Visual Music
Tone Painter

An Interactive Experience of Light, Sound & Touch


Stephen Nachmanovitch, Ph.D.

"A carnival atmosphere in a sophisticated place."

— Security guard at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, February 2000.


Visual Music Tone Painter™ is an art form which merges sound, light and touch. This program converts music from synthesizers into a visual display in real time. Choosing from a palette of gorgeously colored geometric shapes and symbols, the player creates mandalas of light and sound. These visual forms respond not only to pitch but also subtle nuances of finger pressure and release. Musical dynamics are reflected through visual transformations in size, movement, color and shading. As the music develops, seemingly simple geometries build into multilayered patterns and textures that take on a life of their own.

Many people experience feelings of synesthesia between sound and light. And many artists through the centuries have played with methods of uniting the senses. What makes this system unique is the element of touch sensitivity, the real-time (instant) responsiveness, a unique solution to the age-old problem of how to correlate frequency of light (color) with frequency of sound (pitch), and the ability to blend multiple voices or channels with their own musical sounds and graphic elements in real time to create multi-layered jam sessions. Playing color music with a touch-sensitive synthesizer keyboard gives a feeling of control, subtlety and responsiveness which is impossible to describe or convey indirectly, and which proves to be addictively fascinating.

This special version of the system is designed for performance, museum installations, and other public display settings. In public performance with different instruments hooked together, several musicians can play the Tone Painter software at the same time. The dynamics and physicality of playing an instrument can be enhanced by the use of alternative controllers such as electric violin.

As in all of Nachmanovitch's computer work, there is no use of stored or canned images, nor of random numbers. Every aspect of the work is determined by unifying mathematical patterns that arise from the touch of the player. This work taps into a tradition dating back to Pythagoras, in which the interrelations of sound, color, and form are reflections of archetypal number patterns - giving us a feel for the underlying spiritual unity of our universe.



The Visual Music Tone Painter system is available on a limited basis for licensing in museum exhibits, performances, concert lighting, interactive installation pieces, and other forms of public display. The software is not at this time available for use by individuals.

For information on licensing or scheduling public exhibitions, contact us.


Stephen Nachmanovitch is an author, musician, computer artist, and educator. He has been creating work in the field of visual music for the past 40 years. In 1986 the UCLA music department presented a retrospective of his early visual music pieces in media like film, video, slide-tape synchrony. Since then he has been creating original visual music computer software, including Mind's Moiré, Zmusic, and Visual Music Tone Painter.


Software and documentation ©1987-2020 by Stephen Nachmanovitch, all rights reserved.