Celebrity Invention: Richard Dreyfuss' Music Visualizer


Some celebrities aren't just pretty faces. A few of them are also touched with that Yankee prowess for tinkering and invention. In this weekly series, we introduce you to the Patents of the Rich and Famous. And maybe you learn a little bit about how patent literature works along the way.

Inventor: Richard Dreyfuss

Known For: He won an Academy Award for his work in the Goodbye Girl, but he won our hearts for this performance in Mr. Holland's Opus:

Perhaps playing an educator who teaches kids to read music inspired this music-related invention. Or, perhaps while preparing for his role in Mr. Holland's Opus, Dreyfuss had some trouble learning his notes, and thought: "Gee, I wish I had an easier way to make music."

Invented Apparatus: "Interactive tool and appertaining method for creating a graphical music display"


These Spirograph-esque blobs depict a visual representation of musical notes. Dreyfuss patented a system for learning to play music, which gets you around that whole reading sheet-music thing.

Substituting lines, scales, notes and pitch for symbols and shapes, the invention provides a simpler way to convey a musical experience.

The invention provides a tool for creating and displaying a visual representation of music that accurately and expressively conveys the musical form on a number of levels in the hierarchical structure of the music, including overall structure, event surface, orchestration, and sonic framework of the piece being visualized.

Data converts the thematic elements of music into subelements, which are then converted into individual notes. The two data sets are then synchronized to the musical piece, driving these visualizations.

Rationale Behind Invention: Learning how to read music is hard. Between memorizing note positions, pitch, volume, articulation and clefs, mastering score reading takes time and dedication. To cut down on the investment, Dreyfuss created this visual-learning system.

There is a huge market for musical performance, and much of its audience is uninterested in or incapabale of performing what they hear.

Such people have no interest in learning to read sheet music because it is difficult to achieve and is unrelated to listening to the music. Some software programs try to fill this need by offering the user the ability to assemble sound clips into a piece of music. What is needed is a way to create and convey visually to a listener the sense of a musical experience on a number of levels in the hierarchical structure.

Why learn sheet music's complexities, when you can just ingest pretty shapes and colors?

Off-Label Uses: We imagine some pharmaceutically-inclined folk might never make it to the learning part. For some, staring at psychedelic visualizations accompanied by music can be a fun Saturday night activity.

Future Directions: We were so touched by Mr. Holland's attempt to incorporate music into his deaf's sons life, we suggest adding vibrations to help deaf people compose music.

Peruse more Celebrity Inventions.

Presented by

Rebecca Greenfield is a former staff writer at The Wire.

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