is like being mesmerized by the world's most elaborate Rube Goldberg devices: You're so astonished by their ingenuity that you can't look away. This "computer animation video album" is the brainchild of Wayne Lytle, a progressive-rock keyboardist and 1988 graduate of Cornell University's Program of Computer Graphics. Modifying techniques originally applied to the visualization of scientific data, Lytle partnered with graphic artist and 3D modeler Dave Crognale to create elaborate virtual stage sets and imaginary musical instruments that are driven via MIDI interface to virtually "play" the music that Lytle has composed for them. "The music drives the instruments," explains Lytle in his engaging DVD commentary, "and not the other way around." Using proprietary software called MIDImotion, Lytle and Crognale have invented self-playing musical instruments that exist in a magical realm of musical and mathematical precision, perfectly synchronized to the kind of fully-synthesized prog-rock that Lytle obviously enjoys (and if you're a fan of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman, you will, too). It's the kind of audiovisual bombast that appeals to some more than others (and there's something oddly impersonal about removing humans from the performance of music), but Animusic
is so intricately clever that anyone can be captivated by the meticulous novelty of these beautifully engineered musical marvels.
Take, for example, the most popular track, "Pipe Dream," in which thousands of animated balls take on a life of their own, popping out of an intricate system of pipes and barrels and bouncing, with percussive precision, onto all varieties of strings, drums, xylophones, timbales, cowbells... it's just hypnotically amazing. The same holds true for all of these videos, and while the colorful 3D rendering of Animusic (first released in 2001) is no longer state-of-the-art, the underlying mechanics remain timelessly appealing. For this special edition DVD released in 2004, Lytle opens his toy-box to reveal the creative process of Animusic from conceptual drawings to final 3D rendering. There's also a "solo-cam" function allowing viewers to switch angular focus from one instrument to another, along with animated set-construction demonstrations to show how everything fits together in the realm of Animusic. The 5.1-channel surround mix makes Animusic a perfect demonstration disc for high-end video systems (this is nothing if not a geek's delight), and Lytle's first animation (from 1996) is included along with a sneak-peek at Animusic 2, the follow-up DVD released in 2005. --Jeff Shannon