into distinct sections governed by past experience. All the various methodologies and aesthetic approaches of visual music fit within a spectrum where the link of sound::image increases in complexity as it moves away from direct synchronization. The two variables that define this audio-visual syntax are what provides the sync-point, and when that sync-point occurs in relation to earlier/later sync-points in both sound and image tracks. Direct and counterpoint synchronization are distinguished by the proximity and distance between audible sync-points. The visual sync-points of motion on-screen, duration of the shot/music, chiaroscuro dynamics within the frame, (or a combination of all three), complemented by a second set of audible sync-points, the most basic being the appearance of a sound (as in the lip-sync of direct synchronization). The others, used in counterpoint synchronization all emerge over time, rather than being an immediately apparent connection: the beat, musical phrasing, or instrumental performance. These audible sync-points connect with the same set of visual sync-points, enabling the audience to identify the emergent statement of counterpoint as part of a continuum of synchronized links of sound::image that orients the soundtrack and the visuals:

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    Michael Morris' Expanded Cinema and Post-Digital Aesthetics

    story © Michael Betancourt | published July 6, 2016 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

    research: VISUAL MUSIC

    Film International published my article about Michael Morris' contemporary expanded cinema performances with film, video and digital technologies. The interpreted nature of the digital sound/image presented through the language of visual music is central to these works.

    Michael Morris, Second Hermeneutic (2013)

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    Object Lesson: Color Music

    story © Michael Betancourt | published November 5, 2015 | permalink | TwitThis Digg Facebook StumbleUpon  |  Print

    research: VISUAL MUSIC

    in The Atlantic's Object Lessons series. My article on color organs is out.