Audio Home

Talking Tartans

These pages demonstrate, in a very simple way, the idea that actual music can be made from a picture by translating colors into sound.

I have done this with some of my favorite folk tunes, essentially by cheating: each page translates a tune and some chords into a color pattern. Then you can play it back by dragging the mouse, or on a touch screen, your finger, over the color pattern.

Do that either by dragging rather slowly at an even pace or by lingering on each note for a longer or shorter time as indicated by its width and by the feeling that you get from the tune.

The musical color patterns bear some resemblance to tartan or, for Welsh speakers, plaid, hence the term "Talking Tartans". "Talking" meaning "making a sound", since the result is music, not speech.

How We Translate Color to Sound

Read this if you are interested doing this sort of thing yourself or in the difference between this and my other attempts at sound from color.

To translate a color to a musical note, we first represent it in the HSL (hue-saturation-luninance) system.

Then: By combining hue and luminance to represent pitch, we can easily identify notes that are an octave apart: they have the same hue but are lighter or darker.

Generally, we use only a subrange of hues for a given tune, in order to make the color pattern look better. We have parameters to determine which range of hues to use.