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for text, image, and electronic sound on video

by Reginald Bain

Melancholia (2024) is a multimedia composition for text, image, and electronic sound on video. It was inspired by a Bridges 2015 conference talk I attended in Baltimore by the English number theorist John Horton Conway (1937-2020). In the talk, Conway discussed Dürer's magic square; a 4-by-4 magic square with many special properties, whose earliest known source is the German artist Albrecht Dürer’s engraving Melencolia I (1514). To bring the engraving’s main character to life, I adapted a poem by the English poet, composer, and physician Thomas Campion (1567-1620) titled Integer Vitae. I then composed electronic music for the image  that is based on Dürer's magic square. The electronic music uses Max-based granular synthesis, pitch-shifting and time stretching techniques that freely interweave equal tempered and just mappings of the magic square's rows, columns, quadrants, and other symmetries into the pitch domain. To create a narrative form, I juxtaposed the adapted text and image with supporting granular music and natural sounds suggested by the image and poem. These elements are fused by mutual analogy in the video using rhythmic proportions derived from the Fibonacci sequence.

D U R A T I O N 16:28

Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia I (1514)

Dürer, Melencolia I
Credit:  Wikipedia

Dürer's Magic Square

16 3 2 13
5 10 11 8
9 6 7 12
4 15 14 11

Fibonacci sequence
0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, ...

The world premiere of Melancholia took place at the USC Computer Music Concert, University of South Carolina, School of Music, Recital Hall, (Columbia, SC) on April 4, 2024.

You can learn more about Dürer's engraving on the National Gallery of Art's website:

You can learn more about the special properties of Dürer's magic square at:

You can learn more about Thomas Campion's poetry on the Poetry Foundation's website:


Campion, Integer Vitaehttps://englishverse.com/poems/integer_vitae
Cycling '74, Max – https://cycling74.com/products/max
Foderaro, "Granular Synthesizer," in Amazing Max Stuff: Music and Visuals in Max/MSPhttps://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLRc5WfOZXC4kHmNVubXnEhyhdH42_rW-P
Weisstein, "Dürer's Magic Square," from MathWorld--A Wolfram Web Resourcehttps://mathworld.wolfram.com/DuerersMagicSquare.html
Wikipedia, John Horton Conway – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Horton_Conway
Wikipedia, Albrecht Dürer, Melencolia Ihttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melencolia_I
Wikipedia, Fibonacci sequence – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fibonacci_sequence
Wikipedia, Magic square – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_square
Wikipedia, Thomas Campion (1567-1620) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Campion

Updated: April 22, 2024