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Music visualization, a feature found in electronic music visualizers and media player software, generates animated imagery based on a piece of music. The imagery is usually generated and rendered in real time and synchronized with the music as it is played.
Visualization techniques range from simple ones (e.g., a simulation of an oscilloscope display) to elaborate ones, which often include a plurality of composited effects. The changes in the music's loudness and frequency spectrum are among the properties used as input to the visualization.
The first electronic music visualizer was the Atari Video Music introduced by Atari Inc. in 1976, and designed by the initiator of the home version of Pong, Robert Brown. The idea was to create a visual exploration that could be implemented into a Hi-Fi stereo system. It is described in US 4081829 . Music visualisation was first pioneered in Great Britain by Fred Judd.
Music and audio players were available on early home computers, Sound to Light Generator (1985, Infinite Software) used the ZX Spectrum's cassette player for example. The 1984 movie Electric Dreams prominently made use of one, although as a pre-generated effect, rather than calculated in real-time. One of the first modern music visualization programs was the open-source, multi-platform Cthugha (1994). Subsequently, computer music visualisation became widespread in the mid to late 1990s as applications such as Winamp (1997), Audion (1999), and SoundJam (2000). By 1999, there were several dozen freeware non-trivial music visualizers in distribution.
In particular, MilkDrop by Ryan Geiss, G-Force by Andy O'Meara, and Advanced Visualization Studio (AVS) by Nullsoft became popular music visualizations. AVS is part of Winamp and has been recently open-sourced, and G-Force was licensed for use in iTunes and Windows Media Center and is presently the flagship product for Andy O'Meara's software startup company, SoundSpectrum. The real distinction between music visualization programs such as Geiss' MilkDrop and other forms of music visualization such as music videos or a laser lighting display is the visualization programs' ability to create different visualizations for each song every time the program is run.
List of electronic music visualizers
- Atari Video Music, designed by the initiator of the home version of Pong, Robert Brown, and introduced by Atari Inc. in 1976.
- Pixelmusic 3000, open source music visualizer on a microcontroller, made by Uncommon Projects in 2008.
List of music visualization software
- Acid Warp (software) (Unknown, 1992) (Platform: DOS)
- Cthugha (Kevin "Zaph" Burfitt, 1993) (Platform: DOS)
- Rabbit Hole (2001-2011) (Platforms: Windows, iOS)
- Advanced Visualization Studio (Justin Frankel) (Platforms: Windows)
- G-Force (2000, Andy O'Meara, SoundSpectrum) (Platforms: Windows)
- MilkDrop (2001-2012, Ryan Geiss) reimplemented as projectM (Platforms: Windows, GNU/Linux, Android)
- Music Animation Machine (1985) visualizes MIDI, rather than waveforms.
- MIDIjam visualizes MIDI with three-dimensional instruments (Platforms: Windows)
- Virtual Light Machine (Jeff Minter, 1990) (Platform: Atari Jaguar)
- Neon (Jeff Minter and Ivan Zorzin, 2004) (Platform: Xbox 360)
- Sonovista Bit Bopper (1993, O'Wonder)
- Whip! (1999, Escape) Author homepage
- TronMe (2006, 3D Solar)
- Visual Music Tone Painter (1992–2004, Stephen Nachmanovitch)
- Vsxu (2003-2012, Vovoid) (Platforms: Windows, GNU/Linux)
- Morphyre (2009-2011, Pur3 Ltd) (Platform: Windows) Official web site
- Tripex (2003, Ben Marsh) (Platform: Winamp on Windows) Official web site
- Plane9 (2009-2011, Joakim Dahl) (Platform: Windows) Official web site
- tappr.tv (2010-2012, deeje cooley) (Platform: iOS) Official web site
- dance dance! (2012, Chillswitcher) (Platform: Windows, iOS) Official web site
- DMX Music Visualization (2012, Jaroslav Nušl, US patent 2011/0213477) (Platform: Windows) Official web site
- MAGIC: Multitrack Audio & Graphics Interactive Composer (2012-2013, Color & Music, LLC) (Platforms: Windows, OS X) Official web site
- fische (2001-2013, Marcel Ebmer) (Platforms: GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Windows), also available as an XBMC addon (fishBMC) Official web site
An early "light synthesizer", Psychedelia (1984, Jeff Minter), did not use audio input but was designed to create visualizations in accompaniment to music.
List of media players supporting visualization
- Foobar2000 (Platform: Windows)
- MediaPortal (OpenSource, Team MediaPortal) (Platform: Windows)
- iTunes (2001, Apple) (Platforms: Mac OS X, Windows)
- Winamp (Nullsoft/AOL) (Platforms: Windows)
- Windows Media Player (Microsoft) (Platforms: Windows)
- MediaMonkey (Ventis Media Inc.) (Platform: Windows)
- XBMC (Team XBMC) (Platform: Cross-Platform)
- MusicBee (Steven Mayall) (Platforms: Windows)
- K-Multimedia Player (Pandora.TV) (Platform: Windows)
- Amarok (Open Source, KDE) (Platform: Cross-platform)
- Totem (Open Source, Gnome) (Platform: Linux)
- Clementine (Open Source) (Platform: Cross-platform)
- Audacious Media Player (Audacious Team) (Platforms: POSIX) 
- VLC media player (VideoLAN Project) (Platforms: Cross-platform)
- "Sound to Light Generator". World of Spectrum. Retrieved 2009-02-20.
- "About iTunes" - iTunes 184.108.40.206 credits
- Center for Computer Assisted Research in the Humanities (1992). Computing in musicology, Volume 8. ISBN 978-0-936943-06-0.
- SIGART (2000). Intelligence, new visions of artificial intelligence in practice 11. Association for Computing Machinery.
- "Audacious - Features". Retrieved 2010-08-28.
- "VLC playback Features". Retrieved 2010-08-28.
- Laser Harp midi controller for ILDA compliant laser projectors
- Music Visualization: Beautiful Tools to 'See' Sound inactive @25/11/11
- Visual Music Archive by Prof. Dr. Heike Sperling
- The method of Transfer of Music into a Graphic Image