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Stephen Malinowski's LSD Art

The composer/inventor extraordinaire talks to us about the impact of drugs on the intricate art of musical notation in the Bjork Issue of Dazed & Confused

Californian composer and inventor Stephen Malinowski was charged with the task of generating interactive animated notation for Biophilia, helping to develop an iPad app in the process. It is the latest step in a career-long obsession with changing the way we can visualise music, which all started on a mind-bending evening in 1974. He took Dazed back to his drug-induced eureka moment…

“I had taken LSD and put on Henryk Szeryng’s recording of Bach’s unaccompanied sonatas and partitas for violin. I got out the score to follow along. The result was that the notation seemed animated, as if it were dancing along with itself. The graceful shapes of the notes  and the gestures of the music became a single thing. The progression from note to note seemed like footsteps. 

The next thing I remember is the chaconne from the D Minor Sonata. This movement starts slowly, but as it proceeds through the variations, the notes go faster and faster. The note that was currently being played appeared to be a single note head moving only vertically – not horizontally. It reminded me of watching a fishing bob riding up and down on the surface of an ocean of surrounding notes.

Then the pattern of notes started jumping wildly. I was amazed to find that my eyes were still able to track the motion. At that point, I put down the score, stopped the recording, took off the headphones, and said to a friend who was with me, ‘I’m afraid that what I’m doing may be damaging my eyes.’  He said he thought that was unlikely, so I went back to listening and watching.

Score-following requires you to not only direct your attention to the correct horizontal position, but to switch from instrument to instrument continuously and quickly, and integrate information from many disparate locations. Soon after, I had the idea of making a new kind of score that would be easier to follow while under the influence of LSD…”

Text Tim Burrows
Photography Anna Detrick, Alan La Pointe


Björk: “I ran into Stephen’s animations on YouTube early on in the project. They were so inspiring and seemed to fit seamlessly into the project, so we asked him to collaborate. I had started working on my music book and was trying to bridge the gap between notation and MIDI. I feel Stephen’s work does so in a very elegant way, with a dash of poetic licence.”