Moiré Effect in Music and Sound art

Carsten Nicolai (aka Alva Noto) – ‘Moiré’

The Moiré Effect is a visual phenomenon that produces a sensation of movement caused by the overlapping of patterns. The effect becomes more evident in digital processing of images and is related to the “aliasing” error. However, the outcome in this case seems to be still while on a moving image, it is evident as a figure changing phenomena.

Sound art and contemporary music have made use of this effect in different ways. The superimposing of rhythmical patterns is the main process behind North American minimalist music. Steve Reich accomplished complex rhythmical patterns by joining simple ones in his piece “Clapping Music” (1972)[1]. Other similar examples can be appreciated in pieces like “Piano Phase” (1967) but most importantly in the 1965 tape-loop piece “It’s Gonna Rain”. Brian Enno has adopted his generative music approach with this idea of simple patterns growing into complex structures.

In music and sound art, the Moiré effect is also close to the rules of the GESTALT[2]. Dr. Albert Bregman has developed a series of experiments and theories that relate to the Gestalt in his book[3] by using patterns of sounds that can be analogue to the ones in the Moiré Effect. These experiments[4] involve the superimposing of two sequences that at different speed are associated in the brain differently. The Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky used this principal in the violin lines of his “Waltz for Sleeping Beauty” [5]

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[2] developed in the Berlin School []

[3] Auditory Scene Analysis: The Perceptual Organization of Sound


[5] Forde Thompson, William. “Music in the Social and Behavioral Sciences”


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About Rafael Subía

Born in Quito, Ecuador in 1985, he graduated from Quilmes National University in Argentina with a bachelor’s degree in Electroacoustic Composition. His music has been played in different festivals in Ecuador, Argentina, Mexico, Spain, Germany, South Africa & the U.K. by important ensembles and performers. He won numerous grants in Quilmes National University that funded his research in Computer Music and specifically real time processing [live electronics]. He studied composition with Julio Martín Viera and with Gerardo Gandini thanks to the Melos/Gandini fellowship and is currently enrolled in the "Digital Composition and Performance" Masters program at The University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

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