Contrary Colors, Complimentary Keys
The full palettes of color and sound are all derived from a variety of waves in light and space, separated – for example in the images above – by the conventions of Western colorists and composers. From these ‘universal’ palettes*, many smaller and more specific templates are extracted, largely by understanding which wave lengths effectively compliment or contradict one another in a particularly thematic array, from this understanding we cull palettes and gamuts, scales and key signatures.
Yellow and blue will always be perfectly ‘out of phase’ and the special exertion of our retinas to deal with the differing wavelenghths brings delight to our brains and exceptional clarity in the contrast, not so the wobbling phase shift of say G and G# which, played together, will never sound pleasing to our ear**, and played in sequence will rarely be the last word, but will demand some kind of resolution in the composer’s melody.
These palettes, these collections of waves and vibrations have corollaries in our thematic and moral worlds which vibrate elsewhere in our psyches – think of the way we separate so many stories into genres which are like keys in music in the sense that once they’ve been determined a very great deal of the expression comes in the notes we do not play.
And isn’t it arresting how many of these genres are already linked with conventions of color and sound – Westerns are yellow and blue filtered in sepia, and scored – if you’re John Ford or Howard Hawks – in a major key; Crime is a watery blue, gold and brown in combinations of major and minor keys; Horror is green and black with plenty of minor sevenths and ninths rattling around in a theme scored always in a minor key.
Apart from genre filmmaking your own themes will demand specific colors and tones from you and resist others – find them: from these menageries of sense very specific interactions, harmonies, conflicts, tensions and resolutions will make themselves known to you, and an extraordinary kind of sensory map can begin to take shape.
* Universal in the West, 2013 CE.
** In a vacuum that is. Intentional dissonance, injected amid otherwise harmonious melodies and conventions can be jarring and wonderful. (See Punk Rock)