Lushen Wu Uses Visual Animation To Better Engage Listeners in Classical Music

With colorful shapes drifting across the computer screen to the tune of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” Lushen Wu, founder of Bebop, shared the importance of “seeing” music in his presentation entitled “See What You Hear: Using Visuals to Unlock the Meaning of Music” last Thursday in Pearson Hall.

Wu’s organization, Bebop, is a musical database that displays moving shapes in different colors coordinated with song to help people better enjoy and understand music.

“Visual sensation is very powerful, and it teaches us and [our brains] to expect [visual displays]. [Consequently] some forms of music no longer [are considered engaging] because they can’t keep up with what our brains expect from our surroundings,” said Wu during the presentation.

“Music is a language: it’s an art form, it’s very expressive, it’s very creative and it’s wonderful… but it’s also a language… Teaching [how to listen to] music is actually very hard, because it’s this very complex, multi-layered form of language that we can only hear, and [it also uses] syntax and grammar that [most people don’t have] much training in,” he said.

Wu began his project a year and a half ago, inspired by Stephen Malinowski, an American musician and inventor who uploads his work to his YouTube channel.

“Stephen Malinowski is actually the inventor of this approach. He’s an amazingly brilliant person and creator. He has a YouTube channel with similar animations that has over 140 million views,” said Wu during his presentation.

Motivated by Malinowski, Wu recently decided to further Bebop by collaborating with the Swiss organization, Music:Eyes, which similarly allows the listener to visually understand the patterns in music.

At Andover, Christina Landolt, Instructor and Chair in Music, utilizes Bebop in her Music-225 classes to facilitate the progress of her students and help them better understand music and the topics covered in the course.

Landolt said, “As a musician, when I look at [Bebop,] I… go ‘[Of course] that’s what it looks like!’ But when students who aren’t that familiar with note reading or even with classical music watch it, they have this light bulb moment where they see it and they totally get [it]…. So it’s just a really neat tool to get them farther along much more quickly.”

Landolt said that she and Wu met over the summer to collaborate on the database together. This term, they have also continued working with it to better implement it in Andover’s music classrooms as well.

“[Bebop is] still in its prototype form right now, so we’re still developing [the database] to help create something that is really useful in our classroom,” said Landolt.

One of the primary goals of Bebop and Music:Eyes is to integrate the platform into as many schools as possible, according to Wu. Beginning in the United States and countries in Europe, Wu will utilize his program to provide musical opportunities for kids who cannot afford music lessons.

Emelie Eldracher ’18, an attendee of the presentation, said, “Hopefully in the future, there’s [a way of] teaching students who don’t necessarily understand… music… The aspect of [deciding] what shapes [and colors] you wanted is something that I really want to look into, because you can make the song match what you think the mood is. I think that could help if I was taking a music course to really think about the music.”

Wu also hopes that the database can help foster interest and passion in classical music.

Paige Busse ’19, an attendee of the presentation, said, “What particularly intrigued me was how [Bebop] could be an interactive interface for the user, how the user could use it to interpret the music and find what they wanted… It wasn’t just a way of teaching, but [also] a way of interacting.”

Wu was contacted by the Music Department through the son of Jacques Hugon ’79, a Senior Technology Partner for the Tang Institute.