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Lei Liang: Deriving Worlds

What would it mean to listen to a painting? What is the relationship between landscape, memory, gesture, vision, and sound—and how can technology help us begin to answer this question? Lei Liang has been exploring these intersections in his musical compositions: Brush-Stroke, In Praise of Shadows, and Listening for Blossoms all enmesh Liang's visual and perceptual experience with his own sonic world. Now, Liang has embarked on an ambitious project to combine this composerly practice with contemporary science, engineering, and technology, resulting in a three-part composition entitled Hearing Landscapes.

(Liang studies multi-spectral scans of Huang Binhong painting; © Alex Matthews)

As a composer-in-residence at the University of San Diego's Qualcomm Institute since 2014, Liang has been working on a project that explores the correlations between sound and vision in traditional Chinese art. "Hearing Landscapes" begins with the paintings of Huang Binhong, a chinese painter whose freehand calligraphic landscapes continued the long tradition of ink-wash painting that dates back to the Tang dynasty into the 1950s. With support from the Mozhai Foundation, who loaned Liang artworks by Huang Binhong, and several grants from the National Science Foundation and the Calit2 Strategic Research Opportunities award, Liang and a team of scientists and engineers produced ultra-high resolution, multi-spectral scans of Binhong's works. From these scans, Liang and another team of engineers produced software to translate Binhong's brush-strokes into the sonic world of spatialized, granular synthesis, which Liang uses in his three-part electro-acoustic composition, Hearing Landscapes

A new documentary has just been released that features excerpts from "Water and Mist", one of the three parts of Liang's Hearing Landscapes, alongside interviews with the project team and stunning footage of the project. Watch the film above, and check out a performance of Liang's Brush-Stroke with the Callithumpian Consort, below: 

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