Today’s Google Doodle honors what would have been the 117th birthday of German-American abstract artist Oskar Fischinger.
Fischinger’s musical animations were deemed “degenerate art” in Hitler’s Germany, and he left for the US in 1936, when an agent from Paramount Pictures recruited him to work in America.
His work was groundbreaking; the films were visually stunning despite being created decades before the existence of computer graphics or music videos. Leon Hong, creative lead on the Doodle, expresses just how impressive Fischinger’s work was, and still is. “Each frame [was] carefully drawn or photographed by hand,” says Hong. “A master of motion and color, Fischinger spent months — sometimes years — planning and handcrafting his animations.”
Not only was Fischinger behind the effects on several movies, including Fritz Lang’s 1929 Woman in the Moon, he invented the Lumigraph, a device that generates chromatic displays with hand movements. Hong says the Lumigraph is not only “a sort of optical painting in motion,” but “a precursor to the interactive media and multi-touch games of today.”
Fischinger’s work to this day remains near-impossible to replicate, dancing the line between absolute precision and a human touch. Today’s Google Doodle is meant to pay homage to his work while letting you get a taste of what it’s like to compose your own visual music.
Click on Google’s logo and you’ll be taken to an interface that operates like a basic music sequencer. There are four instruments to choose from, and as you click diamonds on the screen to activate notes, it plays back a loop of your 16-beat melody in real time, with colorful shapes dancing across the screen. In the side bar, you can adjust the tempo, the key, and even add effects like a delay, bitcrusher, and phaser. As a bonus, there are preset packs from the likes of Local Natives, Nick Zammuto (of experimental duo The Books and band Zammuto), and electronica / hip-hop producer TOKiMONSTA.
Even with no musical knowledge, the interface makes it easy to create trippy, atmospheric, and flowing melodies in Fischinger’s style in a matter of minutes. Combined with the built-in visuals, it’s incredibly mesmerizing and almost feels therapeutic. When you’re done with your creations, save and share them (you’ll want to).
Fischinger passed away in Los Angeles in 1967, at the age of 66, but his legacy is felt to this day. The artist’s daughter spoke to Google about the project, saying, “I feel incredibly proud of my family and am delighted to be the daughter of Oskar and Elfriede Fischinger. It means so much to me to see this celebration of my father's art. It’s wonderful to know that his work, which has been steadily praised since the 1920s, will continue to receive worldwide recognition.”