Nigel Stanford Combines Electronica and Science

Sennheiser’s MOMENTUM campaign has highlighted dozens of unique sound stories from all over the world: stories about creators with MOMENTUM and people who push the world forward with their creative passions. These stories feature artists, innovators and entrepreneurs in the most authentic sense, and serve to inspire others to uncover their own unique MOMENTUM.

Nigel Stanford is the latest creative visionary to share his inspiring story. An electronic musician with a remarkable penchant for visualizing his work in video form, Stanford owes some of his unique perspective toward sound to his experience of synesthesia. “For me, bass frequencies are red and high-frequency sounds are yellow and white.” His ability to ‘see’ sound has helped inform the visually compelling videos that marry scientific phenomena with his original musical compositions.

Hailing from New Zealand but based in New York, Stanford’s first LP came out in 1999. However, it was the 2014 video for his song “Cymatics” that blew the minds of millions of people around the world. Stanford, who tries “to make projects that are like mini-movies,” created a film based on scientific experiments, where each sound would be visualized through incredible, physical special effects. Deep bass frequencies sent shockwaves through liquids, synth stabs would ignite columns of flame, and an electrifying crescendo of sound would be made visualized as electricity though a Tesla coil firing bolts of lightning over Stanford’s own mesh-clad body.

Unlike most music videos, in the case of “Cymatics” the song itself was born out of the video. Each filmed motion was created by whichever frequencies most successfully affected physical objects – these frequencies were then used to shape the underlying music of “Cymatics.”

In his most recent audio-visual opus, “Automatica,” Stanford has taken on the subject of the singularity – the point at which artificial intelligence itself will develop the next level of artificial intelligence – with a complex and challenging shoot utilizing industrial robots. “It was the most stressful thing I’d ever done in my life,” he said. Stanford achieves the feeling of AI evolution by having robots of the sort commonly seen assembling cars picking up and playing instruments. At first, Stanford is directing them. But as the film progresses, the robots begin adapting the instruments to better suit their own form and needs, or as Stanford describes it, “The robots I’m training to play music suddenly turn the tables and start teaching me to play music.”

Putting together the elaborate robotic dance of “Automatica” tested Stanford’s mettle. “One set we had robots playing instruments, then we had a robot controlling the camera, and then all of the lights were automatic, as well. The programming of those three elements takes a lot of time and a lot of head scratching.” Aside from spending hours programming each individual scene, Stanford was also hands-on with prop and set design. “I enjoy getting my hands dirty and making props; I also get involved with the compositing,” he says. This approach is inspired by his belief that each component of his videos is a part of a cogent artistic vision. “All of the those things are equally important as the music, so I want to be as involved as I can.”

All in all, Stanford will have spent about a year bringing the video to life, but cutting corners was never a consideration. “For me, I just want to make something that is up there with the best of the best. I want to make the best thing that I possibly can,” he says. Stanford’s MOMENTUM is his desire to create something more than pure entertainment. He sees his videos as helping foster an interest in science. “I think it’s great to make people really interested in science and show them another way of looking at reality,” he says. “It kind of feels like magic, but it’s just physics.”