Speed of Sound

Still from Mark Romanek's video for Speed of Light (2005) by Coldplay
© Parlophone EMI Records / Anonymous Content

At first, the video seems merely to show a performance by the band Coldplay in front of a large venetian-blind like construction in a hall. As the video continues, however, the construction turns out to be a computer-controlled light wall that presents colors and abstract patterns derived from the parameters of the music being heard (volume, pitch, etc.).

This intermodal component of the visualization of the music is taken up on the visual level of the video as well and taken further, so that with the aid of camera movements, zooms, close-ups, and sequences of cuts, the slow increase in the dynamics and volume of the music (from a quiet, slow, and dark beginning toward a loud, fast, and radiant finale) is transferred optically to the light wall and realized cinematically as well. At the same time, this offers a visible pendant to the speed of sound mentioned in the song lyrics; similarly, other aspects of the text are interpreted in specific gestures by the musicians, by the forms and colors of the light wall, and by the camera work: When Chris Martin sings the words Look up, I look up at night / Planets are moving at the speed of light, for example, he looks upward, while a light rain of white light, resembling a cloud of shooting stars, begins to fall down the wall. This kind of synchronization of light, colors, and movements with the music establishes general analogies of color and sound (dark, rather static moments are accompanied by quiet, soft music, whereas harsh light, intense colors, and powerful movements seem to correspond visually to loud, dynamic sounds). The director, Mark Romanek, thus gives the viewers an opportunity to see the sounds, but at the same time avoids the temptation to use specific images to illustrate in a trivial way very poetic lyrics that cannot easily be interpreted unambiguously.