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Basically, I'm doing a music video for an ambient tune that is very long and slow-moving. Variations in tone, frequency and volume shift at the pace of a lava lamp and I'd like these glacial variations to be reflected by some of the visual characteristics of the track. The contours of the track as a whole are pretty interesting - the amplitude increases steadily over the duration, with a couple of small peaks and valleys, and the track is comprised of several competing harmonics that drift in and out in different configurations.

My initial idea is to have the amplitude mirrored by the brightness and saturation of the images, with higher luminance and saturation values for higher volumes. In addition, though it might be more difficult to implement, I'd like to have the frequency characteristics mirrored by slight variations in colour. I guess this would require devising a scheme by which the full frequency range covered in the song will relate to a colour scale.

My question is, what is the best method of achieving these results? Is Max the right choice of software? Any help and direction would be much appreciated!

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Max is a really good choice for this, but be aware that if you've never used it before the initial learning curve is fairly steep (but well supported). Expect to spend at least a week or two finding your way around. If you search over at the Max forum you will find loads of stuff to help you, and lots of examples to reverse-engineer. All of the things you mention above are possible and a lot more besides. I think there's even a video controlled by audio tutorial which would start you off.

I've been using Max for about three years now, and my only regret is that I didn't get into it sooner - it's a deep rabbit hole, but one that's very rewarding.

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If you want to go the rendering route, as opposed to the real time route (like pure data, Max/MSP/Jitter, etc.), you can do this in Adobe After Effects. If you can get isolated tracks or stems, you can have a lot more control over tying amplitudes to visual parameters. However, out of the box, AE only responds to amplitude; you might need to look for a plug-in that would handle frequency.

  • After Effects would be my preferred choice as its the software that I am most familiar with. What exactly is the function which allows me to tie visual effects to amplitude data? – Joey Mar 11 '12 at 20:35
  • Edit: And you're right that I am wanting to go the rendering route. – Joey Mar 11 '12 at 20:36
  • You need to use Expressions to map amplitude to other parameters. Some math needed to invert and scale to fit the right parameter values (e.g. mapping negative dB to, say, 0-100% scale). – NoiseJockey Mar 12 '12 at 1:56
  • Perhaps you could split the sound into frequency bands using a bandpass filter, bounce them out as individual files and then use the amplitude data from each. I imagine mapping them to colours and visual effects could be interesting. – Mark Durham Mar 12 '12 at 10:16
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Troikatronix's Isadora is a good choice for this. There are frequency and amp analysis modules, data smoothers, and a suite of effects and adjustments that respond directly to those inputs. They have a trial version too, and it sounds like you could make this patch pretty simply. There may be a latency issue at first but you can record the video output and slip them in a video editor later.

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