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Visual music is a type of video art that involves the interpretation of a song's rhythms, lyrics, and melodies with colored lights and images. Presentations and exhibits are often done with projectors that display artists' finished pieces on large screens. Many pieces of visual music fall into the category of abstract film because they consist of images or video clips that do not follow a chronological sequence. Some of the earliest forms of this art were based on the musical accompaniment to silent films, and visual music soon evolved into equating musical notes with flashes of color rather than a storyline unfolding on a screen. This type of sound art can also be incorporated into live shows of popular bands or musicians.
The practice of creating images and light sequences to accompany music is also sometimes known as color music. Some artists work with devices called color organs that display a colored light when a specific note is played on a keyboard. The earliest experimentation with mechanical color organs dates back to the 18th century, but this kind of technology did not become widely known or perfected until the 1960s. Many audiences first experienced visual music light shows at rock concerts during that decade. Enthusiastic reactions soon created the need for professional digital art production companies to fill the demand for more elaborate visual music displays.
Other forms of this sound art can be found in art galleries, particularly those known for hosting artists who combine music and digital art. Some artists may specialize in intricate computer graphic animation set to some of their favorite music. Others may be musicians who concentrate on creating and recording original compositions to be paired with animations of color, light, and pattern. Visual music artists may also collaborate to create video pieces made from the music of one artist and the digital animations of another. The ease of publishing video on the Internet makes this kind of visual art with music widely available for viewing outside of traditional art galleries.
Early works of visual art with music required the use of devices such oscilloscopes and synthesizers connected to sets of cathode ray tubes. This equipment was usually expensive and required artists to have a working knowledge of electronics to use it effectively. Advances in digital technology have an important role in the development of more intricate and unique visual music displays. The ready availability of sophisticated computer animation, video editing, and music composition software allows artists to create their pieces without the time-consuming use of costly specialized analog equipment.