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Music and Visual Color: A Proposed Correlation

Alan Wells
Leonardo
Vol. 13, No. 2 (Spring, 1980), pp. 101-107
Published by: The MIT Press
DOI: 10.2307/1577978
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1577978
Page Count: 8
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Music and Visual Color: A Proposed Correlation
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Abstract

The author tells of events leading up to finding a possible link between musical harmony and visual color based on complementarity. He points out that an equal division of the musical octave into 12 half-steps permits one to recognize chords built on tones occurring at the interval of half an octave or the tritone interval as being complementary to each other. This corresponds to the equal spacing of 12 hues on a color circle in which complementary hues are located diametrically opposite each other. A circular form of the musical octave divided according to the chromatic scale of 12 half-steps places tones serving as roots for complementary chords diametrically opposite each other also. There seems to be a parallel between the equal division of the color circle into 3 primaries and 3 secondaries and the equal division of the musical circle into 6 whole steps or the whole-tone scale. In both circles, colors and chords that can be classified as secondaries are complementary to the primaries and vice versa. The near-complements of a color lying on either side of its complement are more subdued in contrast with the color than the complement is. Chords built on tones on either side of a tritone interval from a given tonal center on the musical circle also produce subdued contrast with a chord built on the tonal center. The relationship of the adjacent chords to a chord built on the tonal center is as of sub-dominant to tonic and dominant to tonic, which is the harmonic basis of the diatonic system.

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